Welcome back, readers.
Some news from around the site. First off, we’ve opened a new call for Critical Compilations! As an alleged academic, I have long appreciated these features as invaluable research resources, so if you’re interested in pitching one on a game or series you love, please do!
We’ve also launched a public Discord! I think we’ve already re-litigated most of the obligatory cyclical arguments about The Discourse and cheese, so if you’re seeking community among other folks who are invested in the critical games writing community, come on in!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We open this week with three fine pieces, each about shared or social gaming experiences in one capacity or another.
- Gamer Mom: Animal Crossing Is Teaching My Kid Financial Literacy | Sidequest
Wendy Browne takes stock of what her daughter is learning about stalks.
- Nonverbal Communication in Animal Crossing New Horizons | KathyJones on Patreon
Kathy Jones discusses body language, tics, emotes, and other means on non-verbal communication in New Horizons.
- Let’s Chill – Jedi Academy and the Lost Art of Casual Play | RE:BIND
Emily Rose traces linages between Star Wars: Jedi Academy‘s more supportive and welcoming community and structural affordances in its multiplayer that allow for breathing space, chill time, and a certain etiquette.
“Our rhetoric and approach towards multiplayer gaming is now identifiably rooted in the sluggish rat race once found only in highly coordinated MMORPG raids. Now, more than ever, we need serene spaces of meditation mixed with challenging thoughtful gameplay, an act that brings us together instead of pushing us apart.”
In each of the four articles that follow, the authors identify failures in recent popular games–beloved ones, in fact–and examine those failures in the hopes that we might learn something valuable.
- Subverting Expectations and Misogyny in Yes, Your Grace | Into The Spine
Ruth Cassidy identifies the suffering of women as the true currency at the heart of resource-management game Yes, Your Grace.
- The Forever War | Bullet Points Monthly
Yussef Cole invokes Joe Halderman’s satirical military sci-fi novel to describe the fundamentally static conflict at the heart of the Doom series.
- We Shall Know No Fear | Bullet Points Monthly
Jeremy Signor, via comparisons to Warhammer 40K, examines how Doom‘s recent pivot from satirizing lore to leaning into it impacts its relationship with player agency, its ideology, and its core theses.
- kentucky route zero and the failings of white leftism – lotus root records
lotus identifies the racial gaps, erasures, and distortions in Kentucky Route Zero‘s activism, its accounting of historical violence, and its reading list.
“krz is lauded as an anticapitalist work because of how its narrative explores themes of debt and ownership, exploitation and dehumanization. but it expresses these themes through historicizing, memorializing, and empathizing with unracialized figures like “the worker,” “the miner,” “the truck driver” (conway). it ignores the obscured but just as, if not more, thematically relevant and vital histories of Black chattel slavery and violence against indigenous people that not only continue to shape the modern world but also literally shaped the very caves in which the game’s characters are standing and talking.”
Gathered here are three crunchy character studies, persuasively guided by the personal experiences of the authors.
- God of War (2018): Sins of the Father – Uppercut
Andrew Cogswell examines the complicated, tumultuous relationship between Kratos and Atreus through the lens of his own paternal relationship.
- An Ode to Final Fantasy XIII’s Oerba Dia Vanille | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores celebrates a character who legitimizes inconsistency, imperfection, messiness, and moral complexity.
- Cloud Threatens Gender Norms Through Way More Than Cross Dressing | Into The Spine
Stacey Henley studies the small ways in which Cloud redefines different masculinities.
“No, Cloud isn’t trans, and he doesn’t ‘yas queen’ down gender barriers by smashing the binary or rocking the cistem. But he does challenge the norms of what it means to be a man in a video game, and characters who move the goalposts by inches can be more important than those who move them by miles.”
An Industry Thing
We’ve got three very good and very different selections this week that intersect with games as an industry and/or a journalistic practice. Check ’em out!
- DEEP HELL 01 – INTERVIEWS by DEEP HELL • A podcast on Anchor
Skeleton deconstructs the concept, the artifice, of interviews in games and other popular media journalism.
- The story of Your Sinclair | Eurogamer.net
Graeme Mason recounts, through interview and anecdote, the history of an off-beat, personality-driven gaming magazine that outlived its home platform.
- Thomas Malthus’s Video Game Industry Simulator 2020: Part 1 – No Escape
Trevor Hultner breaks down the refrain of “too many games” along different metrics, different measurements, looking for a means to describe the value we often perceive in games but struggle to articulate.
“Indiepocalypse is a narrative that, I believe, starts with the AAA industry and ends with you and me. Everything from what our shared understanding of what “good” and “bad” are to the kinds of games that ever see the light of day in the press do more to harm indies than any rising tide of games being made. Hopefully, by the end of this project, we’ll be able to show a path forward.”
Five pieces in the closing segment this week–alternately provocative, hilarious, awe-inspiring, and moving–because I said so.
- The Dark Truth about Pokémon: Are we Constantly Killing our ‘mon? | Fandom
Jason Coles goes deep on the mechanisms and ethics behind teleportation and matter-data conversion. Gotta catch ’em all!
-  Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order | Into The Spine
Elizabeth Henges tells a story of Jedi Fallen Order in 56 screenshots.
- Extra Lives: For River | Videodame
I look forward to the weeks when Rachel Tanner updates with new gaming poetry. This week it’s To The Moon.
- Funky Fantasy IV: A Machine-Translated Video Game Experiment | Legends of Localization
Just look at what Clyde Mandelin has done. While you’re there, also read his excellent writeup on how and why he did it.
- 5 Goddesses Who Should’ve Gotten A Game Instead of Kratos – Uppercut
Caitlin Galiz-Rowe with the list content I need aw Hel yeah.
“I’ve said pretty much all I care to about God of War (2018), and the whole franchise, being perfectly honest. But something I never get tired of is gassing up badass fictional women, so let’s go through some legendary ladies who definitely deserved a game of their own more than Sad Dad Kratos.”
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!