April 5th

Welcome back, readers. Hope everyone’s keeping safe. I’m currently a third (?) of the way to the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, but I can definitely still feel the four walls of my apartment pressing against me.

We’re debuting a new feature later this week! Stay tuned for more, but if you find yourself craving an auditory fix in this time of isolation, good news is on the way.

Additionally, we don’t usually push this too hard in the introductions, but Critical Distance is funded entirely through the support of our readers. If you’ve never seen our Patreon (linked below as well), check it out! Our supporters–who are rad and whom we appreciate–give us the flexibility do do things like Critical Compilations, cool projects, and, umm, allowing me to run these roundups while writing a doctoral thesis.

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Industrial Mettle

Our opening section this week comprises a pair of pretty cool articles critiquing trends, biases, and imagined histories in the game industry. For my part, I’ve been waiting for a really crunchy piece on Doom: Eternal, and Mx. Medea has thoroughly delivered.

“Through fawning for the hyperreality of an imagined era that never was, one dreamed up by marketing executives who had little to no involvement in the creative process of countless artists, we risk uncritically internalizing the ideas that games are just fun diversions, that they’re at their best as adolescent power fantasies about being a sickass DOOMSLAYER, or perhaps even that games are just better off without politics (that is, with all of the ambient -isms in place that don’t challenge, but instead bolster, the worst parts of the status-quo that reads as neutral background noise to the most privileged among us).”

Spaces, Places, Un-Spaces, Non-Places

This admittedly-loose coalition of diverse critical perspectives all revolve around thinking and rethinking spaces and places in games, around games, about games. It makes sense, given the compulsory hibernation we’re all in right now, that people are thinking and writing critically about the spaces we inhabit, occupy, and subvert.

Minecraft is a rejection of the outside world. Come in, build your ideal home out of whatever you want. Live out a dramatic story where you’re the only person on earth. Ravage an ecosystem or create an entirely contained floating one. As long as what you’re doing involves placing and removing blocks, what’s the harm? It makes for a perfect game to be played in isolation.”

Simulating Paradise

These two pieces, both about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, look at the limitations and exclusions in simulating communities and environments, as well as the biases that determine those limitations and exclusions.

“Games like SimCity have been promoted by proponents in the gaming and tech industries as a useful tool for teaching the fundamentals of city planning, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons has taken some cues from the same philosophies in terms of how it frames the process of developing an island, but their visions of a functioning community leave a lot out. You start on an empty plot of land or deserted island, from which resources consistently spring forth, owned or relied on by no one else. There’s no dump, no parking lots, and the citizens are either abstracted data points or cartoon animals. There’s not a question of what happens to the animals you don’t invite to live on your island, or the people who are priced out of living in your thriving SimCity.”

Tensions in Design

We’ve collected four pieces this week all of which engage in some kind of design-related critique of their respective games, examining how different moving parts can complement one another or run into conflict, as well as the two-way relationship both design and design assumptions have with players.

“Stories are malleable and shift based on who is telling them, but to turn them into objects and to shift storytelling into something transactional felt contradictory.”

Critical Chaser

How about some verse to close out the roundup?


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