Welcome back readers.
I know there’s plenty of distracting news right now about buffoonish fascists who can’t seem to follow quarantine protocols during a pandemic, but it’s not the real news. I also know this opening section used to be a breezy segment where I’d talk about the games I was playing, and I promise I’ll go back to that when the goddamn police are defunded. I’m loathe to link directly to more stories of Black death here, but cops are still committing violence and murder against Black and Brown people as they always have. Again, I’m loathe to link to the death, but I’ll say the names: Jonathan Price, Anthony Aust, Alvin Cole. 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.
In case you didn’t know, October is actually a month-long holiday for scary stuff. What, you say, every month is Scary Month now? Well, it’s our position at Critical Distance that every month is also Wrath Month, but we still take special scare~ err, care, to observe the one month in particular. So here’s a bunch of horror-themed articles!
- Resident Evil’s Lisa Trevor: The Monster is Me | Gamers with Glasses
Christopher Breu considers monstrosity as a man-made idea via REmake‘s sympathetic supporting antagonist.
- Patterns in the Ivy | Unwinnable
Adam Boffa asks, via Pablo Pedercini’s Lichenia, what a city builder can have to say about climate change when the numbers are stripped away and the bigger pictures and patterns, the entwinements of economy and ecology, are laid bare.
- Ruminations on a ‘World of Horror’ – No Escape
Celia Lewis contemplates an indie cosmic horror mystery game when real life already has an ever-present upticking Doom Meter.
- Prometheus Was Right | No Escape
Kaile Hultner examines how mystery and horror are baked into Marginalia‘s narrative struture, sound cues, and the subtle nudges in its environmental design.
- First-Person Disconnect | Bullet Points Monthly
Dani Maddox considers the original Amnesia as a competent horror experience, but ultimately cannot identify with yet another white man tortured to madness by his own mistakes.
“Evoking Lovecraft’s idea of a slow loss of mental stability is a cheap way to make subversive horror. It gestures at mental illness without being specific enough to become overtly problematic. It’s a quick way to show that the most horrific aspects of humanity are the people within it, not necessarily the monsters we create.”
A ton of the writers I follow have been playing the retro-revival anti-RPG moon lately, but we haven’t collected a lot of writing on it so far. That, as I think was inevitable, is changing! This week we’ve got two insightful pieces pulling at the game’s critical themes and the execution thereof.
- Lost Moon: On the unused ending of Moon: Remix RPG Adventure | Medium
Vidyasaur considers moon‘s different endings and asks whether it’s more important for a story to make a point or have a conclusion.
- Loving in a World Already Written | Emilie M. Reed
Emilie M. Reed identifies a challenging metaphysics of love in moon which is otherwise absent from the contemporary “wholesome” movement in games.
“Love is not a natural state that one can either disrupt or a state of perfect harmony they can correctly integrate themselves with or bring about. Even a utopia of love, where violence and exploitation are not even options, is effortful, even difficult. In moon‘s metaphysics of love, it is literally something that has to be practised to gradually facilitate your movement through the world. But this difficult love also allows a representation of love in all of its strangeness. It’s the comparative emotional ease of a lot of non-violent or wholesome games that doesn’t really work for me, games where the right choices are distinct or there’s no wrong choices at all, settings where you integrate yourself into or bring about a perfect harmony, worlds where love can never truly touch or surprise in its specificity and strangeness.”
Did you think we forgot, Dear Reader, after just two sections? Here’s three articles this week on queer love won, queer love lost, and a nonbinary skater who absolutely shreds and is also in the new THPS.
- 13 Sentinels and The Search for Non-Binary Romance | Gayming Magazine
Austin Jones finds that 13 Sentinels is a wonderful game that fails to stick the landing on its queer romance.
- Hades gets the queer love story right with Achilles and Patroclus | PCGamesN
Jeremy Signor finds the romance of Achilles and Patroclus in Hades to pull no punches and expresses the full range of love and anguish and all the emotional complexities therein.
- Here’s Why It Was Important To Include Leo Baker in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater | Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley identifies how the inclusion of the first nonbinary skater to join the playable roster of the THPS series pushes back against the historically insular culture of pro skating.
“By the nature of THPS, there’s no real room for personality; aside from a few lines after big airs or big spills, we hear nothing from the in-game characters at all. Held up against Lev, Tyler, and the various If Found… characters, Baker is far from the best written trans character in a video game this year. However, just by their presence in the game, providing non-binary representation to gaming (itself a rarity) and bringing trans representation to a genre so lacking in any queer voices whatsoever, Baker’s appearance in THPS is one of trans gaming’s most important moments of the year.”
I Am Thou. . . Thou Art I
At the heart of the Persona games is a powerful and aggressive social economy, and, well, that economy costs. Two writers this week explore how.
- PERSONA (SOCIAL SIMULATOR?) – DEEP HELL
Skeleton considers the social capital systems of the Persona series, and finds that far from being too gamey, they are rather all too bleak a simulacrum of real-world patterns of social exploitation.
- The constant pressure to be productive in Persona 5 Royal | Eurogamer.net
Diego Nicolás Arguello identifies a daily grind of a different kind, in Persona 5 and elsewhere.
