Welcome back, readers.

Last week, I very briefly used the official Critical Distance Twitter account to express my gratitude to the IGN staff who took the initiative among major US games press outlets by speaking up about the humanitarian crisis Palestinians in Gaza are facing and directing their readership to organizations and charities providing aid. My gratitude remains with the staff after the original article has been pulled down through apparent corporate interference, and is extended as well to outlets which have added their voices in solidarity with Palestine, including No Escape, Fanbyte, Gamespot, Gayming Magazine, and others.

Also, in case our own position isn’t clear, fuck Israeli Apartheid, and fuck the bullshit both-sides-ism that western media perpetuates as its governments continue to bankroll Israel’s genocidal imperialism.

Around the site, a new TMIVGV is live, courtesy of Connor. Be sure to check it out!

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

Police in Play

Our first two sections this week broadly investigate and interrogate sci-fi worlds in games. To begin with, we’ve got two pieces critiquing recent and contemporary depictions of police and police power in future worlds, here looking largely at Astral Chain and Mass Effect.

“You can explore a vibrant and colorful galaxy without serving as its enforcing power. You can experience these complex narrative systems in satisfying ways without requiring all final decisions to be subject to your own approval. It’s all possible, but it requires courageous vision, as well as hope and trust in others. Mass Effect lends rhetorical support to this cause, particularly in its endings, which aim for “peace across the galaxy” while also arguing that a lone, unaccountable hero is the one to deliver it to us. In reality, it is only we, as players and as people, who must find our own way toward a better world.”

Daily Grinds

Extrapolations of late-capitalism are a common theme in spacefaring future worlds, though these themes aren’t necessarily approached with equal care or critical intent across games. Elite, for all its genre-pioneering clout as the Ur-text of space-trading sims, doesn’t quite hold up under Art’s thematic scrutiny, while Ren finds a lot more substance in Hardspace: Shipbreakers‘ more recent labour-conscious loop.

“The worldbuilding flinches at every turn and just doesn’t add up. If I want it to work at all, I have to indulge in a little bit of speculative fiction myself. The license: we view Elite’s world not through a perfect window, but an imperfect mediated screen, like the set-up to the big twist in Ender’s Game [1985], where their ability to mislead about the nature of reality is leveraged for ideological indoctrination and manipulation of actors.”

Games that Get It

Our next two featured authors this week give their attention to smaller games with a lot to say, alternately by making a lot of noise or none at all.

“Adios got all that out of the way up front. You have an afternoon. Get your affairs in order. This is nothing but business now.”

Spaces, Places, Storytelling, and Simulacra

Our next section this week casts its net wide, but all parties involved here are concerned in some way with virtual spaces and the stories they convey, or fail to convey, variously through diegetic UI, timeworn towns and manors, and full simulated cities.

“What will the first 1:1 videogame city be? Where one step takes you exactly as far as it does in real life but down pavement of calculated geometry. Real cities? They kind of suck: you don’t hang out in a real city for the reasons you do in real life. Alleyways don’t hide mystery over the age of 16 unless someone’s got a secret neighborhood cafe in them.”


Our next two featured authors, each going long, situate their subjects in industry history, looking alternately at social play and violence in games.

  • The Ratings Game, Part 4: E3 and Beyond | The Digital Antiquarian 
    Jimmy Maher looks into the history of studying (and litigating) violence in videogames, coming away at last with a conclusion that methodological problems continue to prevent a satisfying proof of causality between violent games and violent real-world actions.
  • 1990: LambdaMOO | 50 Years of Text Games 
    Aaron A. Reed chronicles the transition from MUDs to MOOs, from dungeons to worlds, along with the sociological and ethical challenges that emerged therein (content notification for a summary of a violation of a player’s sexual consent).

“Exploration remains perpetually magical: unlike in a single-author text game, here you never find the limits of the world model or the edges of the map. The next object might always have a new verb programmed into it, and behind any corner might lie a new domain awaiting fresh explorers. Listening to a seashell in a gazebo transports you to a lazy tropical paradise; winding a music box in a hidden glade summons ghostly figures to enact a tableau from Keats. Rooms with dynamic descriptions responding to the seasons and the time of day keep cycling through the hours, virtual moons moving through their phases above. Even with most of the people gone, the code they left behind still keeps Lambda House alive.”

Unpacking Ideologies

Our next two featured authors respectively unpack the ideological undercurrents of one series and illustrate the ambitions of another title to implode ideology altogether.

“But having acknowledged that the modern God of ideology is dead is also a statement of hope, to offer instead of the return of some sought-for state organization, that one may advance on one’s own and be judged by one’s actions according to the actual method and outcome. Or perhaps instead, there is the hope that in challenging the player in their ideology, that the player becomes less vulnerable to the whims and ways of each day. In either case, the path forward is shown to be something that can’t be argued in a discourse or written in a book but that must instead be lived out in the world.”

Replicant in Review

Bullet Points has two new pieces this week, unpacking ideas and themes from not just the latest Nier-make, but from the wider Nier and Drakengard series as a whole.

Replicant is a perpetual open question, asking the player what they believe in, and what should be considered “right.” Years later in NieR: Automata’s concluding “Ending E,” Taro seemingly responds for himself, “Perhaps now we understand that not everything has to have an answer.””

Personal Play

Here we’ve got a pair of pieces distilling personal philosophies of play, both generally and in relation to specific games.

“I am able to play games, and I am a gamer; just a disabled one. I can now better choose the games I want to play based on the triggers I have, and if a game really interests me but has strong potential triggers, I can plan for it.”

Communities of Play

Urban legends and tourney scenes abound in our next section about play communities and the games (real or rumoured) that bind them.

“A game that is entertaining, but not subject to your whims or pervading moral conventions. A title that played you a little, not the other way round. It makes games feel even more otherworldly, and less like clean vehicles you can dismantle and complete, each shiny corner ticked away. Creepypastas like Pale Luna keep those old games alive in a sense. Carving them into our collective imaginations, which still resound with the ghosts of yesteryear.”

Critical Chaser

We’re closing the week out with two sendoff pieces this time. Enjoy!

“Garrus is literally every cop who has a Punisher sticker on their car. He’s an authoritarian who wants to take the law into his own hands to deal with crime violently. And instead of using his combat skills to help Mordin protect his clinic, he decided to play super hero. Go help with some mutual aid initiatives, ya jerk.”


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