Welcome back readers.
No, I haven’t seen Star Wars yet, and yes, you are very, very welcome for the time I put in this week reading major pop-culture outlets for quality games writing while dodging spoilers left and right. Nobody’s allowed to ask me for anything else this week.
Oh, if you haven’t seen it already, check out our latest regular feature: This Month in Videogame Vlogging! Our newest member of the team, Connor Weightman, has taken over curatorial duties for video-based content, because keeping everything under one banner was getting unwieldy. When nominating video content for Critical Distance, be sure to use the (not at all confusingly similar) #TMIVGV hashtag to get our attention.
Lastly, because two similar hashtags weren’t enough, don’t forget to nominate your end-of-year favourites with #TYIVGB. Everybody got that? Perfect.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Go Play a Star War
Don’t worry–I checked. No spoilers in either of these. Oh, and they’re both awesome reads.
- Jedi Fallen Order and Sekiro Shadows Die Twice: A Leap in the Dark and the Chaos of History – Uppercut
Grace Benfell studies how both Jedi Fallen Order and Sekiro Shadows Die Twice examine ritual and spirituality, through both their pitfalls and possible redemptions. SHIT this was good.
- How Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II Made The Force Interesting | Fanbyte
Bren Price studies how KOTOR 2 understands the power of the Force in all its aspects–no, really, Foucault gets involved, it’s a whole thing.
“KOTOR 2 is one of the few pieces of Star Wars media I’ve been exposed to that recognizes how fucking terrifying it must be to be a normal person standing in front of a Jedi.”
Three articles this week explore digital games by comparing them to other forms of media, tracing lines of influence and giving a better idea of the many wells that contemporary games draw from.
- The Quest Design of A House for Mr. Biswas | Why Not Games
Nikhil Murthy compares a V.S. Naipaul novel against the model of an epic quest to arrive at an understanding of how other media inform and can inform game design practice.
- Losing the Magic with Arena | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor takes the temperature of the state of MTG with the current pivot away from paper and towards Arena.
- Kingdom Hearts 3 is the Best Direct to Video Sequel – Uppercut
Caitlin Galiz-Rowe has. . . ah, shit, that’s a really, really good take. You don’t need a summary from me here. Just go read the damn article.
“Kingdom Hearts 3 is a Disney sequel. Of course, I mean this literally. It’s a sequel to the other KH games, which heavily feature Disney content, and often dive into side stories of those universes. But I also mean it as a genre. Kingdom Hearts 3 is a continuation of a series that does little to nothing to advance the storyline so many of us have come to love so deeply. It’s full of shiny gimmicks, and heaps of fanservice, with little actual expansion to speak of. But, like those movies I so adore, it provides a shot of sweetness and closure that fans have been starving for for years.”
This pair of authors weighs in on the environments of digital story spaces, and the objects that populate them.
- Metro: Exodus-Home is Where Your Stuff Is – Uppercut
Moises Taveras recounts the Metro series’ relationship to found objects.
- Coming Home-Wolfenstein: Young Blood – Uppercut
Alma Roda-Gil describes experiencing Wolfenstein: Youngblood as a Parisian.
“Playing through the levels as a French person, it was obvious to me how much of a hand fellow French people had had in the design. I felt understood and seen rather than seeing the dozen of inaccuracies I can usually point out in other depictions of my hometown and getting lost in the world felt comforting rather than disorienting or frustrating.”
Two authors this week explore how two recent games successfully synthesize their design features with their narrative themes. Also, I will never be over Outer Wilds.
- Katana Zero: Playing with Time to Fix a Fractured Memory – Uppercut
Chris Compendio looks at the ways in which Katana Zero‘s unreliable narration is baked into the game design.
- The Outer Wilds: Six Notes Make a Chord – Uppercut
Riley Hopkins discusses the role and importance of music in Outer Wilds as mechanic, as theme.
“The Outer Wilds is stunning, transformative, and by playing it I get to share in the song that is its experience. I get to bring my own instrument, gather around the campfire, and play.”
This pair of authors unpacks their respective games in relation to the wider contexts they exist in and simulate, with some common linkages with capitalism. Check it out.
- Review: Off the Record Made Me Sad and Happy I Don’t Own a Record Store | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks contemplates a small slice of survival and precarious hope under capitalism.
- The Friendship Endgame | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar critiques the excesses of the Forever Game genre and positions thatgamecompany’s latest mobile/social effort as achieving something closer to the social fulfillment we’ve all been chasing since the days of MUDs.
“We don’t need huge, flashy endorphin-rush-inducing, psychologically refined Skinner Boxes that exist to endlessly trap you. All that we need is a lush hillside, sun breaking over the horizon, our friends at our side.”
In this segment, two authors examine games with positive and negative reputations, respectively, and re-evaluate them, pointing out the ideological pitfalls of the former and the redemptive qualities of the latter.
- ‘Civilization’ and Strategy Games’ Progress Delusion – VICE
Gabriel Soares delves into the colonialist ideology at the heart of 4X strategy games.
- In Defense Of Final Fantasy XIII | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra re-examines one of the least-loved Final Fantasies as greater than the sum of its broken, messy parts.
“Final Fantasy XIII is a story about messy people. People who lie to each other, people who are pushed to the brink. The most heroic thing each protagonist does is accept who they are, with all of the contradictions and messiness therein.”
A pair of author this week detail how a couple of otherwise fairly grim games provoke feelings of relief, calm, and beauty.
- A Plague Tale Innocence: Flowers Grow in the Strangest Places – Uppercut
Aimee Hart takes a moment to admire the small moments of peace in A Plague Tale Innocence.
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses-The Power of Losing it – Uppercut
Jess Cogswell discusses how Fire Emblem: Three Houses breaks the cycle of micromanagement.
“Fire Emblem: Three Houses helps to teach us that regardless of the choices you make and what happens to you, you are creating a fantastic story- one that’s a bit different than everyone else’s and is worthy of celebrating. I think it reminds us there is no such thing as “right” choices, and not everything will go right.”
- The best spam emails we got after the ESA leak | Into The Spine
Diego Nicolás Argüello cheerfully reminds everyone how badly the Entertainment Software Association fucked up earlier this year.
“Even with a spam filter, I have been receiving all kinds of eerie, troubling emails during the past few months. Thank you, ESA.”
- We need help to stay afloat – I Need Diverse Games
If you’re not already familiar with the work I Need Diverse Games does connecting marginalized developers and creators with the support and resources they need to participate in industry events, check them out. They need your support, so please check out their Patreon!
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!