Welcome back, readers.
To begin, I’d like to bring your attention once more this week to this call for submissions to a collected volume and archive of Black creators working in, on, and around games. This call runs until mid-March!
Over at First Person Scholar, there is also a call going out for submissions to a special issue centred around Decolonizing Queer Games and Play, published in collaboration with Khee Hoon Chan. This is paid work, and the organizers are hoping especially to hear from queer and trans BIPOC critics.
Back over on our site, Emilie Reed is back and hosting a new Jam! This time around, it’s all about lists. Submissions open in a week and run for a week. What do you want to write about?
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We open this issue with two very different looks at community in games. The first focuses on all-women tournament spaces, while the second targets a broader collective and the toxic frameworks that poison it.
- Queenly Majesty: How the Women’s VGC Tournament Came to Be | PokéCommunity Daily
Rivvon talks to professional players involved in the competitive Pokémon scene about the state and stakes of all-women competitive spaces.
- IN THE LAND OF ENDLESS GREED | DEEP HELL
Kaile Hultner reflects on an industry, a community, a party unwilling to muster itself into solidarity, into accountability (content notification for rape/harrassment/industry abuse).
“The night has dragged on, and there are still so many people here. Suddenly, you hear a scream. You turn around, and there is the partygoer you saw crying alone outside earlier. They are sitting on the floor in the middle of the party space, and they scream again. Nobody from the main group, in fact, nobody at all, comes to check on them, to see if they’re okay. They scream again. And a fourth time. By scream number five, you see their eyes searching the room. They lock eyes with yours, expectant. You panic. Should you help them? Nobody else seems particularly bothered. You really just got here, is it really your business? Then, they are looking elsewhere. You hear yourself exhaling. A new friend from the main group tells you not to worry about it. Drama.”
This trio of narrative studies focuses on intersections of genre, performance, and character across three games, each distinct in scope, tone, and themes.
- Performance & Tragicomedy in Yakuza: Like A Dragon | Adam Arter
Adam Arter examines how multi-level performance and roleplaying, combined with an elevated display of the series’ signature tone mashups and bleedthroughs, contributes to the successes of character-writing in Yakuza: Like A Dragon.
- Game Pile: Arcade Spirits | press.exe
Talen Lee interrogates the character writing and narrative themes of Arcade Spirits.
- Intricate Rituals and the Ties that Bind: Emotive Masculinity in Death Stranding – Haywire Magazine
Wyeth Leslie uncovers a fuller, richer portrait of men and masculinity in Death Stranding.
“This is a game that lets its men grieve, rage, and bond in ways that aren’t commonly depicted within big-budget video games. Even more surprising are Death Stranding’s overarching themes about the rejection of hopeless fatalism and isolation in order to embrace fatherhood, empathy, and community.”
Sometimes two pieces show up that just vibe with one another. Henley this week addresses a thematic inadequacy when games include a Pride flag or three and call it a day. Meanwhile, Siggy examines what can be achieved when queerness is meaningfully deployed through multiple layers, looking here at characters and themes.
- Pride Flags in Video Games Aren’t Enough to Show Queer History | Fanbyte
Stacey Henley weighs symbolism against empty symbols in how Pride flags are deployed in recent popular games.
- Bugsnax’s twofold queerness | Freethought Blogs
Siggy distinguishes between queer characters and key themes in examining the chosen families of Bugsnax.
“What really pleased me about Bugsnax is that it is an excellent example of what I’m calling twofold queer representation. It has queer characters… and queer-coded themes. The queer themes are never explicitly labeled as queer, and have no direct connection to the queerness of the characters. Nonetheless, the significant presence of queer characters cues the player to look for queer interpretations of the rest of the story–and find them.”
Two pieces centring players and play.
- gaming, in kids’ own words | Culture Study
Anne Helen Petersen talks to, arguably, the foremost experts when it comes to kids, games, and screen time.
- The Island Looked Fine – New Rules
Ava Wong Davies chronicles the waxing, waning, and waxing of an Animal Crossing obsession.
“It comes down to terraforming—the building mechanic which lets you build and collapse cliffs, create ponds and waterfalls. It should be relaxing, but for me it becomes weirdly stressful instead. It could go on forever, but I’m not quite sure why you’d want it to. I terraform and decorate obsessively, then begin to feel deflated by it, struggle along for a few more days or weeks with all the enthusiasm of a marathon runner whose legs have fallen off, and then eventually admit defeat and burn out.”
