Welcome back, readers.
There’s lots of interesting writing on games this week, particularly from non-gaming-focused outlets. There’s also, it seems, a whole lot of big-name titles with really interesting writing coming out right now. Disco Elysium and The Outer Worlds come immediately to mind, and you’ll find words about both below, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We open this week with three meditative reflections on labour–primarily within independent game communities, but also in fan communities.
- THE PETECA EXPERIENCE: A brief introduction to a left-wing take on building local videogame scenes
Pedro Paiva presents a brief overview of a Brazilian model for building local game development communities.
- INTERNATIONAL TASK FORCE – DEEP HELL
Skeleton critiques Blizzard’s cynical international marketing strategy for Overwatch, which mines representation while offloading all of the real labour to fans.
- Fool’s Errand – A Guide To The Game Sepulchre | RE:BIND
Emily Rose takes a step back from the GDC discourse to re-evaluate what the ideal goals of ‘making it’ in the industry might look like. This one’s an essential read.
“It is time to grow past our frustratingly juvenile conceptions of what it means to finally ‘make it’, and instead progress towards a more sustainable model of being. Our planet, in literally many ways, cannot take any more selfish exploitation done without the foresight to elevate more than just ourselves or the people closest to us. In order to do this, we will have to recognize the complicit role we play in this abstract theater of leisure-crafting, to examine how we contribute to the endless human suffering behind and in front of the scenes.”
Gathered here are three excellent pieces, each focusing on a particular intersection between games and one other external discourse–be it food, climate change, or the wider body of culture writing.
- There Should Be More Food in Video Games – Eater
Soleil Ho chronicles the history of food in games, examining its parallels to diversity initiatives in games as well as critiquing its potential as a surface-level marketing ploy.
- BUY ONE GET ONE-‘st – DEEP HELL
Skeleton meditates on the design (and attendant privilege) of the mass-market Hot Take in games writing.
- New Video Game Tests If You Can Survive the Climate Apocalypse | Earther
Yessenia Funes takes a look at a post-apocalyptic spin on The Oregon Trail modeled on contemporary climate science.
“After three tries, I finally won on the hardest difficulty. My entire group and I definitely suffered, but we made it to Canada alive and without any major injuries or heatstroke.“
Check out five more insightful examinations of horror-themed games as we approach the end of the month.
- I Made My Friends Play a Board Game Preparing Them for Death – VICE
Melanie Ehrenkranz plays a game that breaks through the stigma of talking about death.
- Exploring the Bottomless Trauma and Questionable Forgiveness at the Heart of Bloodborne: The Old Hunters | Paste
Dia Lacina explores the limitations of Bloodborne‘s explication of trauma, suffering, and forgiveness.
- The mystery of Atlantis – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi looks back at the unexpected horror twist at the end of the original Tomb Raider.
- Cult of P.T.-nality | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar anthologizes the long-running efforts of P.T. fans to recreate the ill-fated standalone demo.
- “Devotion, Delusion, and Design Honesty,” by Daniel Fries – Bullet Points Monthly
Daniel Fries delves into Devotion and finds a grounded horror predicated on the gulf between the player and a protagonist increasingly at odds with reality.
“In choosing to hide less from the player, Red Candle created a game with an honest emotionality. The horror pushes her into seeing things from Feng Yu’s perspective, while impressing the point that his perspective is deeply dangerous to himself and those around him. He is the character the story is told through, but the player is kept at a fair distance from him, given that more of the game is in observation than in direct action. Proximity to him is part of what frightens.”
Two authors this week mine some celebrated classics for new critical insights.
- This Is Too Easy – Diegetic World Building and the Artful Interfaces of killer7 | RE:BIND
Emily Rose breaks down the clear interface design of a pair of famously opaque classics.
- Saturnday: Waking Up to Yourself with NiGHTS into Dreams | Fanbyte
K.A. Rose celebrates NiGHTS‘ titular character for the non-binary icon that they are.
“Everything about NiGHTS’s whole thing seems tailor-made to excite a certain kind of tween growing up in the 1990s – gemstones, sparkles, big glittering eyes, tights only David Bowie could pull off – but it’s mostly NiGHTS themself that makes my adult brain go, “Really, me? You didn’t figure out you were non-binary until your late 20s? Really?””
Inner Neighborhoods and Outer Worlds
I read two really standout reviews of new games this week, both included below. Their respective object texts are wildly different in setting and scope, both have begun to elicit great writing focusing on their storytelling and juggling of characterization and ideology.
- ‘Disco Elysium’ Is a Landmark RPG About the Politics of Our Broken World – VICE
Cameron Kunzelman approaches Disco Elysium as a worthy storytelling successor to Planescape: Torment, while trying to make sense of its dense web of stats and ideologies.
- The Outer Worlds Will Rattle Your Idea Of A Perfect Planet | Kotaku
Gita Jackson reflects on The Outer Worlds‘ ideological mirror while exposing some of its critical limitations.
“In The Outer Worlds, all social problems are filtered through class. Sexism and racism don’t meaningfully exist even though race does; many of the people you meet across classes are black and brown. Race and gender go essentially unacknowledged from the game’s core narrative to its tongue-in-cheek riffs on PR buzzwords, which was frustrating in a game so deeply embroiled in power dynamics.”
I wanna quit the gym.
- Micro-Review: Moons of Madness’ Crappy Space-Gym | Fanbyte
Danielle Riendeau demonstrates why a bad gym was the real cosmic horror all along.
“Unlike the sleek and modern facilities onboard the station in Tacoma, or the gorgeously appointed gyms in Prey’s Talos IV and Pytheas Moon base, Madness’ greets you with some dingy towels and… hey, is that a blood stain near the plants? Gross.”
- Halloween Subscription Drive | Unwinnable
Unwinnable is running a subscription drive with some pretty cool stretch goals. Support this rad magazine, which in turn supports tons of incredibly talented writers, if you can.
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!