Welcome back, readers.
In case you’ve missed them:
- Call for submissions to a volume and archive of Black creators working in, on, and around games.
- Call for a special issue themed around Decolonizing Queer Games and Play for First Person Scholar.
- Call for a special issue centred around Surviving Whiteness in Games for the Journal of Games Criticism.
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.
- Easy Game Development | Vextro
LeeRoy Lewin thinks through the industrial and cultural processes, standards, and norms that make everything–art, game development, existing–harder than it needs to be.
- Not Game Over: Game Developers Tackle the Climate Crisis | Gamasutra
Paula Escuadra and Hugo Bille evaluate the games industry’s role in tackling climate catastrophe.
- The Haunting of r/wallstreetbets | Logically
Axel Hassen Taiari pulls at the intersecting threads of hauntology, meme culture, communal longing, and class struggle which inform and situate the GameStock saga.
“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.
- What a woman games journalist experiences in a week | GamesIndustry.biz
Mary Gushie breaks down the normalization and ubiquity of harrassment experienced by women journalists in games.
- Has the games industry lived up to its Black Lives Matter promises? | PC Gamer
Malindy Hetfeld talks to people across the industry to get a read on what steps studios and publshers have or have not taken to make their workplaces safer for and more inclusive of Black talent and leadership.
“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?”
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.
- Press ACTION to Use Machine Gun – Medal of Honor: Frontline | Super Chart Island
Iain Mew remarks upon the historical context and post-9/11 timing that informs the meteoric rise in popularity of jingoistic military shooters.
- The Urge to Dominate | Current Affairs
Nathan J. Robinson considers the imaginative limitations of competition-as-motivation, in Age of Empires and beyond.
- The Vilification Of Arabs And Minorities In Video Games | GamingBible
Dean Abdou observes how a war game about war crimes in the Middle East can only be apolitical in a wider industry framework that positions Arabs and other marginalized identities as the villains by default.
“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 inspired brilliance of Katelabs, a foray into glitch tools, and what zine culture has taught me about games & software dev… – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead writes about independent freeware development tools, and the ephemerality of digital art and creation.
- Banjo-Kazooie and the Golden Repair of Speedrunning | David R. Howard
David R. Howard studies how assemblage and re-assemblage inform the unique strategic challenges of Banjo-Kazooie speedrunning.
- In Praise of Messy Design | Kitfox Games
Tanya X. Short makes the case for games that include varied, numerous, and deep systems to excess.
“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.
- I Hope The Next Tomb Raider Isn’t About Raiding Tombs | TheGamer
Stacey Henley re-evaluates the design strengths and thematic weaknesses across the Tomb Raider series.
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Shape-Meaning Resonance | Marina Kittaka
Marina Kittaka explores how the shapes of objects in a game world inform the design language of the game and our perceptual experience of the world.
“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.
- It is Super Mario’s 3D World and we’re just living in it | In The Lobby
Cole Henry breaks down why Mario’s tentpole Wii U outing still holds up.
- Calico | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente finds a goofy, whimsical game on Switch that perfectly suits the liminality of dealing with long Covid.
“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.
- Unwinnability and Wishbringer | Zarf Updates
Andrew Plotkin weighs a very different design landscape of difficulty and unwinnable states in 1980’s text-parser games, by way of Infocom’s Wishbringer.
- Akogare 2 and the Invisible Hand | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor examines the tension in kaizo games between precise mechanical flow and personality in world design.
- How Should We Discuss Game Difficulty? – The Library
Queenie proposes that in considering difficulty as a monolith, we are less-well equipped to understand how difficulty relates to games as heterogeneous and modular systems, and how difficulty can often be at odds with those systems in certain games.
“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.”
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.
- Little Nightmares II and the Case of Weak Imagery | Unwinnable
Amanda Hudgins finds tedium in Little Nightmares II‘s commitment to the grotesque.
- For Women in Games, You Can Be a Mother or a Daughter | Video Game Choo Choo
Rose finds that all too often even the most celebrated women characters in games have their stories defined by their relationships to the men in their lives.
- The Consensual Hallucination | Bullet Points Monthly
Astrid Anne Rose examines Cyberpunk 2077‘s juvenile, yet sanitized and ultimately hollow approach to sex, sexuality, and sex work.
“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.”
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.
- What’s Cookin’?: Cooked With Love Brings Being a Messy College Queer to Life Through Food – Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe considers a relatable culinary chaos in Cooked With Love.
- Nier Automata and The Queer Experience of Its Bushes | Gayming Magazine
Trevor Richardson unpacks the queer allegorical ramifications of those gods-damned bushes.
“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.””
We close out the week with a long-overdue standoff with a Sonic game that just might be my jam.
- Unfinished business (& Knuckles) – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi takes on Sonic’s troubled, charming, and obscure Saturn-based 3D proof-of-concept.
“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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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!