Lifting the Lid
Next on deck we have a pair of design-focused critiques interrogating genre, theme, presentation, and Toads.
- A World in a Toy Box | In The Lobby
Cole Henry explores the toy box design approach of Captain Toad: Treasure Treasure tracker, looking at the game’s visual style, mechanical operation, and overall theming.
- Pitfall II: Scene 0.5: Persistent Platformers, or Beingness | Midlife Crisis Optional
LeeRoy Lewin unpacks the conceits and preconceptions at play when we talk about metroidvanias, or exploration in games generally.
“So, why have we let some genres monopolize on having a concept, which implies that other genres lack that concept, even though this concept is something that is existential to play and life, or in less grand terms, something that is pretty much a constant of all cultural production? What is this separate thing that we are trying to refer to when we talk about exploration? Probably, the thing we’re really talking about or desiring is ownership.”
Our next two featured authors look at how works are translated across media, across platforms, across time periods, looking at a computer adptation of D&D and a modernized port and remake of a Sega Saturn classic, respectively.
- 1975: dnd | 50 Years of Text Games
Aaron A. Reed chronicles the history of the earliest digital adaptations of Dungeons & Dragons.
- Something old, something new, and one dragon who’s very blue – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi evaluates the recent remake of Panzer Dragoon against the artistic direction and style of the original.
“Graphically updating old games must feel a lot like being asked to nail custard to a wall: It’s a lot of messy effort for all involved and by the end of it nobody’s really happy with the way things turned out. Even the best-intentioned daub of next-gen polygonal polish can turn out badly – old games are often charming because of, rather than in spite of, the way they look, and by trying to give everything more detail for detail’s sake much of the charm and feel of the original can be lost to the unforgiving glare of a 4K image so intricately detailed you can pick out individual 3D eyelashes where once you were grateful if you could tell someone had a face at all.”
We’ve got two pieces this week looking at the specific intersection in games between stories and systems, and how these aspects interact and support one another in weird and unexpected ways.
- UI as Storytelling in Yakuza Kiwami | Saturshot
Ruth Cassidy uncovers how the UI can facilitate emotive storytelling in Yakuza Kiwami.
- Games are giant weird story machines! (video games, their stories, and building stories for systems) – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead takes inventory of the many weird and wonderful intersections between stories and interactivity in a wide swath of varied examples (including some of their own) (content notification for some brief discussions of rape and shitty industry culture).
“I think, overall, it’s games like this (Yume Nikki, Abzu, Celeste, Lucah) that are worth looking at for how you can get a lot of meaning, story… just for how they ask the player to interact. You’re placed in this fantastic world. Why even say anything? Exploration, engaging with what the game is asking you to do, builds such a powerful narrative even without words.”
This week continues a trend of great work towards unpacking and re-examining cyberpunk worlds, both in general and in specific. Here are four of the latest standouts.
- Horror Games Just Don’t Scare Me Like Cyberpunk Does | Fanbyte
Tauriq Moosa finds that the horror in cyberpunk stories is found in the relatability of the technological/existential purgatories they imagine upon their subjects.
- Cyberpunk Is Queer — Just Read The Source Material | Gayming Magazine
Angelina Dee examines the queer theoretical underpinnings of the cyberpunk genre and the Cyberpunk TTRPG, as well as how 2077 ultimately shies away from fully committing to those basic tenets.
- The World in Cyberpunk 2077 Is Hollow—the Posters Prove It | WIRED
Stacey Henley finds that a broad study of 2077‘s posters reveals an overwhelming worldbuilding focus on sex, violence, and racism.
- Spectacular | Bullet Points Monthly
Autumn Wright struggles with 2077 as a work of hollow spectacle.
“Perhaps the most damning thing about Cyberpunk 2077, a game that wants so desperately to be bright and loud and cool, is that it is uninspiring. Whereas other games might use their systems to posit new ideas about history, gender, or humanism, ideas I may well disagree with but demand critical attention, 2077 depicts a world that is much like our own. But this isn’t in pursuit of realist commentary. Rather, 2077 is entirely reactionary. It would be forgettable too if it weren’t for the attention money can buy.”
We close this week with a manual for the digital.
- Rules Variation For a Tabletop RPG Over Webcam With Social Dysfunction And No Snacks – New Rules
Romie Stott proposes some house rules for remote TTRPG-ing.
“OBJECT OF THE GAME:
To feel any kind of joy at all.“
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