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.
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.
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.
As part of an ongoing series of mental health LPs, Courtney Garcia plays and discusses Stardew Valley through the lens of Media Psychology, analysing different aspects of it for therapeutic potential.
Jack Vanoudenaren uses their experience of playing Celeste to reflect on the subjective and personal nature of “difficulty” across life and games. Content warning for mentions of suicide, trauma and abuse.
Several thoughtful videos looked at the social, political and environmental implications of design.
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.
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 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.
On the lighter side, a pair of narratives around fighting games in the 90’s caught my eye.
I enjoyed this short profile on Ryan Hart, a fighting games champion from the UK.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tim Rogers reviewed the Joker movie for Kotaku, except by “reviewed” I mean “compiled various villainous videogame clowns into a single irreverent storyline”.