Welcome back, readers.
First things first: If you haven’t already seen Kris’ post on the site, it’s time for our end-of-year review, and we’re looking for your submissions and recommendations as we put everything together. Remember that both works that have and have not already been included in our weekly roundups are eligible for consideration, as long as they debuted in 2019.
Speaking of reviews, as we close in on the end of the 2010s (or not, depending on how That Guy you want to be about it), I’m seeing plenty of decade-in-review-type things around the web, but I’m most intrigued this week by forward-looking perspectives, and these comprise our headlining section for the week.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
We open this week with a pair of powerful pieces meditating on the future (or possible non-future) of both games and games criticism.
- The Shape of Videogames to Come | Bullet Points Monthly
Tara Hillegeist weighs the popular narrative of games-as-cultural-paradigm against their increasingly precarious, unsustainable, and finite experience in a world on the precipice of an infrastructural death-spiral.
- Ruthless Individuality: Criticism’s Past, and Hopefully Its Future
Carolyn Petit, in the wake of *takes a breath* the divisive critical reaction to Death Stranding‘s divisive critical reaction, lays out the pitfalls of self-selection in the review business and gets at the heart of what criticism really means.
“Put simply, someone who loves games as a medium but who proclaims that, say, Super Metroid is a bad game, or that Half-Life is a bad game, and who has the arguments to back it up, would have a harder time getting their foot in the door at an established site than someone who enthusiastically agrees with the established critical canon, or at least they would have when I inhabited that world professionally.”
Collected here are three of the week’s most insightful critiques on Death Stranding, which, if Carolyn Petit’s article above is any indication (hint: it is), will continue to accumulate diverse and provocative critical perspectives for the foreseeable future.
- Opened World: What Binds Us – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella peers through Death Stranding‘s jargon-heavy marketing to understand what it really has to say about the hope and oppression inherent to connection.
- What Death Stranding gets wrong about asexuality – Polygon
Michael California responds to the “Asexual World” letter in Death Stranding and breaks down its mischaracterizations line-by-line.
- Death Stranding Finds Hope in Despair | EGM
Reid McCarter traces Death Stranding‘s winding tour of intergenerational trauma from communal optimism to apocalyptic nihilism and back again.
“Taking place within a world filled with existential horror where nobody (especially not a president named Samantha America Strand) can be wholly relied upon, Death Stranding says that making connection the foundation of everything we do is the only realistic path through the fear, uncertainty, and confusion that defines the present and its own vision of the future.”
The four articles gathered here alternately look at identity construction and identity representation in games, and focus both on player-customizable and non-player-customizable characters.
- A Case Study of Transgender Representation in Video Games: Mass Effect’s Hainly Abrams – NYMG
Anna Burns presents a critical overview of the sole trans character to date in the Mass Effect series of games.
- Jedi Fallen Order’s interesting female relationships are hidden behind a bland protagonist – Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart delves into Fallen Order‘s supporting cast and describes how they are limited by being put in orbit around a far less compelling player character.
- How character creators help us explore gender identity and expression – Gayming Magazine
Caleb Wysor charts a history of avatar creation and identity expression through Habitat, Ultima Online, Saints Row II, Cyberpunk, and more.
- Gay Monster Kiss Club | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar explores identity construction and play in a very queer indie VN.
“It’s so much more than simply being a “queer narrative” acting as a direct catalyst for the player to step into a skin that may not be their own, but one that allows them to reflect their innermost feelings. A space in which they can safely explore how it feels to be referred to by pronouns different than the ones they’ve used their whole life, to entertain the questions they’ve built up about gender and how they relate to it, to gain a sense of what romance and sex feel like when not having a gender imposed on you but to experience it with the one that you have chosen.”
The Price of Survival
Here are a pair of very different and vital perspectives united by a common question of how to navigate games under the ethical quandries imposed by capitalism, operating from creator and player standpoints, respectively.
- Pricing Hobby Games | Sisi on Patreon
Sisi makes the case for small-scale, part-time, and hobbyist game makers to start charging for their work.
- Straining Against The Yoke – No Escape
Trevor Hultner parses the enormous ethical complexities at stake in surviving under, let alone rebelling against late capitalism, with stopovers at Eliza and Neo Cab along the way.
“Initially I wanted to write about Eliza and Neo Cab as being cardinal examples of anti-capitalist games with explicitly revolutionary themes, goals or endings. But the more I’ve teased these games apart in my mind the more I know that’s not a great way to frame either.”
Check out this pair of design-minded critiques, with attention given to the oft-neglected (at least in this Discourse) domain of tabletop design.
- Our Gardens | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor models game design as a function of dialogue and collaboration, between developer and player.
- Accessibility and Ableism in Tabletop Business Games – NYMG
Jamie L. McDaniel describes the accessibility pitfalls prevalent in business games, their consequences of microaggression and erasure in a workplace environment, and charts actionable steps forward.
“Given that people typically view games as lighthearted fun, managers may ignore complaints about business games. However, implicitly or explicitly endorsing a business game’s ableist content and inaccessible mechanics would perform a role similar to microaggressions by validating negative self-worth for people with disabilities.”
Two authors this week reflect on feelings engendered by their play experiences.
- Perfection is not mandatory – Invisible Corners
Lucas Moura muses on the anxiety and despair which accompany chasing a “perfect” run of games like Hitman and more.
- New York – Videodame
Emily Morrow writes from a small town with a big name under a New Leaf.
“My New York is a little village that you’d miss if you blinked at the wrong moment. I arrived here by accident, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a train ticket and a few dollars in my pocket. It took me a while, but after being here for a year, I’ve finally got my bearings and settled down.”
Two lighter meditations this week deal with the things y’all love to hate in popular games. Or is it hate to love?
- In Defense Of Hop, The Unlucky Pokémon Rival | Kotaku
Gita Jackson meditates on what it means to be a rival in the Pokémon games and why Hop injects positivity and emotional complexity into the trope.
- I Miss Cheesy Video Game Voice Acting | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra implores games to put the ham back in… vill-ham. Ok, I tried.
“There’s a lineage of hammy overlords that, almost excessive by today’s standards, breathe considerable life into simple stories of good and evil. Realism is often compelling, too. Seeing Joel and Ellie believably react to horrible situations and people in The Last of Us can be gut-wrenching. But there’s something to be said for excess. For the moments a villain flicks their cape and laughs maliciously.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!