Welcome back, readers.
It’s been an eventful week in the news. Something I haven’t seen a lot of coverage on lately is the ongoing protests against state-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people. Check out this resource to find out how you can help.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Ableism and disability erasure are systemic problems in popular games, and that’s a problem reflective of our wider cultures. That sucks! We open this week’s issue with two authors scrutinizing these design choices in popular and contemporary titles.
- ‘Realistic’ Game Environments Don’t Acknowledge Disabled People | Uppercut
Errol Kerr takes stock of all the ableist exclusions that happen across games in the name of ‘realism.’
- Crusader Kings 3: Eugenics at Play | GlitchOut
Oma Keeling uncovers ablelist and eugenic design choices in Crusader Kings III, and thoroughly earns this big-ass pullquote.
“Eugenics is not simply a historical process, something we eventually stopped the Nazis from doing and which went away, but a mode of supremacist thought about the human body. It is hatred masked as a pseudoscientific thought experiment, which poses some people as categorically inferior. It is eugenic ideals that formed Nazi policy and led to the Holocaust, which led to the attempted erasure of indigenous people across the world, in Canada for instance, and which originated in the scientific moralities of Victorian Britain. It is the idea that is explicitly supported currently by far-right extremists, and affects people daily, as in the continued presence of acts like the mass hysterectomies reported at immigration centres in the US in 2020. It is not innocent, it is not divorced from history, and its inclusion in a medievalist alt-history game, cannot be seen in a way that does not fundamentally skew the game’s politics towards catering to intolerance. This doesn’t concern the intent of Paradox, there is no accusation, it is a basic premise of modern life, that there is no such thing as a eugenic system that does not cater to supremacy.”
Pushing Back on the Status Quo
Normativity and the normalization of toxic practices push out people, players, and perspectives in games, whether it be in play communities, development studios, or journalism. Two articles this week each take a look at the consequences of these toxic practices, looking alternately at labour and critical discourse.
- The Destructive Psychology of the Video Game Industry | Psychology and Video Games
Platnium analyzes the abusive behavioral practices and patterns that facilitate crunch at development studios, and offers tactics and tools for pushing back against those patterns.
- ‘Ghost of Tsushima’ was a battleground for criticism and fan reaction | The Washington Post
David Shimomura examines how Ghost of Tsushima critical discourse has been curated by western media to privilige Japanese nationalist perspectives while shutting out diasporic Japanese voices.
“Crucially, people who play games no longer need to be encouraged by publishers or developers. In fact, in sharp contrast with prior years, the biggest players in the console market have either ignored each other or expressed an interest in partnership in the run-up to the coming console generation.”
Each of these three articles looks at the social dimensions of play along different axes, whether it be in the curation of shared play experiences, adapting the tabletop to the screen, or even the contemporary ubiquity of community-driven guides and problem-solving for solitary experiences.
- The Wiki Generation and The Fear of Missing Out | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor wonders what is lost when solitary games are so easily crowdsourced, whether we choose to participate or not.
- How The Animal Crossing Diaries are chronicling the pandemic | Eurogamer.net
Florence Smith Nicholls looks in on the scene of virtual curation of virtual worlds.
- Playing Games, Practicing Utopia: A Life in Tabletop Gaming | Gamers with Glasses
Edmond Chang discusses the recuperative, adaptable role of TTRPGs in navigating personal and public hardships past and present.
“I sense and see a need in the world for new games, different players, and better worlds. Against fear, against despair, against violence, against injustice, against devastation, games can encourage hope, possibility, change, imagination, and curiosity…Nowadays, games and gamers must engage and design for radical diversity, thoughtful inclusion, and players and communities of many different stripes, colors, lifeways, and backgrounds. I challenge game players, masters, makers, artists, activists, conventions, and communities to game for good, to play for change.”
The Ellie and Joel Power Hour
We’ve got a pair of fresh perspectives this week on The Last of Us games, both of which, in very different ways, make a case for not playing them. But one’s positive! Intrigued? You’ll have to read on.
- #iwouldntrecommendit: the last of us | Medium
GB Burford breaks down the shitty things about TLOU1 and how they reflect (or rather, how they don’t) on our wider cultures in a lengthy, satisfying read.
- How Ellie Saved My Dream | Videodame
Oliwia Wolkowicz comes closer to TLOU2‘s characters by stripping away the game parts, via YouTube and fanfiction.
“Ellie and Dina’s story was so engaging and hypnotizing that I suddenly couldn’t stop where the game ended (and don’t get me started on how it ended in the first place). So I did what every fan of a story does when the medium hangs them out to dry — I turned to fanfiction. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on to find the ending that I thought Ellie and Dina deserved. And when I did read everything I could get my hands on, it turned out that it just wasn’t enough. And so I did what every fan of a story does when fanfiction doesn’t have the fix they’re looking for — I began to write my own.”
