Welcome back, readers.
While things were a bit forward-looking last week, this time retrospectives are the name of the game, with many authors looking back on games, practices, and critiques of the past.
Speaking of retrospectives, don’t forget that we are receiving submissions for our end-of-year roundup still! Use the #TYIVGB hashtag to help us find your nominees.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Lost and Found
Much of the talk around the idea of games preservation lies in just how much proprietary hardware is tied up in keeping old games alive and accessible. Things only get more difficult when the copyright holders are themselves the chief impediment to any preservation that doesn’t directly contribute to their bottom line. But also, what about demos? Shareware? I haven’t seen a whole lot of writing on that. Two authors this week engage with both of these angles respectively.
- VIDEOPULP: CONSUMER DEATH MACHINE | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar contemplates game preservation at the intersection of an anti-bootleg publicity stunt by Nintendo from the 90s and an artgame which documents and situates the incident.
- games as found objects & virtual relics | Nathalie Lawhead
Nathalie Lawhead reminisces about 1990’s era demoscenes, the precarity of virtual media, and what contemporary platforms like Itch and Gamejolt might mean for preserving works outside of the mainstream.
“I love the mortality of virtual objects. They’ll live on in our memory, and become an occasional craving to re-live it, but most we will never get back.”
We’ve got three pieces this week which each in their own way situate games and practices in their time, be it the demographic disputes of the previous decade, the birth of the notion of triple-A vs. indie, or the grimly prophetic outcome of yesteryear’s cyberpunk titles.
- How High Voltage Software Tried to Make the Wii Cool With ‘The Conduit’ | Fanbyte
Chris Compendio looks back at a forgotten shooter series emblematic of competing cultural logics in games in the late 2000s.
- The indie explosion that’s been going on for 30 years (give or take) – Polygon
Jesper Juul traces the emergence of “mainstream” business and labour practices in a game development scene that was, from its outset, “indie.”
- Material Defender – Freelancers and The Corporate Politics of DESCENT | RE:BIND
Emily Rose mediates on survival under not-so-far-future corporate capitalism via 90s tunnel runner Descent and its contemporaries.
“Descent isn’t exactly a game about noble causes like the liberation of Mars in Red Faction (another Parallax software game, under the guise of it’s later name: Volition) from the nefarious Ultor corporation. Instead, Descent is a game about making it one more day and hopefully liberating your wallet in the process.”
Gathered here are two different approaches to world design, both of which also touch upon the Arkham games in some capacity.
- Due Diligence: The Loop is Dead, Long Live the Loop – Haywire Magazine
Leigh Harrison offers some takeaways on the successes and failures of open-world design, looking at the Arkham games, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and more.
- Gotham’s Multiple Masks | Unwinnable
Justin Reeve breaks down how the gradual evolution of architectural movements in American cities is reflected in Arkham Knight‘s world design.
“The architecture in Arkham Knight is quite eclectic. Reflecting the long history of Batman as a cultural figure, Gotham wears multiple masks in Arkham Knight. There’s just a little bit more meaning to be found in this fact, though.”
Four authors this week brush up against the messy boundary between the feelings we bring into games and the feelings that those games are designed to evoke.
- Mutazione’s gardening reminds me that when video games give me order, I want chaos • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld spends time with a game that frees the player from the anxiety of playing wrong, or messily.
- Red Dead Redemption 2’s biggest success is loneliness – Polygon
Jacob Geller finds Red Dead Redemption 2 to be most engrossing when its organizing structures stand aside and let him be.
- Let’s Place: Guided Meditation – Haywire Magazine
Daria Kalugina contemplates detachment and found, fragmentary narratives in Laserlife.
- In The Space My Mirrors Once Were, I Made Avatars | Kotaku
Gita Jackson reflects on The Sims, avatars, and the stresses and challenges of embodied, gendered existence.
“It’s comforting to wrap yourself up in an avatar, one that always has its ideal outward image but inwardly is vastly malleable. But I realized after some time that in sinking into this fantasy, I was running from my own body.”
Games–especially the ones that attract a lot of discourse, tend to accrue a ‘canonical’ narrative over time–you know, the broad consensus you feel obligated to address at the beginning of your own article/video essay/dissertation-that’s-totally-going-to-be-done-this-year. It’s all the more important with those games to critically challenge that narrative, as these two authors this week do with a pair of very different games.
- If We’re Going to Talk About Untitled Goose Game Then By God Let’s Talk About Untitled Goose Game | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks proposes that discourse around Untitled Goose Game and its relationship to violence and harm has not taken into account degree of that harm.
- Saints Row kicks toxic masculinity to the curb more than once – Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart describes how the Saints Row franchise is more inclusive and less toxic than its perceived competitor GTA.
“Women are handled in a much more respectful way, the LGBT representation is pretty good, gender and race along with character customization is, dare I say, godlike, and at least half of the male cast are not drowning in toxic masculinity.”
Nostalgia is in many ways the oldest, most powerful vampire in the coven of videogames: it’s got power, influence, and way too much money. Catherine Brinegar’s piece above, which goes into Nintendo’s antagonism of games preservation, ties into this idea a bit too. But much like any vampire halfway decent at their craft, nostalgia’s got its seductive hooks in all of us too, in ways we both crave and are uncomfortable with. It influences not only the games but also the designers, artists, and yes, the brands we venerate, too. It’s a powerful thing, then, to critique nostalgia on either a private or a shared-collective level, as this pair of authors do so well.
- The cult of Hideo Kojima • Eurogamer.net
Khee Hoon Chan weighs the sincerity of Hideo Kojima’s public engagement against the cynicism of the marketing capital he wields and projects.
- DRACULA’S CASTLE – DEEP HELL
Skeleton, via Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid, weighs the business of nostalgia against its lived practice as a function of our experiences and traumas.
“the important thing about nostalgia we often forget, is it never is really connected to things. when the past makes us wistful – it’s usually about who we were, to connect with, after all, ourselves. the things, the videogames, putting together a lan party with friends two decades later, those make us reconnect with a moment. what’s most powerful about real longing is it can’t be sold to us.”
The Prince of All Mall Goths.
- Goth Stereotypes as Videogame Characters | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle takes inventory of all your favourite goths in games–including from Katamari.
“While new niches’ “goth” authenticity (gauthenticity?) is often debated amongst other goths, I’m not here for that today. I’m just here to explain a stereotypical sampling by way of videogame characters.”
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