Welcome back, readers.
I’ll direct you again to begin with our usual starting point. Keep active resistance to anti-Black fascism going by supporting those on the front lines.
Also, the Itch bundle supporting Black trans artists is still live! Go get it while you can!
Around the site, Connor is at it again with another stellar TMIVGV. If you haven’t checked it out yet, there’s lots of cool stuff to be found there.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This one gets a section all to itself. It’s a long one and a good one, readers.
- \\………..//: Getting High Off Your Own Supply
Liz Ryerson looks back on a decade of games and culture, and the withering ideological polarization which has eroded the artistic potential of both.
“The 2010’s were a decade where corporations were able to profit off our diminishing material possibilities and increasing distrust of authority and sell it back to us as empowerment. The 2010’s were a decade where people in power were able to stir up constant chaos and panic as a way to make the public feel like their actions didn’t matter to a degree that we’d never experienced before. The 2010’s were a decade where the idea of collective struggle, even at the most grassroots level, became a commodity from its very inception because so much public life shifted onto to privately-owned platforms. The 2010’s were a decade where activism and popular culture became inextricably tangled up inside each other, and all culture became defined by a search for absolute moral clarity in the midst of a reality that had none.”
PvE – Player vs. Empire
Games often tell us very different things across how they are marketed and sold to us versus how they actually play out in experience. And just as often, the things we have to say in response to those games in turn shapes and reshapes our experiences with them. Four authors this week practice this dialogical discourse to arrive at deeper truths embedded in systems of play.
- Empire and Quarantine: The Public/Private in Games | Into The Spine
Ari Hiraeth considers the increasing synthesis of the public with the private, via Civilization VI and Forager respectively, in the age of pandemic.
- Paper Mario: The Origami King Is Unambitious, Problematic Fun | Paste
Waverly finds Origami King to be cute, charming, and colonially troubling.
- Finding Meaning in Absurdity in Hardspace: Shipbreaker | Fanbyte
Ren makes a little bit of room to troll space capitalism in Hardspace: Shipbreaker.
- Ghost of Tsushima, Kurosawa, and the political myth of the samurai | Polygon
Kazuma Hashimoto scrutinizes Ghost of Tsushima as a surface-level aping of Kurosawa’s cinematic language without a proper appreciation for the themes of his art, resulting in a sleek product that inadvertently plays right into the hands of far-right Japanese nationalists.
“I do not believe Ghost of Tsushima was designed to empower a nationalist fantasy. At a glance, and through my time playing the game, however, it feels like it was made by outsiders looking into an otherwise complex culture through the flattening lens of an old black-and-white film. The gameplay is slick and the hero moments are grand, but the game lacks the nuance and understanding of what it ultimately tries to reference.”
Continuing from the above, games can reveal surprising (or depressingly unsurprising) truths when we subject them to formal analysis of their structures. Two authors this week engage in this work and report their findings.
- “Echo” and the Problem of Chess Problems | Public Books
Sam Zucchi mulls solving vs. winning, art vs. agony, via Echo with a side of Nabokov.
- Destroyed in the Cut | Bullet Points Monthly
Cameron Kunzelman identifies a formal anti-Blackness in The Last of Us: Part II‘s narrative and cinematic treatment of Nora.
“Most deaths in these games are nasty and short: shot in the head like Manny or gunned down like Yara or slowly stabbed in the throat like so many of Ellie’s kills, both important and unimportant alike. Some are surprising, others are unfair, and they all fit into a balance sheet of expansive death across this world full of it. What Ellie does to Nora, though, is beyond that. She condemns her. She delivers her into a state stripped of humanity. It is a purposeful unmaking of her personhood.”
Five design-minded pieces, looking at games, genre, and structures across the decades.
- Game Pile: Secret Agent | press.exe
Talen Lee looks back at an old DOS platformer, provoking tensions between its narrative framing and its constrained, secondhand game engine.
- It Was Inevitable: An Interview with Tarn Adams on Dwarf Fortress | Sidequest
Elvie Mae Parian chats with Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress fame about story systems, industry trends, and developing a game that can never be done.
- Mystery House  – Arcade Idea
Arcade Idea embarks upon the task of excavating Mystery House from the obliterating influence of history to consider its charming and obtuse innovations on the adventure genre.
- Necrobarista is Haunting, Innovative and Begging for Interpretation | Unwinnable
Violet Adele Bloch responds to the artistic and especially the narrative design of Necrobarista, invoking Le Guin’s carrier bag theory to describe its structure.
- Gamasutra: Morgan Baker’s Blog – Deaf Accessibility in Video Games
Morgan Baker presents a detailed and comprehensive guide on specific and actionable design practices in game development to make games more accessible for d/Deaf and hard of hearing players.
“Within the video game industry, we strive for players of all backgrounds to enjoy our games, including but not limited to those who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing (d/Deaf/HoH). So how can we make our games more accessible?”
The Missing Piece
Two authors this week document how the affective player experience completes the puzzle–or disrupts it entirely.
- Why Life Simulators Fill Me With Existential Dread – Uppercut
Grace Curtis considers the nightmare potential of forever games that aim to replace our existing unsolveable routines with equally unsolveable virtual facsimiles.
- Beyond the Valley | Meanjin
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen recounts the labour of solving puzzles and unpacking trauma via Monument Valley.
“She sits inside of me like a stone. She is always there, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. She’s there when I work, when I cry in great heaving sobs, when I sleep; she is there when I’m wide-eyed and happy, contorting my body into impossible shapes on a sticky dance floor. She is so intrinsically, naturally there that most of the time I don’t even notice her. She is like the freckle on my left breast, or the walnut-shaped scar on my left foot I got from tripping over at Parramatta pool when I was nine.”
Representative of the Medium
Three queer perspectives on three queer and not-so-queer games.
- The trans narrative in ‘The Last of Us Part II’ is compelling. There’s so much more to be done. | The Washington Post
Julie Muncy explains why, how, even as a character she likes and appreciates, Lev is himself ultimately defined by the dominant culture that still rules the games industry.
- Stardew Valley is not the LGBT utopia I first thought it was – Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart hopes for something more representative and more inclusive than Stardew‘s pretty-white town.
- Wall Market Isn’t Burning | Unwinnable
Trevor Richardson unpacks the Honeybee Inn to reveal the stilted, cynical limits of meaningful queer representation in mass-market AAA gaming.
“This is a AAA game meant for consumers to buy worldwide. Cloud cracking a smile while he dances is too radical. Presenting queerness is allowed, otherwise the Honeybee Inn and Andrea would’ve been cut from the game entirely. Representing queerness by allowing Cloud the room to explore his gender presentation or even his relationship to gender roles within his cisgender is a step too far for Remake.”
Gathered here are two authors looking at games which cannot help but reflect on and respond to the environments and cultures in which they are produced, be they the studio climates leading up to their release, the fan communities and practices that have emerged around them, or the formal genres they simultaneously appropriate and interrogate.
- Identity vs. Innovation in Paper Mario: The Origami King | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor considers Paper Mario as a series caught in a tug-of-war between fan expectation and developer innovation.
- Sega gaga – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi looks at Sega’s extremely meta quasi-autobiographical RPG released at the twilight of the Dreamcast era.
“Whatever the case the remarkable thing here – and arguably the attitude that helped transform the company from a hardware war dropout into a modern international software publishing powerhouse – was the way Sega didn’t just turn to face the music when the time came… they picked up a guitar and joined in.”
Voices from a distant star.
- Postcards from Orbit | Videodame
Autumn Wright, Outer Wilds.
“Fell into the geyser, launched towards the sky. Returned at terminal velocity.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!