Welcome back readers.
Hey, cheers to you, really, for having the energy to click on our latest issue after the week it’s been. Hope you’ve had the chance to catch your breath after this extended (inter)national nightmare of the last four years. At the same time, I’ve personally borne witness to no structural changes or political shifts that indicate to me that the threat of police violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people has in any way abated, so I’ll begin with my usual starting points:
- Check out the ways in which you can support protests against anti-Black and Brown police violence in the US and abroad.
- Thread collating ways you can support Mi’kmaw fisheries.
- Legal Fund for organizers fighting commercial exploitation of Haudenosaunee lands.
I’ll follow this up with a reminder that we’ve got an upcoming Bitsy Essay Jam in collaboration with Emilie Reed! I’m looking forward to what people come up with.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Characters in Context
Diverse representation in games isn’t a checkbox. It can be done carelessly, listlessly, or it can fail to go far enough. A critical thread linking up our three opening pieces this week is that diversity needs to be more than just characters–it needs to be context. It’s not enough to parachute Black and Brown characters into familiar worlds and stories without making an effort to understand and name the obstructions and injustices margianlized people experience right here in the material world.
- ‘Star Wars: Squadrons’ Explores the Changing Face of Fascism | WIRED
Yussef Cole breaks down what’s at stake when Star Wars‘ comtemporary shift toward more diverse representation is extended to the series’ fascist antagonists.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales: The Kotaku Review | Kotaku
Mike Sholars appreciates little touches and big shout-outs along the way in Insomniac’s Sophmore Spidey effort, but also wonders how well the blockbuster open-world superhero format maps onto the more intimate communuity-based approach needed to tell a Miles story right.
- Spider-Man: Miles Morales Review: Dazzling and Disappointing | VICE
Gita Jackson finds that Miles Morales brings some much-needed Black representation to one of Sony’s flagship franchises, but along with it no acknowledgement of or engagement with the structural injustices Black and other marginalized Americans face.
“Spider-Man: Miles Morales is not brave enough to name the political issues that these lovingly rendered characters face, beyond their surface level identities . Black Lives Matter protests are specifically about police violence. Yet, this game has tied itself into a knot where it cannot say anything negative about the police. Sometimes Miles will web up a bad guy and muse to himself if this is how his dad felt after he was done with cases. Miles Morales doesn’t even present an argument that Miles’ father was a good cop—it’s accepted, de facto, that being a cop is good. All I can think about is Miles’ dad frisking his friends to meet a quota.”
October’s over but we’ve all just been through a scary-ass week so here’s another collection of pieces looking critically at horror games (ok, fine, one’s more of a thriller).
- ‘The Signifier’ Aims at Noir Psychodrama, but Ends Up at Remedial Psych | VICE
Dia Lacina finds that The Signifier offers an intersting premise to suspense but comes down too much on the side of style over substance.
- A Redemption for Monsters? Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Player Choice | Gamers with Glasses
Blake Reno studies how the original Amnesia interrogates the role of the player in guiding and judging the redemption of of the player character.
- The Invisible Hand in The Space Between | Into The Spine
Tess Everman considers horror beyond the individual and into the structural in The Space Between.
- Amnesia: Rebirth Needed To Be More Than Horror | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor finds the latest Amnesia to be at odds with itself between its narrative themes and scare tactics.
“Yes, there’s plenty of scares to be had, but there’s more to these games than scares. It’s just that so many horror games divorce their themes from the scares, creating an experience where the latter is emphasized at the expense of the former. Amnesia: Rebirth falls into this trap, taking a game with strong themes of motherhood, survivor’s guilt, and loss and reducing it to its impotent attempt at scares.”
We’ve got three pieces this week looking back at old (even Really Old) RPGs and what makes them tick. . . off at least one of our featured writers.
- Covering Allies in Final Fantasy Legend 3
sraëka lillian focuses on an example of uncommonly robust defensive play in the traditionally offense-heavy JRPG genre.
- Final Phantasy – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi finds that even at the series’ conclusion, Phantasy Star never stops looking forward even as it throws winks and nods to its own legacy.