Representative of a Trend
Two critical examinations this week, one positive, one negative, of how underserved identities are represented in contemporary games, both generally and specifically.
- Raji: An Ancient Epic harnesses Hindu stories for a grand adventure | Polygon
Preeti Chhibber finds satisfying feminist and Hindu representation in Raji: An Ancient Epic.
- Bringing a Katana to a Gunfight | Kotaku
Sisi Jiang pushes back against the indiscriminate mismatching of stereotypical Asian cultural signifiers in games past and present.
“I am so tired of these design choices. Western developers may be more familiar with Japanese culture than that of other Asian nations, but there are a lot of problems with using Japanese swords as a shorthand for the entirety of Asia.”
Two articles this week zero in on how history informs both characters and settings in games large and small. Check them out!
- The Library in LUNA The Shadow Dust | Play The Past
Alvina Lai studies the histories and mythologies that inform the design of the library level in LUNA.
- The Casual Gaymer: Nier Replicant and connecting with Queer history | AIPT
Trevor Richardson reflects on the erasure of history, in and out of game, for queer characters and queer players, in coming back to OG Nier.
“A major theme of Nier and Nier: Automata is discovering an erased history and learning about your identity and how it has been validated or contradicted by that history. It can be a discovery that reifies your existence, but for both queer people and the characters of the Nier games, it can also be one that unveils the ways your people have been murdered, oppressed, or left to die. It can be one that reveals that, for better or worse, you are not who or what you thought you were. The potential for despair is only further compounded by the fact that these injustices have been erased to fulfill the agendas of the powers that be.”
Our experiences with games, with players, are inevitably shaped and influenced by the state of our lives at the time that we play those games. And well, right now everything sucks pretty bad! That’s going to have some bearing on the games we’re playing right now, as well as the game-like patterns and structures we notice elsewhere. Four authors this week elaborate on this idea in thoughtful, illuminating, and provocative ways.
- BORN TO DIE | DEEP HELL
Skeleton didn’t really like Hades.
- Street Idols: Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor and Mundane Faith | Uppercut
Grace Benfell muses on Marx, materialism, and spirituality in Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.
- Paradise Killer: Sifting Through Facts to Find the Truth | No Escape
Kaile Hultner plays Paradise Killer and wonders where to find justice in an overwhelmingly work-obsessed, neoliberal world.
- We Can’t Afford to Log Off | Unwinnable
Ben Sailer compares Twitter to the worst kind of Multi-User-Dungeon. Also, that makes two roundup articles this week that get their point across with scary renaissance paintings.
“For those who might be unfamiliar, MUDs are text-based multiplayer games where users type in commands to explore fantasy worlds with other players while solving puzzles. Sometimes you might make friends playing the game and sometimes you encounter enemies you have to vanquish in order to progress. Depending on what you choose to say and do, your stats go up or down. Sounds enough like Twitter to my ears, and I have a theory that understanding the similarities between the two just might help explain how Twitter can feel both essential and soul-sucking at the same time.”
Fresh Ideas on Old Topics
Two authors this week revisit well-established characters and tropes in popular games with new ideas, digging into things that are kind of just there in the background, and have been for a while, but which yield interesting results with careful study.
- A Man Chooses: On Subject Delta, the Avatar Character, and Player Embodiment | Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe evaluates the character and morality of Bioshock 2‘s Subject Delta.
- Fall damage in video games is bullshit | Polygon
Karen Han takes the plunge on critiquing one of gaming’s most established mechanical tropes.
“Forcing players to be more conscious of the tools they’re given and how they can be used is commendable, and Breath of the Wild in particular has seen players pull off unbelievable tricks using the game’s mechanics. But would removing mortal fall damage mean that players wouldn’t discover those stunts on their own?”
Ok these lists were really good.
- 7 Video Game Villains That Would Make Great Roommates | Fanbyte
Virginia Paine makes the case for subletting to Eggman, Dracula, and more.
- Is Your Favorite Bioshock Character Sexy? | Uppercut
Monti Velez presents a ranked list of Correct Opinions.
“Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Joel Miller from The Last of Us, Booker Dewitt from Bioshock: Infinite. These men for years are the reason for fights breaking out between me and my white girl friends. Even though I, powerful in my body with an exclusive diet of Red Bull (please sponsor me) and Taco Bell potato tacos, cannot be convinced that these men are hot in my head. Could it be because all the men who look like this growing up in my state were also cops?”
Critical Chaser & Knuckles
It’s a double-stuff week for our concluding art/humour/feel-good segment. Enjoy some poetry.
- A Short Piece | Videodame
Rachel Tanner, A Short Hike.
- Game Enjambment: Lava Reef Cooldown | Sidequest
Katherine Quevedo, Sonic & Knuckles.
“your temper, like Lava Reef Zone Act 1
my heated response
our words of ruthless rock, tyrant lava
I hold my breath for our cooldown to Act 2”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!