Welcome back, readers.
This week I’m plugging BlackGameDevs, a website and resource that collects information on Black creators who do all the things that go into making games. I know developers read our site, so if you’re looking for talent for your projects, consider starting here.
Kotaku UK turned off the lights this week, and with it goes a lot of irreplacable writing. With the help of our community, and through the tireless efforts of our own Zoyander, Critical Distance was able to archive a partial backup of work from the site, available here. It’s our understanding that other sites were able to create archives as well, so it’s our hope that all of this work can still be found somewhere!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Looking For Group
Who’s feeling kind of lonely right now? You know… in 2020! Probably lots of us. Games have been coming up a lot in both specialist and general media discourses lately as a sort of panacea for our collective case of The 2020 Sads, but hey, it turns out it’s a lot more complicated than that? Understanding the design logics and structures in games that impede as well as facilitate positive social experiences is kind of an important thing right now, since so many of us are relying on games to fulfill needs they weren’t necessarily designed for. Two sturdy pieces this week detail some of the minutiae of these processes.
- E-Sports, a.k.a. The Antisocial Medium | Corporate Future Nightmare World
Brendan Vance delves into the antisociality and abuse baked into anonymized matchmaking.
- Why Online Multiplayer Isn’t So Social – Uppercut
Henry Ewins traces the complex relationship between increasingly pronounced individualistic social values and increasingly asocial online gaming experiences, and looks to how games might better equip themselves to socially enrichen all players in the future.
“When people have been isolated in their homes and needed it most, how ‘social’ is online multiplayer really? Has there been a generational shift in how social games are engaged with or how they’re designed as a result of this global trend towards individualistic values? If there has, then does online gaming reflect or even contribute to the sociological and ideological rise of individualism globally or even a generational rejection of it?”
Tell Me More
Cool writers all over the place are still working through their thoughts on Tell Me Why and its leading man, Tyler Ronan, and increasingly I’m finding that writers are coming away from the game wanting. The game doesn’t appear to have any spectacular missteps, but something I’ve seen repeatedly is that the game feels too safe, or that it’s holding back, or that it’s trying to project a kind of ideal trans representation at the expense of a more relatable, believable human story. Here are two standout pieces for the week digging into these topics.
- Tell Me Why Review: Too Quick to Be Quiet, Too Cautious to Be Loud | Fanbyte
Julie Muncy finds that despire good intentions, Tell Me Why holds something back.
- Tell Me Why and the Limits of Positive Trans Representation | Medium
Carolyn Petit finds that Tell Me Why is so preoccupied with crafting the perfect trans protagonist that Tyler comes off as trans first and a person second, and the whole game rings hollower for it.
“I believe that stories that illuminate trans experience are extremely important. As I said, I felt a personal connection to Tyler’s fears about being seen and loved, and I felt my own heart yearning for the experience of being validated and desired the way he is in Michael’s eyes. But I worry that a desire to offer up positive trans representations in the mainstream space may result in a parade of trans characters who share a similar arc or fit a similar mold, when what we really need, in addition to stories that confront the realities of trans experience with far more realism and honesty than either of these games do, are stories in which trans people aren’t defined by their transness.”
I distinctly recall Iron Man being a hidden character in one of the old Tony Hawk games… anyway, we’ve got a couple pieces this week using their object texts–Marvel’s The Avengers and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, respectively, as a springboard for discussions about art, saying things, art that says things, and the (lost?) art of saying things that mean things.
- TWILIGHT OF THE SUPERHEROES – DEEP HELL
Skeleton allegorizes and situates that new Avengers game in a contemporary media canon where decades of character building and stories have been squeezed dry and all that remains are hollow, relatable, mass-market caricatures of the originals.
- Guerrilla Radio | TransGamer Thoughts
Heather Alexandra comes back to THPS, thinking through art, criticism, and the fundamental need to self-express.
