Welcome back, readers.
First off, this document collates information + avenues of support in the wake of ongoing protests against continued police brutality and murder of Black and brown people, this time in response to the murder of Daunte Wright. Check it out of you can.
Around the site, we’ve got new Keywords! Our featured guests this episode are media scholars Víctor Navarro-Remesal and Thiago Falcão.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Today (and all other days that end in “day”) is always a good day for critical meditations on how popular media alternately props up and critiques the police as an institutional locus of power and violence. We begin this week’s issue with two highlights examining this topic as it relates to a pair of very different well-loved games.
- The Wrong Side of History, or Being a Cop in L.A. Noire — Gamers with Glasses
Blake Reno meditates on L.A. Noire‘s narrative attention to cop corruption and systemic injustice.
- Disco Elysium and Copaganda – No Escape
Kaile Hultner discusses the challenges and concessions of engaging with cop media in 2021-present-year–even when said media slaps in every other conceivable way.
“The fact of Harry DuBois’s copitude colors the game for me – or rather, it draws the color out of the surrounding, much more interesting items within the game. “Don’t be afraid to get weird,” a loading screen tells me (or something to this effect). “People let people in power be weird!” Except you and I both know that nobody is just “letting” this cop be weird. Rather, the cop is forcing his weird shit on people under the implied threat of death if they say or do the wrong thing to him.”
So I’ve seen some pretty cool writing emerge of late in response to a certain topical looter shooter. Here are two of the highlights so far.
- NEVER FIGHT A MAN WITH A PERM – DEEP HELL
Skeleton finds deep resonance in the bodies at play in a shallow game.
- Cycles | Bullet Points Monthly
Yussef Cole positions the cynical, cyclical Outriders as a perioid-appropriate game and genre for a cynical, cyclical cultural period of defeatist individualism.
“Amidst these flames, in this period of utter political exhaustion, contending with so much malaise and nihilism, it’s easy to act in more self-involved ways. It’s easy to live, as the Outrider does, alone, but powerful, untouchable. The promise of the looter-shooter is the colorful and outrageous fun of ultra-violence. How convenient then that their worlds are so often broken in such a way that this is the only kind of fun to be had. How convenient is it that our own society is divided in such a way that we allow wreckless self-fulfillment, rather than collective action to drive us?”
Interventions Divine and Otherwise
Here we’ve got a trio of pieces that situate their subject games in the contemporary material-world frameworks and structures that give them meaning. One does so to intervene, while another is ultimately more passively reflective of the world in which it has been made, and Neo Cab manages to pull off both.
- Killing Our Gods: The Divine Family of Hades Mimics Earthly Capitalist Structures – Uppercut
Grace Benfell is back with a deep structural analysis of Hades‘ ultimate reaffirmation of the heterosexual nuclear family.
- Goodbye Cruel World | Electron Dance
Joel Goodwin makes sense of a cruelly provocative game about NFTs, crypto, and gatekeeping, where the player can make the game harder for everyone who comes after by getting in early and getting theirs.
- In Neo Cab, We Can Play | Into The Spine
Eli Cugini meditates on gamification, gig work, and how Neo Cab centres both the exploitative practices of gig corporations and the subversive agency of gig workers.
“So, why do I care about this game so much? Well, I feel like it taps into the emotional truth of bad work in a way that’s genuinely clarifying and productive. It returns us to ourselves.”
Objects in Mirror
Our next two selections look back to titles with a mixed reputation, or an uncertain place in their franchises’ overall critical canon, and draw upon the clarifying passage of time re-examine why those offbeat installments were and are pretty great.
- Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the best game in the series | In The Lobby
Cole Henry makes the case for Assassin’s Creed‘s fifth main outing as the design priorities of the first game perfected.
- Change is bad. And good. And necessary. – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi offers what I think is a swell companion piece to the contemporary remake/remaster conversation with a look at the bold remix that is Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes.
