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

Highs and Lows in Genre Fiction

We open this week with two meditations on science fiction games, looking alternately at thoughtful stoytelling possibilities (King) and regressive and harmful abstractions (Alvey) which present themselves in the genre.

“The Mass Effect series constructs a future for humanity full of telekinesis and faster-than-light travel, yet it is incapable of imagining a future where autistic people are treated with human respect and dignity. What happens to David Archer is a viscerally accurate portrayal of the real life abuse that many autistic people experience, stripped of any context and lacking the simple option for a full-throated condemnation.”

The Right Moment

Temporal context (which sounds way more sci-fi in my head than I intended; a carry-over from the previous section?) is the key concept that informs our next section in different ways across its three selections, as their respective authors situate the artistic, political, and thematic consequences of games in their specific time and place.

“Maybe it’s just the overbearing power of marketing departments on the critical discourse, which has held strong for pretty much the entire existence of commercial video games. (You could also easily point to the same phenomenon in movie criticism to explain the past decade or so.) Maybe it’s that there’s not a widespread sense that “telling a story” is the primary function of a video game, so there’s less bias against grafting more story onto one that’s already come to a natural and unified end. The theory I gravitate towards most, though, is that it’s because video games are so tied to rapid technological advances.”

An Ecocritical Lens

Our next two selections take us to imagined worlds both fantastical and science fictional to better understand the precarity of the real-world ecosytems to which we remain indelibly bound.

“So often, games set in extraterrestrial locales formulaically prompt players to terraform and commit simulated acts of violence to survive. In Other Waters makes a critical intervention, challenging the currently popular farming and survival game genres, which largely rely on extraction and colonization in their game mechanics.”

You Had to Be There

Digital tourism is the critical thread that unites this next section unpacking space and place in game worlds real and imagined.

“As an act of virtual tourism, then, Erangel has always been a tough sell. A heart has to break a little for the tourism operators left to that task, I think. Bend your imagination just a little, and you’ll spot them. The travel agents, that is, hunched over beige keyboards stuffed in the back corner of an equally derelict travel agency.”

Taking Notes

Here we’ve got a grouping on storytelling, with a focus on how notes and journals alternately help or hinder broader worldbuilding projects in games.

“Clustering Sofia’s drawing, her graffiti, and Boris’ trophy—all of which elicit a clear response from Ellie—at the beginning of Hillcrest lets the player know Ellie’s interest is piqued by the pair. But omitting a verbal reaction to nearly all of the later notes or the level environment invites the player to imagine her response and thoughts as she explores. The fact that Ellie continues to pick these memos up subtly suggests she, too, sees the connection between her own life and the lives in these notes. Is Ellie seeking out these scraps of paper because she senses in them the same echo of her own inner turmoil that we do? Does reading about Boris and Sofia deepen her commitment to this dark path, or deter her from it?”

Body Problems

Bodies are weird. The societies we live in are fraught with implicit and explicit rules about how they should present and perform, which in turn informs which kinds of bodies are seen and valued in pop culture and media. Body horror and biopunk serve as critical interventions to body normativity which guide our next selected pair of pieces in a broader conversation about the representation–and interrogation–of bodies.

“I crave a sense of authorship in games. I’d love to tell my own story in someone else’s world. It makes me envious of those who make body horror. They get to figure things out about the body, but they also have to put an amount of labour into making the thing. Why can’t games give players the tools to do that experimentation?”

The Art of Play

Next up, a trio of pieces all investigate the relationships between, art, art-making, artful-meaning-making, and play. Each of these authors in their own ways extend this conversation beyond a singular focus on a game or games, instead fitting games into a larger framework of how they inform our creative selves.

“I’m making the unseen seen, I tell myself in the daytime, as I walk around my neighborhood and mentally match the bursting pink and white cherry blossoms with their striped and spotted gray bark. I’m doing this for the aesthetic, I tell myself at night, collecting and arranging pixels that will one day disappear as completely as this spring’s blossoms.”

Critical Chaser

This one was too lyrical to not be our sendoff for the week.

“You look at: rough grey-blue skies the colour of choppy seas and rich green fields dotted with sheep baa-ing for their meat to explode out of them, another twinkling yellow star to put in your pocket. A guitar picks gentle metal notes over the palm-padding of soft drums, warm hands on stretched hide. Words are poison, but you collect them to turn their danger into malignant veins of cancer-black and blood red—spears to pierce the bodies of frantic ghost children capering like agitated monkeys in mountain meadows.”


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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!