Welcome back, readers.
To start, our usual PSA: police brutality is not new. Its victims are overwhelmingly Black and brown and reporting on the occurances is rarely widely circulated. If you’re pissed off this weekend (and rightfully so), remember that this is a larger institutional struggle, and it’s always Black and brown folks on the front lines of that sturggle. Ways to help linked here.
One other serious matter to address before we proceed. This has been unofficial policy for a few months now, but Kotaku is off my reading list until they respect Nathalie Lawhead’s wishes (expressed loudly and clearly for a year at this point) and take down a pair of articles that have caused them and other survivors no end of harm. I am saying this out loud in the hopes of motivating further awareness and hopefully positive action on this matter. That is all.
Around the site, our List Jam Roundup is live! If you haven’t already done so, come check out all the cool ways people are stretching and playing with the form.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Through a Pandemic, Starkly
Quarantine living continues to shape and reshape play and games, much as it does all other things. We open this week with five writers reflecting, in different modes and via different games, on the changing shape of life on either side of the screen.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons Is the Perfect Tool for Virtual Dates | Fanbyte
Priyanka Moorjani contemplates the affordaces for escapism and romance on Nintendo’s virtual island.
- Living with the Specter of Death: What Darkest Dungeon Tells Us About Stress — Endgame Sequences
Oluwatayo Adewole considers the nature of stress, in Darkest Dungeon and in contempirary living, observing the ways in which it is pervasive, personal, and unequal.
- Digital Distractions | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole documents how our temporal relatinships with games–and our tolerance for all their filler–changes as we age, grow, and grasp our own finitude.
- Drinking With Arthur Morgan | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle recounts the good and the bad of a night at the bar, via Arthur Morgan and RDR2.
- Propaganda in the Bunker | Videodame
Andrew King considers the art of palliative propaganda in a world in crisis, in Umurangi Generation and beyond.
“PragerU’s success is dependent on this kind of misdirection, convincing their audience that they are “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” who should not work to improve material conditions for their own class, lest they make things less decadent for the class to which they believe they will someday belong. The same goes for Liberty, Inc.”
Get It Right
Next up we’ve got two articles, disparate in the games they cover but united in close and appreciative study of how each, in their way, gets the storytelling so very right and connects with their audience.
- Life Is Strange’s Mundane Moments Are Its Most Magical | TheGamer
Stacey Henley makes the case that the greatest storytelling strengths in the Life Is Strange and Tell Me Why games have nothing to do with supernatural abilities.
- The Authenticity Of Trans Names, Punk Identities, Queer Heroism and Punching Cops In Extreme Meatpunks Forever: Bound By Ash (Season 2) | Video Game Choo Choo
Solon thinks through punk ideology and trans existence in piecing together how and why Extreme Meatpuunks Forever continues to hit so hard and so right through its second season.
“When we break our bones and tear our skin in the streets, it is never for ourselves. There is no glory in fighting against the status quo, as glory is only granted by empires; the gallant warrior, knighted by his queen. The only glorified punks are dead ones. What the fuck good is glory when you’re dead? So instead of fighting for glory, we fight for our families and our future in hopes for a better life.”
Speaking of lists, I’ve got two more for you right here, each looking at overlooked and underapprecaited classics past and present. Check ’em out!
- Take a Break With These 3 Short Games | Sidequest
Alenka Figa curates some one-sitting indie gems for your perusal.
- 5 Dark Souls Precursors To Play While Waiting for Elden Ring | Paste
Dia Lacina had the fortitude to put Castlevania II on this list and I think you should read the article and find out why.
“So, you’ve seen all of Lordran, have you? Had your fill of old blood? Couldn’t possibly take another hour swinging with Sekiro? Fair enough.”
Our next three selections this week all deal with art in some way, be it in tracing the stylistic lineages and influences that continue to shape contemporary games, failures of art in the face of design, or even games about art itself.
- Video Games Are Leading the Return of the Y2K Aesthetic | Fanbyte
De’Angelo Epps breaks down the ins and outs of 2000-era visual design, the Black and Asian influences that inform it, and the games that carry on this stylistic legacy today.
- Art Sqool | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente comes away from Art Sqool feeling unfulfilled by a premise that promised more.
