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.
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.
Bobdunga presents a neat retrospective on 90’s Canadian children quiz show Video & Arcade Top 10, celebrating its focus on fun and participation in a time before gameplay footage was abundantly available. (Autocaptions)
To uh, celebrate (?) the madness of The Game Awards, which also happened in December, NowThis Nerd recap a fraught lineage of attempts to create a videogames equivalent of The Academy Awards, tracing a trajectory from Cybermania 1994, through The Spike Video Game Awards, VGX and finally, the origins of its latest and current iteration. (Manual captions).
Self and Performance
A pair of videos reflect on the relationship of videogames to performance of self and performance of characters.
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]
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]
The next two videos discuss games in terms of their relationship to altering spaces, and I mean this in the widest sense possible.
Mark Brown discusses the “Most Innovative” mechanics of Baba Is You – the thought process behind them, the way they allow the creation of puzzles that are enjoyable to work through, and how the game goes about teaching its “loopy logic” “slowly and subtly, so everyone can understand it.” (Manual captions)
HeavyEyed continues their series on the broader environmental impact of playing, buying and making games, with a look at some of the hidden environmental costs of gaming’s increased reliance on cloud storage and streaming. (Manual captions)
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.
Equal parts unapologetic self-indulgence and mumbled pathos, Tim Rogers’ Games of the Decade video is worth watching for its exaggerated meta-textual performance about the process of making such a list. (Autocaptions)
Alexandra Orlando is joined by DigitalMumbles to remember, as the title describes, the best and worst outfits in video games from the past decade. It contains some insightful discussions on the relationship of in-game fashion to real world fashion trends, along with some of the broader cultural and political contexts that inform these things. (Autocaptions)
Gita Jackson and Paul Tamayo blitz through a short and sweet rundown of 2019’s most relaxing and stressful games, two pertinent categories for these increasingly hectic times. (Manual captions)
That does it for me. See you all next month!