- Wizardry  – Arcade Idea
Arcade Idea, seeking why people like computer RPGs, strips the genre back to almost the bare metal with Wizardry, only to find that all that’s left are the absolute worst parts.
“I hate Wizardry and the feeling is mutual. I can only at best respect Wizardry as a punkish or dadaist expression of antipathy towards the audience scrawled in the game’s own feces, which is something I’ve always been inclined to like. In that department, it’s a marvel! But I can’t understand how such an obstinate howl of hatred could become an international megahit so beloved and influential and praised as fun, though, how games like this didn’t leave the genre dead in the water.”
Keep Calm and Snap On
Umurangi Generation‘s back with a new expansion, and with it comes insightful new perspectives in and around the game. Here are two of the week’s highlights!
- Umurangi Generation’s Macro DLC isn’t messing around | Rock Paper Shotgun
Natalie Clayton finds that Umurangi‘s latest expansion hits even harder than the original release.
- Shoot Photos Like a Pro in ‘Umurangi Generation: Macro’ – No Escape
Kaile Hultner gets deep into the itty-bitty-nitty-gritty of photography for beginners, in Umurangi Generation, its expansion, and beyond.
“You will absolutely find yourself crawling around to get the perfect angle. And now, knowing what you know, that perfect angle can be complemented by a perfect – or perfectly imperfect – exposure. Happy shooting!”
Gayest Ex Machina
As Jay Castello notes in her own article below, Tell Me Why prompted much discourse on how-2-do a queer representation in popular games. One way, as she points out is the case with Heather Flowers’ nazi-beating extravaganza EXTREME MEATPUNKS FOREVER, is to blow right past the question and dispense with all the handholding. Another question that went somewhat understated in the Tell Me Why discourse was how queer creators factor their own experiences into game design, and to that end it’s great to see Maddy Thorson writing here about the process behind Celeste.
- EXTREME MEATPUNKS FOREVER: BOUND BY ASH Review | Fanbyte
Jay Castello describes how MEATPUNKS skips the tutorial level on queer representation as the game completes its second season.
- Is Madeline Canonically Trans? | Medium
Yes. Maddy Thorson details the creative and personal process behind Celeste‘s development.
“During Celeste’s development, I did not know that Madeline or myself were trans. During the Farewell DLC’s development, I began to form a hunch. Post-development, I now know that we both are.”
We’ve got a couple of characer studies this week (or character-archetypes, in the case of Chris Compendio’s piece) operating with the benefit of hindsight by looking at how critical and player reception of these characters/tropes has shifted over time as we grow a little wiser and perhaps a little more wary.
- An Ode to Miranda Lawson from Mass Effect | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores gives one of Mass Effect‘s most maligned and misunderstood characters her due.
- Video Game Presidents Were Meant to Be Funny (Until They Weren’t) | Fanbyte
Chris Compendio chronicles the campy history and cynical trajectory of the gamer-in-chief.
“Looking back at how presidents have been depicted in video games, it’s hard to say any idividual case has aged well. Although many in the country still yearn for a “normal” president, it is impossible to deny that all our past leaders carry heavy baggage. It’s hard to laugh at jokes from an ex-president when looking back at their legacy. Any image of a pixelated Donald Trump doing a slam dunk has lost any novelty — and no longer do we want to go for a burger with President Ronnie.”
Studies in Simulacra
We’ve got two excellent close studies this week of popular life sim/management games, expounding upon the thematic implications of Animal Crossing and the-franchise-formerly-known-as-Harvest-Moon.
- Developing Horizons: What Animal Crossing: New Horizons Reveals About Global Development | Sidequest
Emma Hartley makes the case for how Tom Nook isn’t just the local robber baron but in fact the whole-ass World Bank.
- Lay of the Land – Agriculture, Game Design, and Inhabitation in Farming Games and Life Sims | Medium
Charlotte Lindsay weighs the design ethos of the original Bokuj? Monogatari/Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series against the many games it has inspired.
“You are not asked to master the land. You are asked to steward.”
Hard Drive does good work, honestly.
- Wrong Game Show Host Dies | Hard Drive
Yeah this one’s going in.
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