Welcome back, readers.
Pokémon: how many ‘mons y’all got so far? I’m sitting around 30 because I’m a slow player with a lot of professional and not-so-professional commitments. A friend of mine is pushing 60, and neither of us has hit the first gym badge yet. The game is, dare I say, fun? But as critics are starting to notice, some of the underlying worldbulding is getting a little, umm, creaky.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
A Hideo Kojima Gaffe
There’s been a whole bunch of critical discussion around a particular point of lore in Death Stranding that misguidedly ties queer and especially ace identity to some kind of negative societal trend towards emotional distance. We begin this issue with two of the week’s finest examinations of this topic, and why getting representation right matters.
- Death Stranding doesn’t know how to respect queer sexualities – Gayming Magazine
Elizabeth Henges analyses a bit of troubling lore tying the Death Stranding event to an increase in queer sexualities.
- “An Asexual World”: Asexuality in Death Stranding | The Asexual Agenda
Siggy and Queenie study the problematic lore nugget and situate in a contemporary Japanese cultural context.
“It wants to acknowledge the difficulties and complications in making connections. But when the game treats asexuality as a sad condition to be solved, rather than just another way of making connections, it undercuts its own message.”
We’ve got a trio of design-centric interviews and critiques this week touching on violence, difficulty, fantasy, and more.
- A Russian Crucible: Pathologic 2 and the Problem of Video Game Difficulty | EGM
Steven Scaife talks to the developers of Pathologic 2 about the design of storytelling, choice, difficulty, and more.
- How developers left violent combat behind to create kinder games • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld surveys designers who design differently, and seeks the how and why.
- How did Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order get so unusual? – Polygon
Jennifer Scheurle applies some design theory to understand the successes of the latest Star War.
“My theory here is that the values of creating a Jedi-centered game are in conflict with design that revolves entirely around lightsaber combat, which would likely require justifying how a Jedi killed thousands of enemies for a game with a certain target of gameplay hours.”
Two authors this week delve into moments of relational difficulty, examining how these stress points in characters’ lives are written and executed in recent games.
- Mutazione Knows That Love Can’t Solve Everything | Fanbyte
Danielle Riendeau takes in Mutazione‘s nuanced and affective relationship-writing.
- Lake of Voices | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson examines a visual novel that both accepts the inevitability of death and gives it its proper emotional space and range.
“The heroes are not only forced to accept the horrific truth that not everyone can be saved, but also must come to terms with their own emotional turmoil when faced with their limits as humans contending against magic and monsters.”
A pair of articles this week examine narrative design in recent releases, as well as some of the influences and predecessors which have contributed to more recent successes and shortcomings.
- Fallout 3, The Outer Worlds, and the Megaton Problem | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor examines the limitations of binary choice design in contemporary games through the old “nuke or don’t nuke” question.
- A Spectre is Haunting Martinaise — Detective Fiction and Disco Elysium’s Disappointing Ending
PJ Judge investigates the history of the postmodern in detective fiction to arrive at an understanding of the uneven ideological playing field of Revachol.
“Communists and fascists do not do battle in Disco Elysium. Why would they? Power lies within the hands of the moralists and the ultraliberals. Neither the communists nor the fascists are relevant enough to upset this balance of power. The neoliberal grip on the world is too strong, and the historical moment that allowed for the revolution has passed.”
Three pieces this week, all from arthouse powerhouse RE:BIND, examine and critique retro aesthetics, design mantras, and indulgences in contemporary indie games.
- Closure – Homesickened | RE:BIND
Emily Rose peruses a throwback game that interrogates the nature and draw of throwback games.
- Unto Kingdom Come | RE:BIND
Demi Schänzel meditates on Kingdom‘s delicate juxtaposition of quiet moments and merciless tactical slaughter.
- Iketsuki – Perfecting the Imperfections | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar peers into the minutiae of retro rendering design via brooding indie platformer Iketsuki.
“Throughout the game, the imprecise rendering of the geometry from the affine texture mapping makes the world feel alive, breathing, but in its closing moments, Iketsuki pushes the effect in a direction I’ve not seen before, vertices leaping abruptly around and pulsating while the world dies.”
- Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Ball Guy is not creepy, he’s a friend – Polygon
Patricia Hernandez shows some appreciation for the wholesome earnestness of Ball Guy.
“Ball Guy’s mere existence is not only valid, but crucial in our increasingly cynical world. Ball Guy knows what he likes, and he earnestly embodies it — literally. We could all do to learn from Ball Guy.”
- The Poké Ball Guy Is Not Your Friend, Friend | Kotaku
Natalie Degraffinried implores readers to peer beyond the affable, creepy mask and into a microcosmic symbol of late-capitalist rot.
“The capitalist hellscape of the Pokémon universe has led to branded balls being shamelessly peddled at large stadiums that are already dominating the economy of Galar as a single chairman reaps all the benefits. It’s more than a little strange. Why, in a world where Pokémon battles are commonplace, is there a need for a Poké Ball mascot, of all things?”
- DEEP HELL is creating WRITING AND ENTERTAINMENT | Patreon
DEEP HELL is one of the sharpest critical outlets I read in this line of work and they could use your help. Check out their Patreon if you can spare a couple bucks to help them out.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!