February 21st

Welcome back, readers.

In case you’ve missed them:

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Crises in Context

This week’s issue opens with two groups of industry-focused pieces. This first trio are all about challenges of access, sustainability, economics, and class struggle in and around the games industry and its attendent cultural spheres of influence.

“How does a community react when their future, a construct designed by hedge funds and corporations and politicians, vanishes? The answer, in this case, is clear: they resurrect their ghosts.”

Asymmetrical Playing Field

Our second set of industry-focused articles take a look at who is represented and on what terms in both developmental and journalistic spheres, pointing out the systemic inequalities that Black developers and women journalists face.

“In the summer of 2020, several companies in the games industry raised money for charities fighting racial injustice and released statements in support of Black Americans or Black people in general. Over 1,000 developers donated their games to The Bundle For Racial Equality and Justice available on Itch.io, which raised over $8 million. Several companies also made vague pledges to improve the situation of Black people in the games industry specifically. But what steps were taken, and how successful were they?”

Military-Industrial Contest

There’s been a lot of discussion about the representation of war and conflict in games this week, alongside what kinds of games and stories are deemed to be political from a western cultural standpoint. Our three selections on this topic have different levels of abstraction from the immediate discourse, but all of them contribute to a better understanding of the ideological stakes at play in games about war.

“When playing a video game that normalises players killing hundreds of Arabs, it risks slowly indoctrinating young audiences to see brown people as nothing but throwaway ragdolls. Six Days In Fallujah doubles down on this normalisation with the creators’ insistence that it isn’t a political game. All this serves to highlight is that it’s instead just another game to reinforce the tired, negative trope of minorities being the bad guys for no reason.”

Making and Breaking

Our next selection of articles brings together philosophies of game design, speedrunning, and DIY development.

“The feeling of being bewildered (yet safe, for this is only a game) about the very nature of the way the world works is a unique power of interactive media. It’s the power of a plot twist, but amplified as the implications spiral outward and the player wonders how far or how deep this subversion can really go. A surprising design is more than just recontextualizing; it’s pushing the entire horizon of reality, when you discover the world wasn’t as rigid as you thought.”

Cases of Space

Two pieces this week situate the theming and design logic of game spaces and worlds.

“The shapes in THPS3 are incredibly communicative. It’s always clear what sets of movements can be applied to every part of every object in the stage. Horizontal surfaces = manuals, Vertical walls = wallrides, sharp corners and thin lines = grinds, etc. The arrangement of those shapes plus their interactions with momentum and balance creates a fascinating spatial language. Learning the language allows you to have a conversation with the space.”

Right Game, Right Time

Next up we’ve got a pair of play-focused perspectives on games that just feel right for the present moment.

“Internet game drama shouldn’t be centred on whether Abby’s muscles in The Last of Us Part II are unrealistic when my café entrepreneur is holding a polar bear above her head and shaking it in the air for fun.”

Deeper than Difficulty

Difficulty discourse (Diffcourse? Diffscourse?) pops up now and then in enthusiast press, usually when a game comes out that’s either really hard or poorly-thought-out from an accessibility standpoint or both. Each of these next three authors has taken the time to delve into the finer complexities of the question, imploding the idea of difficulty as a monolithic property or topic and looking at things like level design, failure states, and the modularity of games in general.

“I think the main problem brought up by difficulty as an assumed good in games is the shoehorning of it into games that really, really do not benefit from it. And I don’t mean like, games that have a certain aesthetic: any aesthetic can work with almost any mechanics, really. I mean that the overall flow and pacing of an experience can be really negatively impacted with difficulty not carefully considered.”

Running Themes

Our next three selections upack the narrative and thematic threads and trends in recent games, looking at limitations, failures, and shortcomings across their respective object texts.

2077 is nothing more or less than the modern videogame with the veil torn away. It is the surfaced bile, everything that is rotten and moldering, and in this light it makes perfect sense that the one aspect of life it is not childishly lurid about is sex. If Japanese cyberpunk locates transcendence in the runny excrea of the (industrialized) flesh, 2077 is repulsed by the abject: its mirror image.”

Stumble Chums

This week’s pairing of queer-themed pieces have a common focus on messiness as part of the queer experience. Definitely can’t relate. Nope. What? Go read the articles! They’re good.

“There is no canonical explanation for why the YoRHa androids’ powerful bodies don’t plow through the foliage unfettered. However, their antagonistic relationship to the fauna speaks to an incompatibility with the world they are thrust into; only deepening the queer resonance I feel with the androids as they face their tragedies and scuff their patent leather on branches and twigs. Not only does nature reject them, but the ruined structures which surround them are tombs housing dead and rotting ideologies. Ideologies whose ghosts plague the Machine Lifeforms with whom they share a genesis and to whom they might compare themselves and their “humanity.””

Critical Chaser

We close out the week with a long-overdue standoff with a Sonic game that just might be my jam.

“So many restarts that even though the penultimate trial – “Touch three balloons”- sits on the menu as I type this, taunting me, the motion sickness I’ve been pretending hasn’t been affecting me is now so bad I don’t just need a short break, I need to go rummaging through the medicine cupboard in the hope of finding something that’ll help dampen the nausea.”


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