Welcome back, readers.
There still hasn’t been any justice for Breonna Taylor. Protests go on, whether they’re in the news or not. Check out this resource on ways to organize, donate to, and support resistance efforts against state-sanctioned oppressors and murderers of Black and Brown people.
That’s all I’m putting in the intro today.
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 articles documenting Black representation in popular games past and present, looking alternately as positives, negatives, and stuff in the messy middle.
- Black Athena: How Hades Gets Its Gods Right | Kotaku
Ash Parrish revels in the diversity of Hades‘ take on the Greek Pantheon.
- “Catch These Hands”: The Black Boxer Trope in Fighting Video Games | Medium
Joshua Adams asks and investigates why so many Black men in early fighting games were boxers, and considers the conflicting stereotypes and cultural narratives that inform the trope.
“The Black Boxer trope carries subtle conceptions about Black men as paradoxically both superhuman and inhuman. How else can black men defeat fantastic foes — deities, demons, mythical beasts, martial arts experts, wizards, cyborgs, people who can shoot balls of fire or lightning from their hands — with nothing but “these hands?” Mastery of complex fighting skills, ancient weapons, or magical powers is unnecessary when you already have the brute strength of a big black guy. Who needs a weapon when you are a weapon?”
Every Copy is Personalized
Three powerful pieces this week document how contemporary titles impact their players in specific and personal ways.
- Undeath and Still Life | Bullet Points Monthly
Violet Adele Bloch looks at Necrobarista, at games, at stories, at lives, as fragmentary, ephemeral assembleges.
- Tell Me Why and the Cycles of Family Trauma | Paste
Jessica Howard finds a personal stake in Tell Me Why‘s story of familial trauma.
- Weird Autumn | Unwinnable
Autumn Wright does and does not realte to the disorienting loss of place and purpose in Night in the Woods.
“While I think NitW has an optimistic, if not practical, conclusion, I can’t find it in my own home. I can’t stay in this physical manifestation of neoliberalism, nor do I want to admit that all I can do during the dying spasms of late capitalism is hold on.”
Here and Now
Three really great articles this week look at the political and ideological stakes at play in games big and small, past and present.
- Good Pizza, Great Pizza Understands the Best Ingredient is Kindness | Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe explores a pizzeria sim that gives back to its in-game community.
- Can’t say goodbye to yesterday – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi looks back at Metal Gear Solid 2‘s aggressive interrogation of player desires and expectations.
- Paradise Killer’s World Is Our Own – No Escape
Jeremy Signor breaks down why Paradise Killer totally slaps in such a relevant and uncompromising way.
“The limits of Paradise Killer is that you’re seeing the world through the eyes of an elite, but that’s also its strength. The banality through which the upper class sees the lower is an eye-opening realization to have, and the more the game treats an obviously monstrous system as just the way things are, as the world working as it’s intended, the more we can recognize our own world in the carnage.”
Build It Up, Break It Down
This week we’ve got three design-minded critiques looking alternately at systems that work, systems that don’t, and community practices of changing systems altogether.
- Egoless Platforming: Level Design in Super Mario Sunshine | Medium
Chance Lytle studies Super Mario Sunshine‘s shift toward more grounded, cohesive, and realistic level and world design, and how it balances those design priorities with the needs of challenge and exploration in platforming games.
- Game Studies – Sorry, Wrong Apocalypse: Horizon Zero Dawn, Heaven’s Vault, and the Ecocritical Videogame
Megan Condis finds Horizon Zero Dawn to be caught in conflict between its ecocritical narrative themes and its action-heavy gameplay, and looks to Heaven’s Vault as a potential alternative and more cohesive ecocritical game.
- Queer Modding | First Person Scholar
Katelyn Campbell studies the ways players read, play, and hack popular games to push back on heteronormative assumptions and structures.
“Queer mods exist so long as video games exist; video games are an interactive medium whose meanings are always up for negotiation and interpretation by the players. While games are made with rigid ideas around what gender and sexuality are, queer mods push back against these ideas and prove that queerness is desired and has a place in games. Yet, for radical, foundational change, queer mods cannot be the only form of resistance against hegemonic structures in game design and culture. While the direct subversion of heteronormativity can be where mods find their strength—as it is this direct subversion which reveals the fragility of heteronormative systems—this source of strength will also limit what they can accomplish.”
An age-old problem: Games, which we maybe want to play, but with strings attached, strings that make us feel scummy, for one reason or another. We see this in the exploitative labour cost of big games, we see it in studios and devs with politics that actively victimize vulnerable intersections of their players, and we see it this week as two authors evaluate the stakes involved in two giant franchises with those ever-present strings.
- Why I’m not buying Hogwarts Legacy – Polygon
Stacey Henley talks about the wizard game inspired by the writing of the horrible transphobic author, but also talks about how to talk about the wizard game inspired by the writing of the horrible transphobic author, which I think is sorely needed in the erupting discourse around the wizard game inspired by the writing of the horrible transphobic author, who, if I might elaborate here for the sake of clarity, is a horrible transphobe.
- The Writing For Last Decade’s Final Fantasy Women Has Me Cautious Of FFXVI | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores finds that contemporary Final Fantasy comes up woefully short on writing for women characters, both in terms of quantity and quality.
“Through the many different complicated versions of womanhood I witnessed across every entry, I was able to value my own womanhood and those of the women around me. While some women could have surely been written or presented better, Final Fantasy felt ahead of other video games for a long time. Unfortunately, it’s been a good while since Final Fantasy made me feel this way.”
I’m gonna have to play Hades soon aren’t I.
- A Letter to That One Shade in Hades | Into The Spine
Diego Nicolás Argüello brings us home on a sentimental note via Hades.
“As I prepare to leave my room, I just want to say cheers, Shade, for always being there for me. I still have one more battle ahead, and I know who I’ll be dedicating my victory to, one last time.”
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