Hey there, readers.
I’ve mentioned this before, but perhaps it bears repeating now: the longer production cycles of video essays tends to put them a bit outside *the moment* of discourse, a factor that has certain advantages and disadvantages, but one which, in this rapid era where “last month” perpetually feels like several lifetimes ago, can add a sense of jarring discontinuity to the act of compiling a column championing them. That I’m now putting this roundup out many weeks after the essays themselves were finished and uploaded to the ‘tube adds another layer of strained asynchronicity. You’ll notice, for example, that while a lot of excellent videos about videogames were published in May, none-I-could-find particularly considered representations of racial discrimination and police violence, which, from here in late June, when many of us have been thinking about little else for over a month now, feels like an uncomfortable gap.
Black lives matter. This is a thing we all need to keep repeating and fighting for until our institutions and politics and beliefs-at-large reflect this truth. This is a truth we need to hold even when mainstream coverage dissipates, or when governments and departments make tokenistic concessions or hollow symbolic gestures without instituting any meaningful structural change. This is a truth we must remember regardless of where we live, regardless of whether police brutality and racism are clearly visible around us or more insidiously tucked away.
Hopefully I’ll have more to share on the matter in June’s roundup. In the meantime, do watch Renegade Cut’s critical look at policing in Disco Elysium, from April. Reread Marina Watanabe’s essay from December about how people of colour are pushed out of critical video spaces. And if you can, consider donating to/checking out the following links (as compiled by Chris):
Donate to The Bail Project
Donate to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Hire Black Game Developers
Donate to the Black Trans Protesters Emergency Fund
This Month In Videogame Vlogging is a roundup featuring the best videogame criticism to be made using a video format from the previous calendar month.
Three excellent videos critically investigate what games can tell us about the systemic environmental crises that we’re now living through.
Global Warming, as Depicted by 30 Years of Strategy Games – Super Bunnyhop (30:35)
George Weidman surveys depictions of climate change in the past three decades of strategy games (which mostly in this case means in all the prominent Civ- and Sim- titles), and how such gamified depictions may be able to influence our thinking when it comes to responding to environmental crises, or not. (Autocaptions) [Note: contains embedded advertising]
Life in the Shadow of Midgar – Jacob Geller (20:03)
Jacob Geller discusses the imposing vertical visual metaphor of Final Fantasy VII’s city Midgar, the useful trope (and lived reality) of the Have’s living above and over the Have Nots, and how Midgar’s construction reflects some of the complexities of environmental poverty and racism. (Manual captions)
The Post-Apocalyptic Aesthetic – eurothug4000 (16:50)
eurothug4000 surveys the common visual cues of post-apocalyptic worlds in a whole bunch of games, pondering the link of this style to the current popularity of urban exploration (UrbEx) video productions and the contemporary aesthetic of disused/decaying spaces of late-capitalism. (Manual captions)
The relationship of game worlds and narratives to imagined, representational and real work is explored in the following three fascinating pieces.
the original Mario Bros. – jan Misali (28:37)
Jan Misali considers the canonical place of the Game & Watch title “Mario Bros” (1983) and reads it as a demonstration of the inevitable exploitation of labour under capitalism. Believe me when I say I Am Here For This. (Manual captions)
The Essential Workers of Kentucky Route Zero – MidnightCowboi (22:16)
MidnightCowboi recaps Kentucky Route Zero to explore how the game’s characters are exploited by monopoly capitalism, while also managing to show glimpses of an alternative future by promoting the intrinsic value of persistent existence and relationships. (Autocaptions) [Includes plot spoilers for Kentucky Route Zero]
Inside Second Life’s Most Expensive Brothel – People Make Games (19:59)
Quintin Smith takes a tour of Monarchy – allegedly the “most expensive” brothel in Second Life – with the guidance of owner Meela Vanderbuilt, along the way interviewing other staff and discussing some of the practicalities and realities of virtual sex work. (Autocaptions) [Notes: contains embedded advertising, sexy discussions of sex]
Why Is This Thing?
“Here’s the deal with this cool thing I like” was the basis for a suite of interesting videos in May. And fair enough!
Why Do Horror Games Sound So Beautiful? – Jacob Geller (29:14)
Jacob Geller highlights and celebrates the role of particular musical cues in the linchpin moments of popular horror games. (Manual captions)
Why Do We Love Skateboarding Games So Much? – Writing on Games (11:57)
Skateboarding games have aged well because they’re more tangibly about unrestricted physical movement (whether ‘realistic’ or not) than other extreme sports games can be, posits Writing on Games. (Manual captions)[Contains embedded advertising]
Fake Newspaper Publications In Video Games – Bobdunga (12:59)
Isn’t it weird how frequently games use newspapers as props and collectables, given the obsolesce of newspapers existentially implied by the technological medium of videogames? Bobdunga asks. (Autocaptions) [Note: contains a grab of injecting footage from Bioshock]
Why Mario’s Triple Jump Animation Is So Good – New Frame Plus (8:52)
NFP analyses the frame design of Mario’s triple jump from SM64 – how it adapted Mario’s jumping style from earlier 2D iterations, and the influence it’s gone on to have in subsequent titles. (Manual captions)
Why organizing in games is so much more fun – Polygon (12:41)
Clayton Ashley looks at the role of organisation in games, from Tetris to Wilmot’s Warehouse to inventory management systems in e.g. Resident Evil and Stardew Valley, to discuss why “organisation” might be something we enjoy in games when it’s more-often something that drives us up the wall IRL. (Manual captions)
Take Notes, Designers
The following few share the theme of being about how game-makers can make certain things easier for certain players, sort of. Could they have been collapsed into the above section? Look, possibly, but then we’d have an extremely long section, and that would be no good, no good at all.
Should Game Designers Listen to Negative Feedback? – Game Maker’s Toolkit (16:45)
Mark Brown conjures a rubric for how devs might go about deciding to take on board fickle player feedback. (Manual captions)
What Casual Games Are Like For Someone Who Doesn’t Play Games – Razbuten (17:09)
This is the latest in the ongoing series of “Razbuten observes his partner playing games in order to talk about ways games are/aren’t approachable for inexperienced players”. This time they play four life-sim games and find out that Animal Crossing is pretty good. (Manual captions) [Note: contains embedded advertising]
How Skyrim’s NPCs Organize the Open World Experience – Patrick Holleman (22:07)
Patrick Holleman describes and demonstrates how NPCs are subtly clustered and funnelled to direct the player towards purposeful encounters in the open world of Skyrim. (No captions)
Once Again, Tom Nook
Aaaahh Tom Nook. How do we feel about Animal Crossing’s mild-mannered head honcho? Will this ever be settled?
I must begrudgingly admit I like Tom Nook, betraying my principles. – Thought Slime (14:42)
Thought Slime declares Tom Nook ain’t all that bad because, when it comes down to it, he’s not an actual landlord. (Autocaptions)
Investigating Tom Nook’s predatory lending practices in Animal Crossing – Polygon (7:45)
Actually though, “Nook is a bad guy”, insists Simone De Rochefort. (Manual captions)
That’s all for May. Thank you – as always – for your recommendations, do keep sending them in, and I’ll see you soon to round-up June.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!