- Dragon’s Lair  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury makes the case that, contrary to its popular reputation, the Don Bluth-powered Dragon’s Lair suffers more for a lack of narrative than gameplay–with no time or rest to appreciate the animation, only a lurid male gaze drives the player onward.
“Like the sirens, it uses its beauty to draw you in, and then it simply kills you without giving you the satisfaction you could imagine. But… isn’t that basically the condition of all arcade games, those self-marketing microtransaction-fueled commodities, just a little more exaggerated?”
Build Back Better
Next up, we have a series of design-focused articles covering a range of topics, from narrative structure, to genre conventions, to spatial navigation, to cynical corporate strategy.
- 1980: MUD | 50 Years of Text Games
Aaron A. Reed delves into the design history of the original ancestor of contemporary MMOs, and explores how many of its features and mechanics–still reproduced today–emerged as responses to the puzzle of facilitating shared play in a shared world.
- When choice becomes a metric, narrative design suffers | Gamasutra
Nicholas O’Brien argues against overtly quantified “Clementine will remember this”-style choice mechanics in narrative design, instead proposing more intuitive, constrained, dialogue-driven approaches.
- Due Diligence: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s main character is a woman. So why’d Ubisoft put a dude on the cover? – Haywire Magazine
Leigh Harrison is tired of Ubisoft’s banal and impotent unwillignness to properly commit to a feminine protagonist and honestly yeah.
- Losing Immersion Amidst Maps and Markers | Video Game Choo Choo
Walker concludes that urban spaces in contemporary games look impressive but aren’t very navigable without the artifice of map markers, and speculates on what better-realized virtual spaces might look like.
“Something as simple as making the signs for important places a little bit bigger than they would usually be, keeping the sightlines a little bit cleaner, and maybe not washing everything with whatever colour Bethesda was obsessed in the months leading up to release, would do wonders for players’ capacity to get around comfortably without any external aide. Do you expect me to believe every blacksmith in Skyrim has the equipment to fashion dragon weapons, but none of them have a bright paint at hand? As it stands, organic traversal in these games is possible, but far from optimal, and defaulting to the optimal way of traversal is a signature habit of humans.”
10G to Stay at the Inn
A pair of pieces this week situate adventure and RPG games in their historical context, looking specifically at how older games can be misunderstood and misrepresented when separated from that temporal and cultural context, whether it be how we receive games of the period, or how contemporary games attempt to carry that torch for new players.
- Virtual Hydlide | Bad Game Hall of Fame
Cassidy takes on the popularly-assumed low point in the famously-misunderstood-outside-Japan adventure series.
- Bravely Default 2 Cannot Stop Talking About What Grandpa Did In The War | Fanbyte
Ren finds something slightly off in how Bravely Default 2 adeptly reproduces the idiosyncracies of its old-school Squaresoft forebears without necessarily undertsanding the technical and histrical context in which those games were produced.
“I want Bravely Default 2 to challenge and play with this idea of its genre, I want it to reimagine the SquareSoft JRPG towards something new. I want it to have ambition. It doesn’t, really. Bravely Default 2 thinks the past it imagines is enough.”
A Too-Familiar Apocalypse
We’ve got a pair of writers this week taking The Last of Us series to task for its reliance on tired storytelling tropes where marginalized characters bear the brunt of misery, sacrifice, and death.
- ‘Last of Us 2’ reveals why the worst trope in video games needs to die in 2021 | Inverse
Emma Flint wants more lesbian characters in games to have a chance at happiness.
- The Last of Us Has a Problem with Minority Trauma – Haywire Magazine
Shae De Pass takes Naughty Dog to task for its narrative fascination with Black death, and wonders about the course corrections future adaptations might hope to make.
“Any time a marginalized character appears on the screen, marginalized audiences hope for someone worth identifying with. But too often, those hopes are cut short. Sam, Henry, and Marlene are unequally burdened with being saviors while facing absurd deaths, and when compared to the non-black protagonists, their complexities and stories are left under-explored.”
A letter and a poem to bring us hope this week.
- Mercy | Unwinnable
Melissa King, Overwatch.
- To Live is to Watch | Videodame
Rachel Tanner, The Flower Collectors.
“The priest tries to save
his flock. The priest empties
them through confession,
refilling them with grace.
I wish there was
grace enough for me.“
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