Welcome back, readers. Hope everyone’s keeping safe.
I’m spending a lot of time indoors out of necessity right now. I mean, as a Ph.D candidate studying games that may be a fairly unremarkable statement even in perfectly ordinary tines, but I’m at least used to varying the roofs I spend my time beneath. Lately, like many, my commute is now largely between the computer in one room and the console in the other. Makes me think I should have got Ring Fit Adventure or something before scarcity started driving up prices.
A lot of authors lately are thinking about intersections between games and escapism. Animal Crossing is the big example right now, though I’ve also seen a few similar approaches to Doom Eternal. I don’t have either of those games yet, and instead have been racking up an awful lot of time in Elite: Dangerous. I’ll let y’all know if I make it to Sagitarius A* this time.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
New Horizons, Old Conflicts
The new Animal Crossing has been out for a little over a week now and it seems to have found a very appreciative audience while people are stuck indoors seeking distraction. This has brought attention both to the series’ wholesome appeal as well as some of its recurring critical difficulties, which the selections in this segment elaborate upon and break down.
- Why Animal Crossing and Its Increasing Capitalism Isn’t a Healthy Coping Mechanism – Paste
Dia Lacina, via Pocket Camp, articulates why Animal Crossing works as a coping mechanism even at its most progress-bar-happy worst.
- In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Kindness is Essential – Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart articulates why New Horizons is the right game at the right time.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons Is as Anxiety-Inducing as It Is Relaxing – Paste
Natalie Flores breaks down why, even in its capacity for escapism, Animal Crossing is far from utopian for all players.
“Everyone handles anxiety, grief, anger, despair, and fear differently. For some, each swing of their axe against a tree in New Horizons is a way of releasing those emotions; for others, it’s a tiny part of the responsibility you bear as a representative of an entire island. For me, it’s both—though often more of the latter.”
There’s quite a bit of spread in this section, but generally the pieces gathered here delve into some kind of historical analysis, either looking at where trends in games got their start, the underlying origins or structures of popular narratives in the industry, or even reflecting on how “history” in games is constructed and framed.
- Who gets to write video game history? • Eurogamer.net
Florence Smith Nicholls reflects on the recent auction of the Nintendo PlayStation and asks what smaller, more vulnerable artifacts, texts, and creators are out there in need of the same kind of attention and preservation support.
- LGBT Games History: NieR – Gayming Magazine
Natalie Flores revisits the well-established–as well as somewhat more obscure–elements of queerness in the somewhat-more-obscure first NieR game.
- How Games Marketing Invented Toxic Gamer Culture – VICE
Jess Morrissette traces the linkages between toxic masculinity and harassment culture in games and the enabling marketing of yesteryear.
- Revisiting BEN Drowned on the 20th Anniversary of Majora’s Mask | Fanbyte
Kara Dennison looks back at one of gaming’s most famous creepypastas and evaluates what makes it so successful.
- There Aren’t Too Many Videogames: Indiepocalypse or the Eugenics of Art | calei2copi0
Calei breaks down the fool’s errand of finger-pointing at “bad games” on Steam when the problems of resources and sustainability the industry deals with can all be laid squarely at the feet of AAA excess.
“I don’t want the videogames status quo to absorb these works as the “I’m not like other bad games” exceptions. I want bad games to be there and show resistance to tradition, to productivity, to good design, to indie polish, to respectability. I want them to be bad games and not a prototype pending development or a worthless creativity exercise. Because in my experience, the actual worst games—or the worst in games—come from blind assimilation of videogame conventionality.”
Theory and Design
Three pieces this week look alternately at how popular games are put together, how those parts interact and can be understood, and how we conceptualize and understand games generally–as well as how other outlooks might offer refreshing alternatives.
- Towards a Carrier Bag Theory of Videogames | Unwinnable
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell advocates for a shift in game design thinking away from heroic narratives by drawing upon the theory of Le Guin.
- Dave talks Video Games: Bioshock 2: A Lamb in sheep’s clothing (game critique) | Dave talks Video Games
Dave evaluates the mechanical successes and narrative failures of BioShock 2 as an extension of and iteration upon the original.
- Londons: Cultist Simulator and the Unknown | Into The Spine
Violet Adele Bloch contemplates the intersections between ley lines, stock market microwave datalinks, and the glimmer of gender euphoria in a deep dive on Cultist Simulator.
“The fourth eye is Glimmering. Like Passion, it’s closed. Passion and Glimmering are both the inverse of Reason; Reason detects without, and Passion intuits within. They can’t be learned or understood, in the mathematical sense of the Mansus, yet, Glimmering is the first part of this game I came to understand.“
All the World’s a Stage Select
I’m routinely surprised and delighted at the specific ways authors rhyme with one another from week to week. Gathered here are two articles examining the intersections between games and theatre, or games and the performing arts generally. Cool.
- Theatrical Spaces | Bullet Points Monthly
Yussef Cole takes inventory of the ways in which Kentucky Route Zero draws upon the language of theatre.
- Performance Farts – Half-Life Is The New Community Theatre | RE:BIND
Emily Rose examines how Half-Life–and more specifically its modding tools and community–have furnished a generation with an ample stage for performance art.
“As more people find themselves working from home and turning to digital media for their leisure time, it’s a predictable outcome that the performance arts would yet again find a way to adapt to the times like so many forms before. Like our forebears before us, as they stepped away from the auditorium in favor of the in-home entertainment experiences offered by television and DVDs, we are now ushering in a new age of actors and playwrights largely unaware of their trade’s institutional baggage, free to break the rules they were never familiar with for better or worse.”
We close with two selections this week–one inspirational, one sentimental.
- Gamasutra: Rachel Presser’s Blog – Game Devs, The World Needs You Right Now
Rachel Presser advocates for the role of game developers of all stripes in a time of crisis and a time of need.
- Here Lies the Abyss, Hawke, and Me | Sidequest
Naseem Jamnia looks back on the character ark of one of BioWare’s most beloved heroes.
“Between her prowess, swagger, and love life, I woke up one day and found myself completely devoted to this woman I helped create. Hawke is everything I’ve ever wanted to be. I wish my confidence were as real as hers. I wish I had been able to approach people I was interested in the way she does. I wish I could flirt and charm with a witty comment or two. I wish people could admire and respect and believe in me the way they do Hawke. And I knew I’d follow her to the ends of Thedas.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!