“When I watch footage of Mullen or other contemporaries like Daewon Song, something falls over me like a spectral blanket. What they find through ollies, grinds, and reverts, I chase every time I write.”
This is admittedly a loose category, but all of these pieces in some way look at games, communities, or practices that include or exclude different groups of people, whether its colonialism or ableism in popular games, alternate modes of control that expand our perspectives and incorporate more identities and experiences into play, or the implicit gatekeeping practices that govern our writing communities. Lots of valuable and varied work here, so check it out!
- Chasing the Anti-Colonial Video Game – Uppercut
Zeb Larson seeks out and details alternatives in an industry so rife with colonial tropes, narratively and mechanically, as to become banally invisible.
- Ori & Ableism by @Swirly313 – I Need Diverse Games
Patricia Baxter examines how Ori and the Will of the Wisps denies agency to its disabled characters and falls back on tropes of inspiration porn.
- Alternate controllers in a world we can’t touch | Eurogamer.net
Alexis Ong talks to Jess Marcotte, Squinky, and Enric Llagostera about alt control design, marginalized experiences of play, preservation, and the role of touch-based game design in an uncertain future.
- The Ones Who Understand | Unwinnable
Diego Nicolás Argüello describes working through isolation and exclusion as a freelancer breaking into English-language writing spaces.
“It’s easy to feel insecure as an outsider. You end up revising the same email over and over again before pressing send. The waits are agonizing not only because folks are busy or due to the occasional case of ghosting, but because you feel that you’re bothering people. Asking them for a chance to get closer to the industry, and then borrowing its attention for as long as your tweet gets engagement when you share the final piece, quickly moving onto the next thing in order to stay relevant enough, aiming higher each time.”
Feeling It Out
Each of these three articles has something to say about affective or evocative design in games, be it in terms of narrative direction, dramatic pacing, or, hey, just being nicer to dogs maybe!
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition Is an Enchanting Journey into Mystery | Paste
Waverly finds Crystal Chronicles to be a game at its affective best during the quiet in-between moments: a story of smaller stories rather than grand moralizing narratives.
- Videogames, Please Stop Making Me Kill Dogs – Paste
Allison Keene implores devs to expand their horizons when it comes to designing interactions with dogs.
- Sins of the Father: The Last of Us Part II and the Limits of Empathy | Sidequest
Madison Butler finds that Ellie ultimately comes up short as a protagonist who never really grows beyond Joel’s shadow, and observes that none of the women in the series ever achieves agency in a way that isn’t defined and framed by the men in their lives.
“Perhaps the most shocking thing about Part II‘s end is how little I cared. Ellie’s motivation feels weak in light of the tension between her and Joel. Revenge seems more like something Ellie feels she has to do, not something she wants to do. Ellie was always going to inherit the sins of her father, but Part II passes up the opportunity to do anything with those themes in favor of a rote revenge story.”
Queerness in the Moment
We’ve got two pieces this week identifying queer spaces, moments, and ideas in popular games.
- Why Fire Emblem Echoes’ Subtle Approach to Asexuality has Importance in the Real World | Gayming
M. E. Laut finds a moment of ace validation in the Fire Emblem back catalogue.
- Spiritfarer proves dying is the queerest part of life – Gayming Magazine
V.S Wells finds Spiritfarer to be a game about found family, community, and care.
“We’re more likely to be estranged from parents and siblings, but we find power in relating to people who are like us. Spiritfarer holds these relationships up as something pure and sacred: caring for spirits, bringing them food, improving their homes and setting right their unfinished business are all powerful forms of caring that create kinship.”
Poetry! Get your poetry! Feel things! About games!
- Game Enjambment: That One Time I Drank the Potion from Super Mario Bros. 2 | Sidequest
Katherine Quevedo, poetry, Super Mario 2.
“Don’t go to Subspace within Subcon
for a few cherries and coins
and the odd mushroom.
For once, instead, make like
this is Wonderland and
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!