“However you feel about The Twin Snakes changes – the good, the bad, and the plain different – the game still gives us the greatest gift of all: The chance to play Metal Gear Solid for the first time – twice.”
Heart of the Matter
Next up, a pair of pieces with a critical focus on indie games and the things about them that struck a chord with the auhtors.
- 5 beautiful altgames (tiny special things found on itch.io that are deeply meaningful) – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead details the impressions and connections they made with five small Itch games.
- Mundaun | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente describes the stylism and the storytelling that animate the indie horror title Mundaun.
“It was just a story, one that had a beginning and an end like all stories do, but I think I might be haunted now. Even though I’ve finished the game, Mundaun has carried on in my dreams.”
Three pieces gathered together here this week look at a variety of gender and sexuality intersections as represented in recent (or re-recent) releases.
- Neither/Nor: The Gender Politics of the Cyberpunk Character Creator | Sidequest
Emma Kostopolus finds a little bit of agender affirmation in Cyberpunk 2077, as fraught as the game is, by way of its character creator.
- Gayme of the Week: Lil Nas X’s Twerk Hero is more crucial than you think | Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart looks at why Lil Nas X’s game/marketing stunt/shitpost is also genuinely good queer representation.
- Nier Replicant Still Portrays Queer Bodies with Brutal Honesty | Paste
Austin Jones unpacks Nier Replicant‘s themes of ostracism, queer acceptance, and found family.
“Queer people are often told that their bodies are unworthy, ugly, or loathsome unless they are somehow useful. Because of this, young queers often fear rejection unless they present some sort of functionality—are they entertaining? Do they ascribe to popular beauty standards? Do they have some kind of talent that contrasts their otherwise repulsive selves? A queer person fitting into mainstream society is possible, but requires a level of submission and assimilation. Being used for the purposes of conventional society is dehumanizing and to be as frightfully messy as Kainé is a death sentence—her unyielding honesty is synonymous with chaos.”
From a Different Angle
Our next two selections this week each look at games with an interesting design mechanic. Even so, the real meaning-making in either case happens elsewhere, whether by the narrative design or the real-world structures that inspire the game-world ones.
- Signs of the Sojourner will make you think differently about conversations | Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld reflects on a game about conversations, and how conversations are a little like games.
- Before Your Eyes review | The Indie Game Website
Alyse Stanley responds to an evocative story about chronic illness, in a game you control by blinking.
“I scrape my mouse across my desk to budge the cursor. Prompts melt away as I mouse over them, as if my willpower is dissolving along with them. All the while, a physical manifestation of the unnamed illness crackles loud and bright on screen, so much so that at times I can barely hear or see anything else in the game until I click a prompt to dispense more medication. It’s still there, of course, humming in the background, but receded enough that I can do what I need done. For a while, at least, until finally the scourge becomes so deafening and all encompassing that it becomes impossible to ignore.”
Here we’ve got some practical advice, both on navigating the discourse around indie business advice, as well as on setting up boundaries and exit strategies for your tabletop group.
- Don’t Listen to Business Indies | Mokkograd
Eric Merz observes that the majority of advice on the web for indie developers is written by and for already-successful and secure devs, and that this representation bias results in unhelpful advice for the vast majority of precarious, small-scale game makers.
- Boundaries and Escape Routes: A Beginner’s Guide to Safer Tables | Sidequest
Zora Gilbert outlines some best practices for making your tabletop games safer and more comfortable for everyone at your table.
“My friends think hard about play and boundaries, and creating safe gaming spaces runs deep in how we interact with each other and engage in play. But establishing and maintaining a safe space with a new group or with strangers isn’t always easy, and it helps to have conscious mechanisms and mantras in place to provide structure.”
This showed up in our Discord and
- AGGRO CRAB | Twitter
I think I can safely assume everyone who would be reading this via Critical Distance will feel the same (and correct) amount of attacked.
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