June 14th

Welcome back, readers.

So like I know coverage of worldwide anti-racist protests tapered off just a little for a hot minute, with mainstream news outlets eager to move on, but people are still out on the streets fighting for real change and walls of regressive meat decked out in badges and riot gear and the blessings of the State are still out there trying to beat and taze and handcuff and shoot that change into submission. Rayshard Brooks is the latest widely-publicized murder victim of anti-Black police brutality, so please consider lending your support wherever you can. Here are some places to get you started:

From around the site, the third episode of the Keywords in Play podcast is live. This episode features Bo Ruberg! Be sure to check it out.

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

Value Initialization

Three writers this week closely examine the values in popular games belied by who and what they routinely include, as well as who and what they routinely exclude.

“given recent events, it is difficult not to reflect back on how Spider-Man and other video games offer a rigidly positive portrayal of police. That uneasiness, born from the game’s utopian depiction of law enforcement, has begun to crystallize for many. Many video games depict police as purely altruistic, not reflecting any of the bitter reality of prejudice and violence. Those that might not have understood that before are now starting to get it, and that might be a problem for future video games.”

Industry Currents

Three authors this week look at bigger-picture movements, trends, discourses, and causes in both the games industry and games academia.

“The responsibility to employ kindness – to make things pleasant – rests with those who hold power. And it must be actively exercised. Not using your linguistic and cultural privilege as a weapon to exclude already marginalized people is not kindness. It should be a baseline expectation to participate in the field of game studies, or any community whose enterprise depends on the mutual interchange between peers.”

The Last of Us: Part II: Last Harder

So The Last of Us: Part II is out in a few days, and the review circuit being what it is, many writeups are both a) already out, in fact have been out for a few days; and b) constrained by apparently some of the strictest embargoes the business has yet seen. We don’t curate a lot of reviews here, and I wasn’t expecting to be collecting much if any writing on this game this early, but three authors I read this week nonetheless have found a way to say something critical and meaningful about this game, and so they are included here.

“Even at its best, the daughter game still needs the father to justify itself. He is what the daughter game is a response to, a reaction against. The first Last of Us views Joel in both sentimentalizing and condemnatory terms. He is a bad man, a murderer and a scoundrel, but that game also wants to make room for the player to identify with and sympathize with his decisions, even if they end up breaking with him at the end. The Last of Us Part II has no tools to move past that understanding of Joel, and cannot take either the player or Ellie into a world beyond his influence.”

Toil and Dread

Are games fun? Well… *eyes dart about nervously* sometimes? But fun itself is complicated, and sometimes is assembled out of seemingly un-fun ingredients. And even then sometimes the end product is… not fun, but still engaging. A pair of authors this week look at games that inhabit some of these tensions between fun and work and stress.

“Think for a moment about all the games you’ve played across your lifetime. Each one likely involves work of some kind. Whether it’s work that you yourself invented — collecting for the sake of collecting — or something that the game explicitly asked you to do — find object X to level up — those assignments, big and small, are appealing because they satisfy profound human needs. Feelings of accomplishment by way of achievable mastery. Fairness, which is often elusive in reality. A sense of control, because what are we without some measure of free will? And finally safety and security in the form of a digital refuge.”

Being There

Three authors this week write about virtual places, and the virtual–and not-so-virtual–lives that happen there.

“The Town’s cruel layout is, then, an intentional challenge—it is intended, for both the player and Artemy, as a catalyst, a means to create affect and shape certain kinds of engagement. Geography in game design is always already metaphorical, but the Town wears its reality as a psychoscape openly in both textual and design terms. You are meant to feel harried, exhausted, embattled. You are not meant to zone out or move automatically. Walking in Pathologic 2 is a space for contemplation, wallowing, and planning. Maybe, even, a space for growth.”

Therapeutic Play

Two authors this week detail some of the application games have for helping people manage mental health challenges.

“The choice to step outside of our own world and immerse ourselves in a thoroughly distracting, cotton candy-bright universe for even a moment is not only a blessing, but vital to my continued mental health. I may not ever create anything that will satiate the King Of The Cosmos, but my anxious brain will always be thankful for the rest.”