December 2019

Hey there, readers. Or should that be viewers? Viewers who read? Readers who view? Let us shelve this line of inquiry for now. It’s a new year and we’re all caught up, ready for this column to click into gear. Speaking of years, make sure you check out Kris’s very good and extensive 2019 roundup, if you haven’t already, and nor should you sleep on Chris’s informal roundup of other high-quality year/decade roundups.

December, understandably, was generally a little light in terms of hard-hitting video-based videogame criticism. Such is the way of things. I do, however, want to draw your attention to an excellent (written) piece from early in the month by Marina Watanabe, highlighting the prevalence of whiteness amongst prominent socially-aware Youtube channels — something which, Watanabe points out, isn’t the fault of individual creators, so much as reflects larger cultural problems with who we amplify and who receives backlash. I’d suggest from observations during my couple of months in this video correspondent role that a similar over-representation of whiteness exists across games-criticism Youtube, with the added caveat that it also tends (probably for similar reasons to those detailed by Watanabe) to be dominated by cis men, whose videos – despite my best intentions – have still made up the bulk of my recommendations in this column so far.

At Critical Distance, we aim to “accommodate as many different perspectives and unique voices as we can”. While I’ve been working to find vloggers whose videos are less likely to be promoted by the algorithm (which, as we know, tends to amplify videos that already have lots of views), watching videos is a time-consuming process and there is only so much of it that I have to give to this. So to that end please do get in touch with any and all videos you’d like to recommend (hashtag TMIVGV), and that goes double for creators that fall outside the over-represented ciswhitedude norm.

Pick-of-the-Month

  • Does Call of Duty Believe in Anything? – Jacob Geller (25:29)

    Jacob Geller explores the discrepancies between Call of Duty’s stated apoliticism, its marketing campaigns, and its renditions of military “controversy” which nevertheless continue to validate status quo narratives of the US military. (Manual captions)

This, in microcosm, is what Call of Duty believes: War is hard, and often brutal, but there are a Few Good People who have the guts and clarity of vision to do the right thing, whatever it takes. Those people are always those who have their boots on the ground, and never the ones who would let short-term morality stand in the way of long-term success.

This isn’t even really a “means justify the ends ideology. One of the curious things about Modern Warfare’s storytelling is it’s so jam-packed with missions, events and explosions that I can’t even tell you what the intended “ends” were. It’s more just, “the means are always fine, if they’re done by the right person.”

Videogames are for TV

A pair of pieces document some early incursions of videogames onto TV.

Self and Performance

A pair of videos reflect on the relationship of videogames to performance of self and performance of characters.

  • On Death Stranding, Bike Touring, and Cultivating Personality – Super Bunnyhop (24:16)

    George Weidman found aspects of playing Death Stranding to be very relatable in terms of his own experiences of bike touring across America, and in roundabout fashion comes to read the game as reflective of the personal experiences of its director.  (Autocaptions)[Note: contains embedded advertising]

  • Roleplaying in Video Games (and why I barely do it) – Razbuten (14:56)

    Razbuten discusses some of the problems with roleplaying in the fixed worlds of videogames as opposed to the malleable ones of Dungeons & Dragons. He goes on to illustrate this by recounting a playthrough of The Outer Worlds, where he decided to consciously adopt a character very different from himself. (Manual captions) [Note: contains embedded advertising]

Changing Environments

The next two videos discuss games in terms of their relationship to altering spaces, and I mean this in the widest sense possible.

Lists of Lists

Of course, December 2019’s video content was dominated by end-of-year and end-of-decade lists. Here are my favourites.

That does it for me. See you all next month!

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