October 2019

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Welcome, readers, to the first edition of This Month In Videogame Vlogging. Yes, we’ve decided to give video-based criticism its own column (again), rather than include it in the weekly blogging roundup. This pivot-to-video will be happening monthly, subject to change. You probably worked both those things out from the title. But hi, hello. I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with you.

Videos about video games are a formally diverse lot. Video essays, let’s plays, video reviews, roundtable discussions, documentaries, industry exposés, unclassifiable and misc – all of these are of interest to us, so long as they fit the general mission statement of Critical Distance: “highlighting and archiving the most incisive, thought-provoking, and remarkable discussion in and around games”. To that end, if you see a games discourse or discourse-adjacent video that you think more people should know about, please do let us know using the TMIVGV hashtag, because there is only so much time in a month and the videotubes are vast.

We’re starting with October, because it’s the first one I wrote, even though it’s December now. It got lost in the mail, sorry. November to follow imminently.

Access and Representation:

A couple of standout October videos are about some of the processes through which games can end up excluding large groups of people.

  • You Can Take an Arrow to the Knee and Still Be an Adventurer – Cherry Thompson – GDC

    In a GDC talk from March this year, Cherry Thompson presents a wide-ranging and compelling case that games should include more (and better) representations of disability and disabled characters. It ends with some pretty clear and concise advice for how developers can go about being more inclusive. Content warning on this one for mentions of suicide.

  • What Games Are Like For Someone Who Doesn’t Play Games – Razbuten

    Razbuten made a video about what he learned from watching his wife – someone with very little prior experience with videogames – play a bunch of videogames for the first time. It results in some interesting insights in game literacy, as well some well-demonstrated observations of some rarely-examined assumptions frequently made by developers and more experienced players. Perhaps some further inferences go unsaid here, particularly about how these assumptions might then feed into broader gatekeeping problems.

Games and Mental Health:

Two tonally contrasting pieces look at using games to reflect on and give attention to personal experiences of mental health, one actively, the other reflectively.

Implicitly Designed:

Several thoughtful videos looked at the social, political and environmental implications of design.

  • Games, Schools, and Worlds Designed for Violence – Jacob Geller

    Jacob Geller looks at contemporary school architecture aiming to keep students safe during a school shooting and compares it to how players recognise and relate to level design in various (cover) shooting games, to pose a question about the long-term implications of designing spaces with violence in mind.

  • The Conquest of Ale: Anarcho-Communism in Dwarf Fortress – Huntress X Thompson

    Huntress X Thompson builds a convincing argument for reading Dwarf Fortress as a mechanically working demonstration of anarcho-communism, comparing the way the dwarves are designed to act individually within the community (and the game’s apparent mechanical problematisation of hierarchy) to quoted passages from political-philosopher and activist Pyotr Kropotkin. I enjoyed this a lot.

  • The Environmental Impact of Physical Games – Heavy Eyed

    The first in a planned series on The Ethics of Buying Video Games, Heavy Eyed looks at the environmental costs associated with the buying and selling of physical games media, along with some of the possible steps which companies should take to cut down on plastic waste.

Fighting/Game Histories

On the lighter side, a pair of narratives around fighting games in the 90’s caught my eye.

  • Making Mortal Combat | Retrohistories – Chris Chapman

    Adapting from a chapter of Arcade Perfect by game historian David Craddock, Chris Chapman made an interesting account of the parallel porting work by different companies adapting Mortal Kombat for the Sega Megadrive and SNES, and the different technical and censorial challenges they faced. Sidenote: Mortal Kombat is more gruesome than I’d remembered.

Systemy Systems

There were lots of videos focusing on specific, evolving aspects of game design in October. I thought the following couple delivered best upon the topics promised by their titles.

  • Clockwork Games and Time Loops – Game Maker’s Toolkit

    Inspired by Outer Wilds, Mark Brown explores the use of dimensional time in games — how time has mostly been used in loop form, some of the limitations of this, and how it might be used otherwise by games with more conventional structuring.

  • World of Warcraft Classic and What We Left Behind – Folding Ideas

    In a broad but always-interesting piece, Folding Ideas examines World of Warcraft’s long evolution against the much-touted notion of it having an ideal past form. The video responds in part to assumption-based arguments made by “outrage merchants”, and ends up looking at the evolution of ideas and philosophy behind choices in MMOs, such as the contextual desirability of traits like self-direction and grinding.

Spookyween

Halloween is well behind us now, but let’s review a little of the season’s bounty to finish up.

  • The Slow Burn Arthouse Horror of The Space Between – Errant Signal and Faith: An 8-Bit Horror – Errant Signal

    Chris Franklin made two videos about indie horror games for Halloween this year. The games are very different, though the videos share an interest in how each game deliberately makes visual aesthetic choices in service of scares and atmospheric unease. In both cases Franklin ends up telling a lot the game’s story, and demonstrating some scare moments in ways that are, actually, a little scary.

  • The Joker Sucks – Kotaku

    Tim Rogers reviewed the Joker movie for Kotaku, except by “reviewed” I mean “compiled various villainous videogame clowns into a single irreverent storyline”.

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