Welcome back, readers.
This week’s most prominent labour story in games (aside from what is starting to feel like quarterly announcements of bad news from GameStop) is the workplace culture inside indie publisher Nicalis. While most of the stories this year about labour abuse have focused on the largest companies, it’s worth remembering that smaller developers and publishers aren’t immune to shitty workplace practices.
No I haven’t played Control yet but I think I’d like to at some point. With my current work schedule I’m confident I could complete it inside of a year.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
One of the bigger topics in games writing this week is that dating sim KFC is publishing as a marketing stunt. This has elicited not only coverage, but critical reflection on visual novels, dating sims, and how writers receive and cover them. I think reading Ana Valens’ and Kastel’s pieces in conjunction gives some valuable context on how and why western media still seems to struggle with these games, and how a combination of lack of access and willful misunderstanding further feeds that confusion. At the same time, absolutely amazing stuff like Heaven Will Be Mine exists, and Autumn Wright is here to remind readers of that in a brief but powerful way.
- Games Journalism’s Kentucky Fried Chicken Problem | Daily Dot
Ana Valens discusses the spike in coverage on the KFC Dating Sim to reflect on trends in games writing and identify a lack of overall writing on queer indie creators.
- On the Awful World of Ironic Pseudo-Dating Sims – ?????
Kastel identifies a trend in Western-produced Visual Novels of ironic critique or parody of an inauthentic source text that never existed in the first place.
- Heaven Will Be Mine: Remembering | Into The Spine
Autumn Wright meditates on myth-making in games when the myth hits close to home.
“Heaven Will Be Mine could be a myth of radical queer activism, the joy we will always make under genocidal institutional oppression, or of the tangled webs of sapphic lovers that we cannot know. It’s a myth foundational to queer spirit. A story about abuse, but not abusers. About the end, and about our beginning.”
Two authors this week take a longer view in their craft to evaluate not just games they want to say something about, but the wider critical discourse around them, and how that discourse has and has not evolved alongside the games it follows.
- I WAS BORN IN A [ ] GENERATION – DEEP HELL
Skeleton identifies a peculiar ahistorical cycle to games criticism.
- It’s Hard to Keep Returning to Video Game Apocalypses – VICE
Cameron Kunzelman reflects on three years of writing about apocalypses and endings by musing about how contemporary games–even the apocalyptic ones–so stubbornly refuse to end.
“Maybe the reason that we have so much game boosterism and focus on the present is that looking at the shape of things, and how we got here, completely sucks on an emotional level.”
Three articles this week all focus on the particular affective experiences games engender for specific audiences.
- On Sincerity and Scheduling | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor describes how the unique blend of vulnerability and control in Fire Emblem and Persona carry a unique appeal for queer players.
- The Most Terrifying Thing About the ‘Blair Witch’ Game? It Hurts Your Dog – VICE
Danielle Riendeau discusses how Blair Witch channels empathy and affect through your sole companion in the game (content notification: the dog gets hurt but does not die).
- Being Broke & Breaking Down | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar pulls over and breaks down the multifaceted costs of breakdowns in and out of game.
“As I call the tow truck to begin the expensive, arduous process of repairing the car, I return to that trip through Europe, to my time spent picking apart rust buckets on the side of roads, scavenging parts slightly less damaged than my own. The hardship, the challenge of stretching a dollar for another carburetor, biting nails as I inch my smoking heap of metal to the next rest area. It’s shockingly similar, but far less fun, now.”
eXpand, eXploit, eXploit, eXploit
Games are very often predicated on some mixture of exploring and taking stuff, which inevitably leads to a colonialist design ethos. Two authors this week investigate the handling of these themes in recent titles.
- ‘Iceborne’ Review: Monster Hunter at its Peak, Colonialist Fantasy Included – VICE
Ricardo Contreras describes how everything is bigger in Monster Hunter World‘s latest expansion, including the colonialism.
- Greedfall’s Detailed Role-Playing Can’t Make Up For Its Unpleasant Setting | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra gets at the heart of why Doing Colonialism for irony points doesn’t work.
“There’s no polite way of saying it. Greedfall is kind of fucked up. Wrapping yourself in the pageantry of the 18th century means recreating the iconography of colonial expansion and native slaughter. It means emulating a time when supposedly great men failed to do what was morally right, opting instead to do what was politically expedient. To merely call this a tension of Greedfall does it a disservice. It’s not just a momentary tension. It’s the entire game.”
Included here are a pair of excellent design-minded analyses of recent indie titles.
- Overcoming It – HATCH | RE:BIND
Emily Rose explores a game that examines the nature and purpose of difficulty.
- Glad You Maid It – Phantom Rose and Antisocial Status | RE:BIND
Mx. Medea plays a strategy game where the minutiae of its mechanics are meaningful and arguably mandatory.
“Phantom Rose presents an all too rare experience, a game where status effects aren’t simply nice additions or game-breaking asides, but crucial mechanics that create a rich and varied meta-game, and if you’re anything like me, it’s one that’ll keep you engrossed for countless hours.”
Two pieces this week conduct historical dives on old, overlooked, and invaluable innovations in games–both examples of which were authored by women.
- M.U.L.E. By Virginia Paine – ZEAL – Medium
Virginia Paine reminisces about growing up with Danielle Bunten Berry’s quirky Commodore Classic.
- The Sumerian Game: The Most Important Video Game You’ve Never Heard Of – A Critical Hit!
Kate Willaert profiles the first narrative computer game and the woman who wrote it.
“The Sumerian Game was the first narrative video game. And the first video game writer was a woman named Mabel Addis.”
A pair of authors this week reflect on play experiences and broader interactions with gaming culture from days past.
- Confessions Of A Teenaged Strip-Mall GameStop Delinquent | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio chronicles the rise and fall of GameStop through the lens of adolescent escapism, both on and offline.
- Establishing relationships through childhood gaming | Into The Spine
Tanya Khan describes the unifying, culture, generation, and language-crossing power of couch multiplayer.
“In a time where we weren’t necessarily exposed to online gaming and interacting cross-continentally through gaming chat rooms, multiplayer games were the perfect way to break down any obstacles we had in communicating.”
Fine, I’ll give Final Fantasy VIII another try. Eventually.
- A tale of revenge and murder in Rust • Eurogamer.net
Emma Kent survives and thrives in the conspicuously unfriendly world of Rust.
- The Comic Absurdity of ‘Final Fantasy VIII’ Is Partly Why It’s So Special – VICE
Ashley Oh has done a great deal to convince me that I should probably sit down and play this goofy-ass game.
“Early on, the game sets an expectation of the unexpected, and it escalates from there. The second mission is to assassinate his wife (!!) on a parade float. A T-Rex lives in your school’s training center. Your school can fly, but you still have to rent a car and buy gas. Your girlfriend’s dog can randomly interrupt your battles. You discover a technologically advanced city hidden from the world (Wakanda, anyone?) and your unknown dad is its president. It all continues, ever upward.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!