Welcome back, readers.
A new American administration takes charge, but the offices and infrastructures that facilitate systemic racism remain unchanged or even strengthened. The immediate threat of a fascist insurrection seems to have diminished but there’s little else to celebrate when Black creators continue to experience harrassment and vitrol for speaking truth. So, as always, continue to seek out ways to support Black causes.
Around the site, we’ve got a new video roundup, courtesy of Connor! Please check it out.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We’ve got a wide spread of pieces in our opening section this week, all looking at industry trends in some shape or form, be it topical genres, the AAA/indie landscape, the influence of meme culture on game design, or reflection on the states of representation and criticism.
- Deadgames and Alivegames | Melodic Ambient
Melos Han-Tani predicts a widening gap between top-end, big name games designed largely around marketability and profit, where none of the developers is creatively engaged (Deadgames), and smaller-scale independent works which pursue an original artistic vision and where everyone involved is engaged (Alivegames).
- Bugsnax & Ooblets: Cute is What They Aim For – Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe reflects on the distracting power of cuteness and wholesomeness in games, and warns against letting surface-level aesthetics obscure deeper critical tensions in how these games are written and who they are written for.
- How hard is it to make your video game dog pettable? | Rock Paper Shotgun
Ruth Cassidy examines the “Can You Pet the Dog” phenomenon in games and digs into its actual implications (or lack thereof) for giving indie developers exposure bumps that translate into sales.
- Queer indie games deserve more recognition | TechRadar
Chloe Spencer identifies an imbalance in how big-budget titles are praised for queer inclusivity over indies, and finds on the whole that the bar for praiseworthy representation is a lot lower in the former.
- The State of The Representation: A manifesto for trans games criticism – Uppercut
Autumn Wright takes a critical look at how trans writers and critics are invoked, manipulated, and exploited in the name of maintaining an inclusive yet homogenized status quo in games crit spaces.
“The trans critic begins to be refigured into the industry rhetorically. As normalization takes the form of assimilation, the trans critic functions as a discursive object that should serve the hegemonic assumptions of games and their players. No epithet progresses this project so much as “this writer is trans.” Cis writers and editors invoke “this writer is trans” to share work that they (may have commissioned but more often) took no part in materially supporting. I hear “this writer is trans” like an admission. “This writer is trans” is often not followed with the presumed clause: “and they agree with me.” “This writer is trans” is not taken up when the writer argues a dissenting opinion from cis perspectives. “This writer is trans” does the work for cis writers, so that they can continue to be complicit in their own criticism. The trans critic is used by cis people, wielded as a sword when a game is too polemical to ignore and sacrificed like a shield when, finally, their voice reaches a general audience. This is how trans voices are brought up, and how they disappear. We don’t exist when there is no AAA discourse for clicks, we are put back into a utility closet for the next big release that raises concerns.”
But Think of the Children!
So I guess the New York Times tried to do a moral panic last week with an article about kids playing too many videogames during, hold on, *checks notes* a global pandemic. Here are two responses from people with media literacy.
- “Parents deserve so much more when it comes to the ways video games are discussed in our popular media.” | Culture Study
Anne Helen Petersen chats with Dr. Rachel Kowert about moral panics and our historical suspicions around media and technology in relation to children.
- Screen Time Does Not Exist (A Word from Pandemic Dad) — Gamers with Glasses
Nate Schmidt critiques the untenable reductivity of “screen time” as a concept when our lives are so pervasively mediated in so many different ways across so many different platforms and media.
“There are so many different devices, and so many different ways to engage with them, that it borders on absurdity to lump them all together under the only attribute they universally share and then apply a single label to cover every possibility afforded by their use. And, since video games are apparently supposed to be the primary culprit here, the same thing could be said about them as a medium. In the relatively short period of time games have been major players in the cultural sphere, they’ve demonstrated an inexhaustible variety of genres, mechanics, and ways of making worlds come alive.”
Our next section takes a look at horror games, with an emphasis on the emotional and narrative command of space that these games wield.
- The Gothic Protagonism of Bloodborne | Into The Spine
Erik Oliver maps the secretive, spindly spires of Yharnam onto the Gothic literary genre.
- Pathologic 2, Crisis, and the Contingency of Things — Gamers with Glasses
Don Everhart reflects on crisis and transformation in the time-slipped village of Pathologic 2.
- Exploring the beautiful world of indie horror games (why work from smaller devs, and indie devs, is so meaningful) – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead explores the lo-fi indie horror scene, looking at how these games understand structure, space, and emotion in ways that AAA games have yet to approach or appreciate.
“Game worlds can be so much more than just “a space”. The way smaller indie games interpret that never ceases to amaze me.
The ongoing boom of horror games on itch.io kind of demonstrate a lot of that.”
Next up we’ve got three pieces on the emotional consequences of play, how these affective experiences can be designed, and how they can change over time as we change as players.
