Before I get going, I just want to stop and give a big shout-out to Connor, who has been working to deliver thorough and really valuable roundups on games crit on the video side of things on a monthly basis. The latest TMIVGV is live, and I highly recommend checking it out.
The last week has given me a lot of time to think–literally, since all of my professional commitments have now moved in with me. While we’re all worrying about the immediate thing, I can’t help but also cast my attention to the next thing. As those of us still lucky enough to be doing our jobs find that those jobs are now our roommates, I wonder if this is just the next evolutionary phase in capitalism, where the shaky distinctions between work and home are obliterated altogether. When the pandemic passes–hopefully with a minimum cost of lives and livelihoods–what comes next? It’s a question, I think, that runs through Trevor Hultner’s article below, too. In a time where we are increasingly seeking support at the local level as corporations and governments leave people high and dry, it’s my hope that those new community bonds can mean something positive in the days to come, beyond this period of crisis.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
There were a bunch of really strong pieces this week on virtual spaces, and especially urban virtual spaces, what they mean, and how they relate to our contemporary anxieties, both immediate and longer-term. Here are three of the best.
- Name a Game About Kentucky | Bullet Points Monthly
Amanda Hudgins assesses Kentucky Route Zero, despite all of its evocation and affect, as fundamentally a game written by outsiders peering imperfectly inward.
- Rebuilding A Virtual City As The Real World Crumbles | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra considers the lessons learned from community action in a virtual city in a time of real-world crisis.
- WOLVES HAUNT MY BEDROOM – DEEP HELL
Skeleton deciphers how the real horror haunting the urban spaces of the classic Resident Evil games was creeping gentrification all along.
“Sometimes it feels like Raccoon City is more real than ever: We watch our cities and neighborhoods be consumed by corporate investment and restaurateurs from New York. It’s not Umbrella but our faceless corporations are the same: and they’re all telling us what they’ve got to sell is good for us.”
In a time of uncertainty and upheaval, it makes all the more sense that we’re turning to the popular media we’ve cloistered ourselves in with to understand our world as it was, is, and may come to be. Err, was that almost a Galadriel quotation? Four writers this week examine the critical lenses popular games offer on our own worlds large and small, and not just in relation to the crisis-of-the-moment.
- Reading Between The Lines – The Bookshelf Limbo | RE:BIND
Emily Rose browses a game about bookstores, but actually about consumerism, but actually about the struggle to navigate the white spaces in some of our closest personal relationships.
- The Latest ‘Final Fantasy XIV’ Villain Is Populism Incarnate – VICE
Natalie Flores recounts how the Square-Enix MMO on the never-ending redemption tour deals with class struggles of another kind.
- How Madden Forced Me to Confront My Inherent Racial Bias – Uppercut
Brian Bell comes to grips with the long, fraught history of Indigenous cultural appropriation and racist caricature in professional sports.
- Your Cashier Will Remember This – No Escape
Trevor Hultner thinks through the surface-level lessons learned from moral binaries in games in a time of crisis when companies still can’t seem to think past their bottom lines.
“When I think about the period when video games discovered empathy and “meaningful choice” I think that maybe folks all learned the wrong lesson from it. That maybe they all learned that it’s profitable to sometimes show their human side, to engage in behaviors that consumers might identify as sensitive or kind. That maybe it’s beneficial – financially, to the brand, et cetera – to foster “communities” of supporters and create workplace environments that are superficially positive for employees.”
There have been a bunch of really satisfying design dives this week looking at some of the fundamentals most taken for granted in games. Here are three standouts.
- Against the Hegemony of Hit Points | EGM
Steven T. Wright argues for expanding the understanding and scope of violence and combat in games beyond a numbers game.
- Vanquish and the Joy of Movement | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor breaks down what Vanquish adds kinetically to the foundation of cover shooters.
- Understanding world-building in games | Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld takes inventory of different expository devices at play in games, where they succeed, and where they don’t.
“In the end, conflict is an active factor in world-building. When you watch those TV programmes and Youtube videos of even just a year in retrospective, we’re never talking about how our world works, but what’s changed, and it’s only then I realise that even for the real world, I don’t exactly know how everything works. In the end, your active part in matters is always more important than knowing all the details. The world is a big place, after all.”
In something like a dozen articles I read this week, writers used the same word to summarize the state of the world mid-pandemic: strange. This perhaps feels like a polite euphemism for another word: scary. In 2020 we’re not used to living quasi-unified in our normally-fragmented neoliberal world by a common threat, because capitalism is so good at inventing new divisions between people and communities, but here we are. The reparative or therapeutic implications of games feel increasingly relevant right now given that so many people are dusting off their consoles and computers to ride out quarantines. The four authors gathered here this week touch upon these topics and intersections in I think valuable and important ways.
- Playing Doom Eternal Is Actually Self-Care | Kotaku
Ash Parrish breaks down why confidence and competence are comforting in trying times.
- How Breath Of The Wild Helped Me Love Food Again | Kotaku
Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo digs into the reparative experience of watching Link just go ham and tuck into a good meal.
- Neopets is the Safety Blanket Millenials Reach for in These Trying Times – Uppercut
Caitlin Galiz-Rowe discusses how virtual economies generally and Neopets specifically simulate an idealized, equitable, and comforting vision of prosperity for all which has never actually existed in reality.
- Climbing Mount Celeste Is Aiding My Own Mental Health Journey | Sidequest
Emily Durham climbs the mountain and makes peace with the difficult but worthwhile journey.
“I’ve had to be patient through my difficult adjustment to my medication, and Celeste has given me something to focus on that isn’t my side effects. Celeste has forced me to slow down and learn how to enjoy the process of moving forward, even if you don’t always know exactly where you’re headed.”
I have saved what I feel to be a much-needed pick-me-up for last this week.
- Becoming Addicted to Dragon Age in 7 Steps | Sidequest
Naseem Jamnia reports back from 300+ hours in Thedas.
“Experiencing the expansiveness of Thedas sent me reeling; not even Breath of the Wild, one of the best games I’ve ever played, matches the details in Dragon Age. The depths of the character arcs had me in awe. I couldn’t believe I had played so many hours and experienced only a fraction of the content within.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!