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.
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.
- Searching for maturity in video games – No Escape
Kaile Hultner poses an open question about the state of both contemporary games and their associated discourse, and I’m hoping to have the opportunity to read some responses to that question in the coming weeks.
- Portrayals of Latinx Characters in 2020 Video Games Already Have Me Tired | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores wonders about not just the state of representation in AAA games, but also who is in charge of that representation.
“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.
- Afterparty and the Tedium of Eternal Consumption – Haywire Magazine
Bartlomiej Musajew treks through nine circles of consumption capitalism, alcohol, and identity in Afterparty.
- Growing Up As A Taiwanese-American Gamer Was The Best Of Both Worlds | Kotaku
Joe Shieh describes a childhood at the crossroads between the Japanese and North American gaming scenes.
- Their World | Bullet Points Monthly
Yussef Cole finds that exclusionary white American ideals about suburbia and the frontier have survived the apocalypse in The Last of Us Part II.
“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.”
Now this is a topic I love reading about. Two authors this week study the affective musical design of popular games and genres.
- The Best Metroid Soundtracks | Paste
Dia Lacina embarks upon an acoustic tour of the Metroid series.
- JRPG Openings and the Call to Adventure | Into The Spine
Latonya Penningston studies the musical intros in JRPGs that get us hype for grand adventures.
“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.”
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.
- Never Mind The Last Of Us, Here’s The Real Game With The First LGBT+ Protagonist | USGamer
Stacey Henley looks back at Caper in the Castro, situating it in its time and place against the backdrop of the early AIDS pandemic and the negligent Reagan and Bush administrations that ignored it.
- Before I Forget Is a Touching and Intimate Exploration of Dementia and Loss | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores plays a game that centres its depiction of dementia in the agency of its playable protagonist.
- Who Runs The Outer Worlds? Lesbians – Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley celebrates The Outer Worlds‘ Big Lesbian Energy.
“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 Living Card Game: a New Mode of Epic Performance | Play The Past
Roger Travis embarks upon a detailed study of the narrative and poetic structural affordances made possible by the Living Card Game or LCG format.
- Take Your Heart (and Tear it Apart): The Moral Dilemma of Persona 5 Royal’s New Endings | Sidequest
December Cuccaro discusses how Persona 5 Royal‘s extended epilogue adds a shade of moral complexity to an otherwise straightforward string of choices.
“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.
- Anatomy of a Run: Examining the Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor breaks down a challenge mode of constrained play in, um, the best Final Fantasy.
- The Paper Mario Bible | Into The Spine
Harriette Chan reminisces about making The Thousand Year Door, and an associated magnificent homemade print-out strategy guide, an inter-generational family affair.
- Battle Chef Brigade Helps Me Navigate A Complicated Relationship With Food During Covid-19 | Kotaku
Ash Parrish rekindles the thrill of cooking and quiets the destructive inner voice via Battle Chef Brigade.
- Using Platformers to Cope with Trauma: An Easy Ten-Step Process | Sidequest
Emma.Kostopolus presents a helpful walkthrough on maximizing the therapeutic applications of high-difficulty platforming 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.”
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 (Cities and Identity) | by Violet Adele Bloch | Jul, 2020 | Videodame
Violet Adele Bloch returns to the city of Neverwinter in a an experimental and arresting piece which I will not summarize, but which I will implore you to read.
“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.”
- (Re)Coding Survivance: Sovereign Video Games Special Issue – First Person Scholar
Michelle Lee Brown, Beth LaPensée, Maru Nihoniho, Meagan Byrne, and betsy brey come together on a podcast kicking off FPS’s special issue focusing on Indigenous creators, players, and themes.
- (Re)coding Survivance and the Regenerative Narrative – First Person Scholar
S. Rose O’Leary discusses a decolonial narrative vision for the future of games.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!