Welcome back, readers.

As you have perhaps come to expect by now, we begin with our usual starting point. The push for systematic reforms that will meaningfully oppose and resist racial injustice must carry on beyond the window of topical trendiness.

On the same page, there’s a new Itch bundle. There’s some very cool work on showcase here, and 100% of the proceeds go to supporting Black trans communities. Check it out!

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

Save State

We open this week with two authors looking at bigger-picture topics and concerns in games regarding what games can and should mean as well as who and how they represent their players and communities.

“No matter how much change and positive impact the employees of Ubisoft at the bottom push for in franchises like Far Cry or Watch Dogs, their efforts are easily squandered in the face of an embarrassing leadership composition that should’ve been addressed long before a wave of damning allegations against several high-profile figures.”

Identities at Play

This is admittedly a loose grouping, but all three of these pieces present deep and thorough critical dives on their respective games and stories with a focus on tensions of identity, whether those tensions are challenged by the game itself, or are left unchallenged until players and writers put those tensions to the test.

“The apocalypse, at least the genre-bound version that The Last of Us Part II depicts, is a resurrection of the idea of the frontier in the same way that white Americans’ obsession over hoarding stockpiles of defensive weaponry has always been. Cowboys are finally back, and their endless arsenals with them. The premise that supports both prepper fantasies and suburban paranoia is the same: protect your own, enforce your borders, shoot first and check the bodies later.”

Track 01

Now this is a topic I love reading about. Two authors this week study the affective musical design of popular games and genres.

“I believe that the best JRPG openings are emotionally stirring and give the player a sense of wonder. There is a yearning to jump right into whatever console or device you are playing on and set off on a journey. Whether it’s instrumental or features vocals, the opening music offers the promise of something new, thrilling, and entertaining.”

Pioneering Protagonists

Which voices are given prominence, given agency in the games we play? Not a new question, but one of recurring importance, as two authors this week explore the protagonists of key games and the representational stakes they bring to the conversation.

The Outer Worlds possesses very different energy: Big Lesbian Energy. That doesn’t simply mean the women are hot – several games which lack this energy fit that description and then some – but instead comes from the way The Outer Worlds puts women at the center of its narrative, relies on queer imagery and addresses inclusivity and representation.”

The Ending Has Not Yet Been Written

Two authors this week peel back the narrative design choices at play in specific games, genres, media.

“The new endings present a distinctly uncomfortable choice, but, somehow, it feels wrong to deny the Phantom Thieves their chance to reclaim their own lives. It goes against everything they’ve worked toward up until this moment, and in a game that looks heavily at the agency of young people, forcing the Phantom Thieves to keep their false happiness is a choice that rings hollow.”

Modes of Play

There are countless ways to play any one game, for countless reasons. For challenge, for chill, to learn, to cope, to experience–it’s one of the things that enriches critical games writing with so many diverse approaches. Four writers this week describe the specific angles and lenses by which they approach key games.

“You put the game away and reflect on your journey. You think that you’ll probably return to these types of games when something bad happens, because the repetition and sense of control you have when you do something right is comforting. You know how to succeed, and it’s just a matter of getting there.”

Critical Chaser

Some weeks I put funny stuff in the closing segment here. Other weeks, I save this spot for mic-drop kinds of pieces. This is an instance of the latter.

“Neverwinter taught me to see its seams, and, in knowing this, I’ve learned the seams in the many other cities I’ve since loved.”



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!