Welcome back, readers.
Last week I plugged this bundle of cyberpunk-themed games by queer and marginalized independant creators, as well as an upcoming analogue cyberpunk game jam for Asian creators. If you haven’t already checked them out, please do so! This week, I’m happy to have found out about this nifty bundle as well, riffing off the idea that games don’t have to be billion-dollar prestige affairs to be great, and that maybe they shouldn’t!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We’re opening this week with four very different pieces, each of them turning an eye inward to the industry and its tensions–be it labour exploitation, indie coverage, gatekeeping, or journalistic practices. Each of them, from a different angle, expresses a hope for better, and contributes a little bit towards getting us there. Turns out there are, in fact, ways to engage in productive industrial critrique without punching down. Wild, isn’t it?
- “Not Like Other Girls” | Into The Spine
Monti Velez reflects on the self-policing practices women and girls in games are pushed into perpetuating.
- Under Pressure | The Obscuritory
Phil Salvador looks back at an Amiga curio that remains today as an obscure reminder of the exploitative pressures of commercial games development.
- Star Renegades and How to Better Highlight Fantastic Indie Titles | DualShockers
Cameron Hawkins wonders about how we can give more indie games more mindshare beyond the 1-2 hits that seem to make the rounds each year.
- The Exploitation of the word
Arielle Danan offers some best practices on doing a games journalism without harming or endangering your subjects.
“When you’re reviewing a game, that is a bit different and allows for creativity. When interviewing a human, you are THEIR pen. You are THEIR words that they cannot find.”
Links to the Past
An entire block of Uppercut pieces? You love to see it. We’ve got three articles here each involved in some capacity with looking back, at past lives, past selves, past mistakes, and how games alternately capture these sentiments anew and take us back to our own pasts.
- Knights and Bikes: The Many Sides of Childhood – Uppercut
Becca Miller muses on the imaginative affordances of childhood, as captured by Knights and Bikes.
- The Quiet Counterblast of 12 Labors – Uppercut
Caroline Delbert examines the labour of confronting our past mistakes in 12 Labours.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake: There Are No Limits – Uppercut
Jessica Howard, via Final Fantasy VII Remake, reflects that we never truly replace our past selves–we only become something new.
“The person I am now does not replace you, but has grown from you–and it’s embarrassing to think that perhaps there is some wisdom I neglected to take with me as I did. While I believed I was considering your feelings as I processed the pain of “losing” my Final Fantasy VII, I was forgetting something very important–I was forgetting that you’re goddamn fearless.”
Links Between Worlds
Topographical tensions guide our next section, as a pair of authors scrutinize the affordances and limitations at stake in virtual spaces.
- The Bristling Presence | Bullet Points Monthly
Jay Castello finds that there is an experiential tension missing from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s English landscapes.
- Beyond Leviathan – Venoms. Die. Twice.
E. explores the mythic implications of Destiny 2: Beyond Light‘s liminal, glitchy, Europan vaults.
“At their most expressive, the depths of Beyond Light are necrotic seas, half-relics of Clovis Bray’s hubris, half-skeleton of Bungie‘s ambitions, until eventually both morph into a single, nebulous entity made up of the game’s stark expanses, constantly trying to decide on a version of itself as we move in between its layers. A composite Leviathan.”
Three authors this week situate friendships in time in space–as liminal, as temporary. In two of these pieces, this is a consequence of capitalism, in the third, it is itself a refuge from liminal times.
- Goodbye, Kentucky Route Zero – Uppercut
Jeremy Signor sums up temporary friendships and goodbyes-for-now at the tail end of KRZ.
- Diamond Dust: Final Fantasy XV Is My Video Game Comfort Food | fractals
Maddi Butler expresses the virtues of Final Fantasy XV as a liminal hangout game, even if a grander narrative looms ominously on the horizon.
- Late Capitalist Stories Are Told in Flying Cars – No Escape
Kaile Hultner surmises that the craziest taxi game of all might be the fleeting friendships we form out of necessity under capitalism.
“Helplessly careening through the night at the whims of strangers who do not care about you is not a flowery metaphor or allegory, it’s not a neat bit of storytelling. It’s not game designers going “hey let’s make our next game protagonist a character who was classically an NPC type in older games.” They’re drawing from experience in their own lives.”
It’s Party Time
2020 didn’t give us a lot of gifts, frankly, but Blaseball was definitely one of them. Check out two cool critiques here investigating the game’s design workings, its participatory culture, and more.
- Blaseball’s Absurdity Mirrors Our Current Times | Into The Spine
Harriette Chan finds that Blaseball is only as chaotically opaque as the year that birthed it.
- Here’s how Blaseball queers narrative control – and why it’s important – Gayming Magazine
V.S Wells explores the role of fan particiation in making Blaseball an inclusive, chaotic, and thoroughly queer game.
“Blaseball shows us you don’t need characters or even graphics to make a game queer. All you need is an idea and a story that people can latch onto, and a development team who embrace that. By centring fan culture, Blaseball shifts the game from a product fans consume into a shared story that everyone helps create together. It’s a weird utopian cosmic horror crowd-controlled splorts saga — and what could be queerer than that?”
How about an interactive essay to see us out this week? This piece was submitted as part of our recent Bitsy Essay Jam. Hope you like it!
- The Solivagants (or, Videogames Suck at Character Context) | itch.io
Rowan Crawford takes a playful, interactive look at failures (and some successes) in games for creating contextual awareness between characters, systems, and players.
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!