- Command and Control — Real Life
Jeremy Antley explores how the real value of tabletop wargames comes not from their simulation complexity, but in the affective responses they can elicit from players–as well as the values they can instill.
- Looking Back at If Found in 2021 | Gayming Magazine
Waverly returns to If Found five months later and finds that what you take from the game has a lot to do with where you are on your own journey of self-discovery and self-determination. Depending on where you are, returning can be hard.
- Digital Prophecies – New Rules
Anna Kate Blair introspects on online divination as escapism, as play, while dwelling on breakups in a time robbed of the possibility of physical intimacy.
“I know that pining for somebody who doesn’t want me isn’t cute and that if I chase somebody who doesn’t have time for me—even as a friend—I’ll just hurt myself. I know that I’ll be okay indoors, socialising on FaceTime, that I’ll adjust. I know, too, that my angst is minor and a greater grief is looming, both globally and in my own life, as acquaintances, a close friend and an elderly relative fall ill. It is easy to know these things, but hard to accept them, and I let the Oracle feed my delusions, sometimes, as a temporary escape from the pain.”
In our next section we look at museums, curation, canon, and fanon.
- The Splorts Report: The Founding and Future of the Blaseball Wiki | Sidequest
Emma Kostopolus chats with Steven Carver and Kyle Shockey about canon, fanon, and curation in relation to Blaseball.
- Spider-Man: Miles Morales and TLOU Part 2 have great video game museums | Polygon
Nicole Carpenter reflects on the metatextual status of in-game museums, as well as the ways in which all games are museum-like in their structure.
- The Museum and Library in Stardew Valley | Play the Past
Alvina Lai considers how the roles of libraries and museums in rural communities as classrooms maps neatly onto how these spaces are depicted and experienced in Stardew Valley.
“Real-world museums and libraries often supplement formal education. They have classrooms, teaching resources, and educators. However, while some institutions play a growing role in their community, some are also losing staff and resources. This particularly true for rural libraries. The Stardew Valley Museum and Library can be seen as an example of this real-world dynamic, neatly encapsulated in video game form.”
Binary Space Partitioning
Queer critics were wary of Cyberpunk 2077 well in advance of its release, in no small part due to its edgelord PR campaign that used queer bodies for shock value. With the game now out in the world, a critical image is starting to take form of surface-level queer representation that shows hints of promise but is marred by fundamentral structural problems in how queer bodies, identities, spaces, and lives are understood by the writers and developers.
- Reinforcing the Gender Binary | Bullet Points Monthly
Kazuma Hashimoto interrogates the mechanics of how Cyberpunk 2077 assigns the player character a binary gender, and how this design is broadly emblematic of the game’s fixation on an antiquated idea of what constitutes cyberpunk.
- Cyberpunk 2077 Misunderstands the Appeal of a Queer World | Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart finds Cyberpunk 2077 to be fundamentally at odds with itself in how it represents (and misrepresents) queer characters and queer spaces.
“Cyberpunk 2077 is just so frustrating. It makes strides towards inclusivity that feels intentional, but absolutely trips at the last second. Even as Judy’s story feels very real and relatable with her childhood crush, realizing she doesn’t like boys, loving her family and community, and having it ripped away, V doesn’t get that same treatment. And it makes sense, of course. V can be moulded to fit (almost) anyone’s image, but these little quips and jabs against queer spaces, fat people, and more builds-up and it shows a complete lack of understanding of the choices that a queer player wants outside of romantic and sexual interest.”
Players and Characters
Here we’ve got a spread of articles that look at games along different narrative axes, looking at themes, structures, and characters in fresh ways.
- No More Heroes: Finding Meaning in Meaninglessness – Uppercut
De’Angelo Epps traces the thematic trajectory across the No More Heroes games from sensational cynicism to hopeful redemption.
- Single Player | Into The Spine
Daisy Treloar considers the history of single player in games, as well as the continued influence of gaming’s multiplayer origins on single-player narratives.
- I Love Women Who Don’t Like Me Back in Video Games | Fanbyte
Bonnie Qu appreciates reminders that characters aren’t always here to please you–especially when those reminders come from women.
“What might be interpreted as moral complexity in a man can easily become aloofness in a woman. These games send the message that you aren’t entitled to these characters’ favor. You have to work for it. It takes time and effort to make them like or trust you, just as it would with any real person.”
Poetry Corner returns courtesy of Rachel Tanner.
- Golfing in the Hospital | Videodame
Rachel Tanner, Golf Story (content notification for discussion of surgery).
“I am suddenly transported away from my hospital bed
into a world where golf can cure all ills. I use golf
to solve problems that have virtually nothing
to do with golf. I use golf as an escape from knowing
that in a few hours, Hot Doctor will come by my room
to try and induce another episode.”
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