Welcome back, readers, and welcome to a new year and a new decade. Things feel a little bleak right now, I know, but let’s do what we can to make the best of things, shall we?
(Update Jan 6 2020: I have updated the note on the Myers piece to explicitly denote that said piece includes reference to several individuals against whom there are credible allegations of abuse. I appreciate reader feedback as I work to maintain thorough coverage of critical games writing while acknowledging the voices of survivors.)
Speaking of roundups, there’s lots of lists out there right now, particularly on the subject of games of the year or decade. Most of them don’t quite fit our usual fare for inclusion here, but there’s some pretty great insights and meditations to be had regardless. Here are a few of my picks, in no particular order:
–Not Your Mama’s Gamer (Podcast)
With that out of the way, we now resume our regularly scheduled rounding up (roundupping?). This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Industry in Review
We’re starting things off with a fairly large group of pieces, each of which in some way reflects on the trajectory of the games industry over the last decade, from such vantage points as development, journalism, and critic, and covering such topics as labour, bigotry, criticism, and gatekeeping.
- The Cost Of Being A Woman Who Covers Video Games | Kotaku
Maddy Myers looks back at a decade of hard-won survival and frustratingly incremental progress (disclosure: Critical Distance is referenced twice in-text) (content notifications: That Hashtag, harassment, abuse, threats of sexual violence) (Curator’s note: I’m aware that this piece has received some criticism for which voices are and are not included, and that some of the included voices have had credible allegations of abuse made against them. I think those criticisms are valid and should be heard, but also that this piece is an important part of the conversation and that no one piece, especially such a personal one, can capture all the contours of a decade in adequate resolution. Readers are encouraged to nominate any response pieces with the usual TWIVGB hashtag).
- Dear Player: I love you, let’s talk – Polygon
Jennifer Scheurle writes from the perspective of both a developer and a community intermediary.
- Games are Not Magic – Videodame
James Frierson demystifies the notion of “Bioware magic” by situating its games and those of other studios in the context of the fraught labour conditions under which they were produced.
- Game Hihyo / Game Criticism Magazines – Gaming Alexandria
Hubz, as part of an overarching preservation project, profiles a Japanese magazine which sought to establish a voice of truly independent games criticism, but which ultimately strayed from that goal and foundered
- Gamasutra: Michelle Deco’s Blog – Why Games Matter
Michelle Deco offers an insider perspective on why games–or perhaps more specifically the industry that produces them–are worth it.
- Anita Sarkeesian looks back at GamerGate – Polygon
Anita Sarkeesian reflects on the lasting impacts of not only That Hashtag, but the industry’s ensuing silent complicity (content notification: abuse, harassment, pretty much every stripe of bigotry).
“If the games industry had taken a bold stand during GamerGate then subsequent events may have taken a different course. Maybe the later alt-right campaigns would have felt less emboldened or been less successful. Maybe major players in the realms of social media would have felt obliged to make real changes and take real substantive action. Maybe it could have all been different. But that isn’t the reality, and we can now say for sure that the games industry was on the wrong side of history for this one.”
Two articles this week approach the topic of inclusivity in games via analysis and interview respectively.
- Life is Strange 2: Validating the Pain of Being Human – Uppercut
Natalie Flores describes the importance of Life is Strange 2‘s meaningful and nuanced Latinx representation.
- Ashly Burch on voice acting, LGBT characters and how video games are becoming more diverse – Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart chats with Ashly Burch about her zillion roles as well as queer inclusivity in general.
“The video game industry is a very white place, and while progress is happening towards more POC characters, it’s rare to see them as main protagonists. Yet with people like Burch, as well as organizations such as I Need Diverse Games, POC in Play and Out Making Games, we’re optimistic that video games – and voice acting – will become more diverse as time goes on.”
A pair of authors this week reflect on how recent games allow us to be vulnerable by being vulnerable with us in turn.
- Mutazione: You Are the Mirror In Front of Me – Uppercut
Monti Velez responds to Mutazione‘s depictions of the hurt of difficult partings and the hope of new connections.
- ‘Sayonara Wild Hearts’ and the Masks We Wear to Protect Ourselves – VICE
Nicole Clark ties protective identity formation and play to the Structure of Sayonara Wild Hearts.
“In Sayonara Wild Hearts, winning isn’t an ultimate version of breaking others’ hearts and evolving into greater power. Instead, it’s an informed return to your initial state. Rather than becoming your mask, you abandon it.”
Three authors this week examine how games embody–or fail to embody–their own allegorical themes through both their internal design and external contexts.
- Borderlands 3: Sometimes Love Just Isn’t Enough – Uppercut
Andrew Cogswell hashes out why Gearbox’s latest feels cynical and hollow in a bad way.
- another world is possible: meditations on anodyne 2 – lotus root records
lotus explores the myriad layers of anticapitalist, antibinary allegory at work in Anodyne 2.
- UNSTOPPING – DEEP HELL
Skeleton muses on the specific brand of apocalypse visited by classic SHMUPs, and how that trend is affirmed and maybe-also-kind-of subverted by modern incarnation ZeroRanger.
“While other videogames are focused with telling intimate stories (especially as we march ever forward into bigger pores and better hair), the SHMUP genre seems uniquely focused on apocalyptic visions not easily created elsewhere.”
Genre, Subgenre, Design
Included here are three pieces that dig into different aspects of genre and design, identifying successes, failures, trends, and legacies.
- Nightmare fuel for nightmare fuel – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi studies a title from From’s back catalogue which is equal parts dark, grueling, and completely, relentlessly fair in its difficulty.
- The Walking Sim Is a Genuinely New Genre, And No One Fully Understands It – VICE
Elizabeth Ballou traces the contours of a genre which has arced from a mark of derision to the precipice of mainstream saturation.
- How the Photo Mode Became a Homogenized Feature of Commodified Games – VICE
Dia Lacina describes how the found moments and creative improvisations of photography can be at odds with the planned safety of games and their worlds.
“We have created worlds that refuse the illegible, the secret, the lost. Cohesion has been placed into a state of primacy, friction is a mistake to be routed, and because of this, game photography suffers at a time when it is more prevalent and popular than ever.”
Nostalgia Episode II.9: A New Revenge of the Attack of the Nostalgia
I’ve recently noticed a number of pieces examining nostalgia via its sinister aspect as a marketing tool. Here are two more excellent contributions.
- The Art Of Letting Go – The End Of Nostalgia Bait | RE:BIND
Emily Rose meditates on how both nostalgia-as-vogue and fan outrage are co-opted by media corporations to serve their bottom lines.
- The Most 2019 Game of the Year: Kingdom Hearts III – No Escape
Trevor Hultner talks a little bit about Kingdom Hearts III, but mostly about the growing commercial fetishization of nostalgia and why that’s a bad fucking thing.
“Nostalgia baiting breeds traditionalism breeds the kind of reactionary politics we see all over the place today. You don’t just want the new live-action beat-for-beat retelling of The Lion King, you want to go back to when you were a small child seeing the animated Lion King for the first time. You yearn for a golden time, a simpler time, ignoring that at no time does this really exist.”
An Action Replay? Wish I’d thought of that.
- Nine Ways Final Fantasy III Hates You | Sidequest
Tia Kalla takes issue with *checks notes* which Final Fantasy III? Oh. Ohh.
“I have never played a game that shows such continual contempt for the person running it.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!