Welcome back, readers.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve highlighted this call for submissions to a collected volume and archive of Black creators working in, on, and around games, as well as Khee Hoon Chan and First Person Scholar’s call for a special issue themed around Decolonizing Queer Games and Play. This week another exciting CFP has come to my attention, via the Journal of Games Criticism, centred around Surviving Whiteness in Games. This one runs until the end of March!
Around the site, our List Jam begins today, and runs for a week. I’m looking forward to the weird and wonderful stuff 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.
Our opening section is concerned with industry exploitation and abuse, along studio and journalistic axes. We’ll let this go when Nathalie Lawhead no longer has to ask for basic dignity on a daily basis.
- Indie Bosses Are Still Bosses: Exploitation and Unionization at Small Game Studios | Game Workers of Southern California
Robin Trach breaks down how exploitative labour structures and dynamics exist in smaller studios beyond the triple-A sphere, and how labour organization and unionization can help.
- “Relax, babe. It’s just business.” – Game Journalism – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead reflects–again–on an industry that collectively chooses again and again to close ranks and make excuses rather than take down a pair of articles that have wrought demonstrable harm to survivors (content notification for discussions of suicide and industry abuse).
“I would like you, whoever reads this, to understand the concepts of solidarity. This is what we need here.
When someone was hurt, it affects everyone. When you let an abuser function in a space to the extent that they have the power and platform to continue hurting people, you are helping them hurt people.
Our inability to act… no, our UNWILLINGNESS to act is hurting us all.”
It may be indicative of our present circumstances that in some ways Fall Guys feels like it came out almost as long ago as Sly Cooper (maybe not quite as long ago as The Portopia Serial Murder Case). Each of these pieces takes a historical look at games, or deconstructs how time and history are constructed within the industry itself, or considers who and what are omitted from that history.
- It’s Time To Bring Back Sly Cooper, One of the Greatest Mascot Platformers | Paste
Jessica Howard looks back and what sets the Sly Cooper games apart from other mascot platformers of the era.
- Fall Guys, BattleBorn y el mito de los “juegos muertos” | GamerFocus
Julián Ramírez, via Fall Guys (a game people continue to play and enjoy), asks what it means when a game is popularly ascribed to be dead (Spanish-language article).
- Portopia Serial Murder Case  – Arcade Idea
Arcade Idea contemplates the linkages between cinematic and videogame storytelling in this early and influential example.
- In the ’80s, she was a video game pioneer. Today, no one can find her | Polygon
Patricia Hernandez documents how games history loses sight of the women who shaped its earliest and most pivotal moments.
“It’s not just that women in tech routinely get overlooked, though that certainly plays a part in this mystery. It’s that cultural norms around marriage make it harder to keep track of them.”
Our next section brings together close philosophical analysis, slow unpackings, and a critical review of feminist games scholarship.
- Lady Love Dies Cannot Save You | Unwinnable
Trevor Richardson looks at what Paradise Killer has to say about the master’s tools and criminal justice reform.
- The Miracle Animal and the Pale Inside: Existential Thought in Disco Elysium – Haywire Magazine
Keith Gordon delves deeply into how Disco Elysium grapples with philosophical dread.
- Review of Shira Chess’s Play Like A Feminist — Gamers with Glasses
Tof Eklund examines where Shira Chess’ accessible volume succeeds, and where it leaves room for more focused, inclusive, and intersectional successors.
- OMORI – Indie Hell Zone
Dari sits with a surreal indie RPG and its meditations on depression and suicide (content notification for those things).
“Apologizing for a mistake doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re forgiven, especially if there’s still material consequences – especially one as grave as Sunny’s. But the important thing is to take accountability for what you’ve done for the peace of mind of everyone involved and to be honest with the people you care about.”
In this section our three selected authors look at story worlds as they relate to (or have been outpaced by) our own world, covering intersections of contemporary crisis, narrative payoff, and Black representation.
- In Nioh 2, you learn to believe in a better future — and fight for it | Polygon
Jeffrey Rousseau situates the historical fiction Nioh 2 in the contemporary context of our present moment.
- Trash Fantasias, or Why Mass Effect 3’s Ending Was Bad Actually | Uncanny Magazine
Katherine Cross makes the case for why Mass Effect 3‘s conclusion was bad when it could have been trash.
- Owning the Mask | Unwinnable
Phillip Russell finds a lot to love in Miles Morales, except that Black stories and Black-lead games are still the detour, still the side-attraction, still don’t go all the way.
“Can’t more be done with Miles at this point? I don’t want to hear that everyone can be Spider-Man. I don’t want to hear that depicting Black life intimately and expansively is “risky.” Time and time again the world tries to tell me otherwise, but I’m not asking for too much.”
Bae or Slay
We’ve got a wide array of design-minded crituques this week, ranging from art direction, level design, difficulty, and player behaviors.