“There were many times when I really just wanted to hang out with a certain character, or just do a fun activity for the sake of it. Seeing that it wouldn’t improve my stats or confidant relationships, however, erased the desire. It’s expected, in a way – this isn’t the normal life of a high schooler after all. But I kept thinking about my own experiences. Work is my sole responsibility nowadays, and it’s often the only thing I do. I rarely make time to play games online with friends, unless I’m planning to write about them. I keep telling myself that I’m gonna make some time to read, to go and take a walk, or at the very least pick up my Ring Fit more often, but I end up filling each possible slot in my schedule with responsibilities. And another day passes by.”
We’ve got two authors this week looking at artistic design elements and choices in two big games: one is a success, and the other is Kurosawa Mode.
- Tangibility in Deep Space: The Cockpits of Star Wars: Squadrons | Medium
Cole Henry explores how Star Wars: Squadrons absolutely nails touch and texture, oft-neglected sensations in contemporary games.
- Cinema Bars – Esther on Film
Esther Rosenfield finds Ghost of Tsushima‘s Kurosawa Mode filter to be an artless mess and wonders why contemporary games are so obsessed with superficial mimicry of cinema in the first place.
“The images in Kurosawa’s black-and-white films are full of staggering depth and complexity and texture, perfecting and then reinventing common techniques. The images in Ghost of Tsushima couldn’t be reasonably expected to scratch his mastery. But they don’t even seem to want to try.”
Character Creation, Created Characters
The characters we love get made somewhere. Sometimes, they get made by assholes. Other times, creators push back against a whole industry full of assholes, but there’s still work to be done as long as there’s still assholes. Anyway, here are a pair of articles about a pretty good character creator, and a pretty good character created by a pretty bad company.
- I Spent Three Hours In Baldur’s Gate 3’s Character Creator And It’s Pretty Good | Kotaku
Ash Parrish explores the Black hairstyle options in Baldur’s Gate 3 and finds more hits than misses–but that there are still misses.
- Opinion: How Beyond Good & Evil Politically Defies UBISoft | LVLS+
WildcatJF finds that in a time when all our heroes are dead, Beyond Good & Evil still hits hard, even if supporting the game monetarily can no longer be ethically squared.
“Recently I’ve realized how much of an anomaly Jade is to UBISoft as a whole. She is a woman of color choosing to join a rebel organization to disrupt the control of a dominating military government that in secret is working with the alien invasion that threatens the planet. She is a journalist and risks her life to uncover the truth behind the lies and corruption and abuse. It’s very ironic that the company behind her game has become the villain within it; that the game that I love is such a counterargument to what UBISoft and its execs and people in power became.“
The name Halo to a non-player of Halo games probably evokes certain general ideas: military sci-fi, shoot many aliens, Green Samus, etc. etc. Likewise, you’ve probably seen ads for those Choices games while watching an add to refresh a timer in a mobile game, and those ads are a sight. On both counts, however, these reputations belie interesting and provocative depths. How’s that for intrigue? Read on and find out more!
- Please, Don’t Shoot the Engineers of Halo 3: ODST | Fanbyte
Julie Muncy looks back at a thoughtful and complicated depiction of wartime non-combatants in the underated sidequel of the Halo series.
- Choices: Stories You Play Offers More Than Melodramatic Instagram Ads | Fanbyte
Bonnie Qu reports back from beyond the veil of cheesy ads to discuss what the mobile story game platform Choices is actually all about.
“These stories aren’t merely in service of the player; they’re specifically in service of women. And contrary to popular belief, they aren’t just vehicles for women to live out fantasies of being swept off their feet by a rakish pirate captain (although there’s no shame in that). Many stories feature female protagonists finding self-worth, respect, and power. I hesitate to call Choices a game that espouses feminist ideals, exactly, by virtue of starring women, but when there are hundreds of games specifically made with men in mind, a game that unashamedly panders to women and some non-binary people is a rarity.”
Four intimately powerful and powerfully intimate pieces about different games and the writers that relate to them.
- When You’re Socially Anxious, The World Ends With You | Into The Spine
Latonya Penningston finds much to relate to in Neku Sakuraba’s experience of social anxiety.
- Coping Through Chaos | Into The Spine
Renate Plehwe considers Sayanora Wild Hearts as an evocative but also hopeful microcosm for the anxieties of 2020.
- 4 Ways ‘Don’t Starve’ Is Living in 2020 | Medium
Jim Loomis finds a certain ominous timlieness in a 2013 game.
- Playing Beat Saber Is Like Doing Magic | Sidequest
Jameson Hampton discusses energy, concentration, rhythm, and flow in relation to both Beat Saber and magic.
“Beat Saber is energy cascading to music and rhythm, and magic is energy cascading to the frequency of the universe. But ultimately, in a world where everything is connected, what’s really the difference between the two?”
I wasn’t expecting Wasteland 3 poetry, but I was delighted to be suprised.
- With Friends Like These: A Wasteland Verse of TrickyPixie83 | Unwinnable
Sara Clemens, Wasteland 3.
“I limp through fog,
Geiger crackles reminding me to stay slow
Drink heavy water
Press my own dragon heart to my chest
We carry on
One resurrected mortal, two demigods
Seeking out The Way.”
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!