Welcome back, readers.
You know how these intros go at this point. Please continue to seek out ways to support Black causes. Everyone benefits from the dismantling of systemic racism. Well, almost everyone. Perhaps not Jeff Bezos. But fuck him anyway.
As for me, I apologize if this post ends up coming out a little late. You see, I’ve been playing a lot of videogames. Perhaps too many. Shouldn’t I be playing outside or something? What must my parents think? It’s not like my home province of Ontario just issued a too-little-too-late stay-at-home order with no clear definitions on rules or enforcement, right? Nah, couldn’t be.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
I’ll be frank. It sucks that we need to keep including these articles, because it means that nothing of importance has changed yet. There needs to be accountability for how games media treats survivors (content notifications in this section for rape and the full gamut of personal and corporate abuses).
- Killing us slowly – When your allyship stops short of doing the hard thing, when your solidarity turns against the people you once said you believe – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead discusses the consequences of rallying behind an industry colleague at the expense of hearing out victims.
- Launder Launder Launder, Win Win Win | Corporate Future Nightmare World
Brendan Vance, in a broad-ranging analysis and critique, discusses the mistreatment and misrepresentation of Nathalie Lawhead not just by their abusers, but by games media as a whole.
“We demand you make + enact plans to prevent your peers from aiding + abetting Boss Guy’s acts of torture. We demand you bring an end to the practice of editors + marketers dispatching vampires to raid our community in search of personal prestige. We demand you take responsibility for the negative consequences of your conspicuous laundering. At the very least, you must dispense with these tedious lies re: what your real motives + incentives are.”
Endings and Beginnings
If you didn’t already know, there’re doing some pretty cool stuff over at fractals. Gathered here are three retrospectives examining what games meant to the respective authors in a year of uncertainty and upheaval.
- 2020: The Problem is Capitalism | fractals
Maddi Butler, in a year where the unsustainable cruelties of capitalism are all the more visibly stark, collects a few games which build upon this theme.
- 2020: Games to Play at the End of the World | fractals
Autumn Wright collects endings, large and small, across games, finding meaning in each.
- 2020: Flickers of Apocalypse | fractals
Grace Benfell considers the original understanding of Apocalypse–one of revelation, not annihilation–and reflects on recent games that add to that understanding.
“We, of course, live in an incredibly overwhelming and distressing time, but not a unique one. This brings me a lot of comfort. I trust that yet more things will be unveiled and that the unveiling will be filled with righteous rage and joyous overturning.”
States of Play
Each of these five selections interrogates and challenges the boundaries of play, whether by pushing on the glitchy boundaries of the world map, leveraging the tools the game affords for counterplay, forays into edutatinment past and present, or games that by their very design stretch our commonly-held understandings of the word.
- Out Of Bounds With The Generation – Venoms. Die. Twice.
E., camera in hand, chronicles revolution and apocalypse in the seams and margins of Umurangi Generation.
- Edutainment… OF THE DEAD! – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi chronicles Sega’s forward march into campy, delightful edutatinment with a lesser-known portable House of the Dead spinoff.
- Countering COVID-19 Disinformation in Five Minutes or Less with Go Viral! | Unwinnable
Ben Sailer spends time with a little game designed to educate people about social media disinformation.
- Mental Health and the Power of Kind Words — Gamers with Glasses
Jason Mical reflects on the theraputic affordances of Kind Words for players dealing with their own mental health struggles (content notification for suicidal ideation).
- Dramatic Irony, Zwift, and Racing Under Lockdown – New Rules
Hannah Nicklin explores the world of augmented esports cycling via Zwift.
“The bodily experience of racing a bike, the data, context, conditions: all are available, all are simplified. The “reality” which isn’t achievable in the re-presentation of the virtual reality is compensated for in the blending of participation and spectatorship, legible and compelling.”
I’ve brought together two different pieces here united by a focus on cross-cultural aspects of development, whether by how spaces and places are (mis)represented by foreign developers, or by the intracies of localization and how those efforts scale for massive projects, like, oh, say, Final Fantasy VII Remake.
- Hitman: recordando los viajes del Agente 47 a Colombia | GamerFocus
Julián Ramírez tracks the Hitman franchise’s representation of Colombia and its peoples over the years, finding some improvements over time in a series that nevertheless leans heavily on sensational stereotypes (Spanish-language article).