- City Climber has a lot to say about video game beauty | Eurogamer.net
Amelia Hansford remarks upon the urban artistic design of a physics-based climbing game.
- Super Hark Bros. 2 and Kaizo Signposting | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor studies level desgin language and conveyances in Super Mario World Kaizo hacks.
- Stop Making Hard Mode An Artificial Time Sink: Difficulty Settings Should Be Creative And Impactful | TheGamer
Stephanie Minor is tired of shooting at enemies with more health who take less damage in an otherwise unchanged gameplay experience.
- Ludoludo Dissonance – In Fire Emblem nothing is certain, except death and restarts | Pixels For Breakfast
Rowan Carmichael considers the design history of permadeaths, perma-resets, and the recent soft-touch approach to both in the Fire Emblem series.
“Why players reset is an interesting point. What have Intelligent Systems done to try and resolve this after noticing after years that players of all kinds just avoid this core aspect of their games, an aspect that in many ways defines much of the series? There are two main solutions they tried, each with different payoffs.”
Next up, we’ve got a pair of insightful perspectives on the recent Hitman 3, unpacking its real-world settings and ideological implications, respectively.
- Hitman 3 is the first game to get Argentina right, and hopefully not the last | Polygon
Diego Nicolás Argüello stresses the importance of research and fidelity in adapting Latin American cultures and locales.
- Hitman Exposes How Thin and Artificial Power Really Is | Paste
Grace Benfell considers the structures of race, gender, and class privilege that allow Agent 47 to flourish in his profitable profession.
“Whether a businessman, cameraman, waiter, or guard, a white cis man is no remarkable sight. They are free of skepticism and the visibility that would be offered to nearly anyone else. In turn, while violence against the powerful might be a claim to a better world for the marginalized, for Agent 47 it is simply a job. He cannot be a person; he is a professional. Though it is alienation of labor that lets him do his work, it also alienates him. While his identity allows him anonymity, it also obscures any real, chosen sense of self. He is everyone and no one. He is not just a cog in the machine, but one of its gears.”
Three excellent critiques and contemplations of queer possibility spaces in contemporary games, looking at Cyberpunk 2077, Stardew Valley, and more.
- Other Flesh | Bullet Points Monthly
Molly Zara-Esther Bloch describes how 2077 echoes the long-established body-swapping or “braindance” trope of the genre without ever really understanding or leveraging its transformative potentialities.
- Cruising Animal Crossing — Gamers with Glasses
Edmond Y. Chang considers the queer erotic potential of Animal Crossing‘s ostensibly platonic friendships.
- Games Don’t Judge You for Expressing Your True Self | WIRED
Isabelle Davis investigates the possibility spaces of queer and trans identity exploration in games like Stardew Valley.
“Games, much like everything else, don’t change lives and shake bones every time they get played, but they can provide regular reassurance in identity. They can also be a bit of a safety net. Stepping into a virtual world, trans folks have the freedom to be exactly the people they choose to be, and that is particularly special at the start of transitioning or when coming out. But beyond that, open-world games allow a freedom, not only in personal expression but also in the communities players chose to create for themselves.”
We’ve got two pieces this week centred on feminine diversity, as well as how women, and women’s bodies, are framed and mediated in games.
- Objectification vs Attraction in Video Games | CGMagazine
Mary Gushie evaluates the stakes at play in altering some of the more objectifying camera work in the Mass Effect remasters.
- Hunie Poppin’ Ladies: This Dating Sim Should Be Offensive, and Why I Love It So Much | Sidequest
Cathryn Sinjin-Starr finds a lot to love about the headline-grabbing horny dating sim puzzler when it comes to feminine diversity and well-rounded character writing.
“HuniePop is not perfect. I don’t think anyone is purporting that it is. It’s a dating sim centred around wooing multiple women, many of them have skimpy outfit options, and while it makes fun of existing tropes of the genre it is still utilising them heavily, even the problematic ones. I do see it as a an overall positive game, though. It has a great sense of humour, whether just in general or specifically about itself. The characters are diverse and well-executed, both in writing and vocal work. And in a genre where many games that feature sexuality swim in the dark creepy end of the pool, HuniePop is refreshingly light and positive about the sex (implied, shown or heard) within it.”
Somebody set us up the. . . antiquated nuclear reactor.
- Could a Nuclear Reactor Actually Last for Hundreds of Years? | Popular Mechanics
Caroline Delbert asks, via a bit of science theorycrafting in good fun, what the onboard nuclear reactors of the Voyager probes can tell us about the latest supercritical hijinks in Destiny 2.
“Yes, nuclear energy can last very long, but what’s the limit? Could a human-made system of any kind, like an advanced nuclear reactor, last at least hundreds of years—the lowest fandom guesstimate between Bray’s lifetime and the relative present in Destiny 2—without any sentient supervision?”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!