- Why The Localization of Final Fantasy VII Remake Is Amazing | J-En Translations
Jennifer O’Donnell breaks down the challenges and successes with a localization project on the scale of FFVII-R.
“I love creative translations that entertain the audience. That really is the key to translating media which is made to…you know, entertain.”
Narrative and Theme
Three pieces this week, each dissecting their respective object texts along narrative and thematic axes, examining closely how virtual stories and worlds are put together, and how they draw upon the worlds and stories which came before, either virtually or materially.
- Deadline  – Arcade Idea
Arcade Idea continues to chronicle the early efforts at narrative expression in games with a detective text thriller that tries to literarily elevate the genre while attempting to preserve its structure as recognizably game.
- The Cool Kids Club | Bullet Points Monthly
Maddi Chilton delineates the implications and limitations of coolness, in cyberpunk and in Cyberpunk.
- What ‘Hades’ Can Teach Us About Ancient Greek Masculinity | WIRED
Autumn Wright examines Hades via a close study of the Classical Greek cultural norms around masculinity, sociality, sexuality, and disability it alternately references, responds to, updates, or omits entirely.
“You can decide who’s the top, but either Zag or Than is failing his station when they hook up. Meanwhile, Zag’s obvious positionality to the androgynous Megaera would be similarly demeaning. (Not in a hot way though!) So whether Than’s brooding gaze plucks your heartstrings or Meg’s stompy attitude really gets to you, each of these relationships are quite subversive to classical tradition. But Supergiant doesn’t subvert all these literally antiquated beliefs in their reinterpretation.”
We’ve got two writers this week offering thoughts on genres and discourses that seem to be going in circles, as well as plotting some potential courses out of the cyclone.
- The cross you gave to me: on Lucah and Violence — KRITIQAL
Nate Kiernan reflects on the often-circular, frequently-unproductive question of violence in games by working past the usual headline-grabbers to study a self-reflective counter-example that seeks to say something more.
- Sorry, Indiana Jones, But I’m Sick Of Games For Boomer Dads | TheGamer
Bella Blondeau observes that our popular nostalgia–and by extension, licensed videogames–are dominated by increasingly aged IPs, and in doing so identifies dad games of a different category, which continue to prioritize the audienes and values of a different time.
“They espouse a particular set of values and ideals that are quintessentially post-WWII America and Europe. Men are cocky and rude but righteous and well-meaning, women are nagging and frigid yet always succumb to rugged masculine charm, and evil dictators and seductive femme fatales exist purely to disrupt the “normal” way of life. Women and nonbinary folks can (and do, myself included,) like these franchises, of course, but there’s no denying that they were originally created for the explicit purpose of making men feel good about themselves.”
Two articles this week examine the role of family trauma in the shaping of the people we choose to become, and the thematic parallels to be found in recent popular games.
- How Breath of the Wild’s Zelda helped me come to terms with my bisexuality | Polygon
Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo parallels Zelda’s quest for self-determination with the author’s own, identifying links like the struggle for acceptance by loved ones, the value of found family, and more.
- Hades: An Ode to Family Trauma – Uppercut
Jessica Howard is reminded by Hades of just how dang complicated our relationships are with family, even when they hurt us.
“Hades is a game all about the struggle to break free from familial trauma. It’s a game about escape, futility, resentment, and coexistence. Each time Zagreus exits his chambers and enters Tartarus, he strives to get farther away from not only his father’s abuse and ideologies, but the person he is told he is and should be. To Zagreus, the promise of growing closer to some sense of validation and understanding is greater than the agony of both his father’s grip on him and death, so he chooses it. Again and again and again. This repeated trial and error is an exhausting yet cathartic process–a form of therapy, perhaps–and as he works through the underworld and his own thoughts, his perceptions of his father, family, and self change, and not always in the most expected of ways.”
We close the week with an optimistic perspective in pessimistic times on the value of comforting play.
- Mixolumia and Comfort – Uppercut
Jeffrey Rousseau makes the case for Mixolumia as the ideal chill game.
“Mixolumia is made from the ground up to help you decompress from your day. That’s not to say there aren’t “grander” titles that can’t do the same, nor is there anything wrong with their appeal, but there’s a much lower entry point here–it’s more welcoming. For most, a puzzle game is much less intimidating than say playing as an action hero?. Honestly, I find that AAA games tend to be unnecessarily stressful in one way or another.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!