Welcome back, readers.
If you happen to be looking for cool indie games to buy this weekend made by Black creators, this thread details some good starting points. This particular thread’s a year old but all the games listed are still great choices!
Around the site, we put out an extra issue this week for Pride Month collecting some of our favourite queer-themed TWIVGB inclusions this year (so far). Check it out!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Let’s start this week with a focused look at trans representation in recent and contemporary games!
- PRIDE 2021: A Brief History of Modern Trans Character in Games — startmenu
Natalie Raine surveys and evaluates recent trans characters in games–the good and the bad.
“We’ve come a long way from Capcom plugging their ears for decades when Poison’s gender was brought up and Nintendo deadnaming Birdetta in every video game she’s in. Some characters have made great strides in positive trans representation, however, others were clearly written without a single queer person in the room.”
Art and Genre
Our next section features explorations–artistic, critical, and otherwise–around the linkages of form and genre, unpacking how genres, labels, and structural tropes can alternately bring works together with a common language or limit our vocabulary for understanding their unique attributes.
- Wholesome Games Are a Growing Trend, but What Does ‘Wholesome’ Really Mean? | Fanbyte
Hirun Cryer unravels the idea of “Wholesome Games” as a coherent, monolithic banner by chatting with developers associated with the label.
- Bitsy is Beautiful! (exploring the Bitsy space and some of my favorite Bitsy games) – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead talks a bit about the Bitsy scene and Bitsy’s value as a constrained, easy-to-use platform, and surveys some favourite examples.
- Summertime Madness Review | The Indie Game Website
Waverly compares Summertime Madness in form to the ephemeral associations between works in art galleries, contrasting this with the more deliberate connections privileged in environmental storytelling.
“The game doesn’t “fail” to make me think because I have to process the game’s images in order to move through it. Despite the lack of cohesion between all of the pieces existing within the world space, they still make you feel something by just moving through them.”
Get Ye Flask
From here, let’s linger for a bit on a single genre: the adventure game. Our next three selected pieces this week look at how different titles contextualize the genre’s mechanical tropes, subvert them, or use them as a platform to tell new and exciting stories.
- Backbone Review | The Indie Game Website
Luke Shaw reflects on how post-noir Backbone takes a traditional adventure game framework and reaches deep narratively with existential meditations on injustice.
- Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Diegetic vs. Non-diegetic Plot | Renga in Blue
Jason Dyer asks what actions can be considered real in-universe when adventure games offer so many verbs and unlimited time to think about which ones to choose.
- Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury takes a loving look at The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The game? The book? Yes.
“The thing that makes Hitchhiker’s so interesting as a game is its impish delight in being odd and often obtuse, a fairly natural progression from its absurd sensibility. It goes above and beyond the standard-issue text adventure zaniness into territory that plays with the outer formal possibilities of words and interaction melded to one another: the narrator lies to you about what exits there are; you have an inventory item called “no tea” that gets put down when you get tea; the text of the game is peppered with marked-off footnotes which you can technically read at any time in any order, and doing so is nonsensical but delivers you a unique gag and makes a runner more noticeable; there’s fake hints in the hint book.”
Critical by Design
Moving along, we’ve got a quartet of wide-ranging pieces that all have some focus on design, be it narrative, thematic, structural, or in locating the pleasure (or pain) of play.
- critique 2: the old school | marcia’s blog
marcia brings in some Lacanian psychoanalysis to understand and complicate Gary Gygax’s gender-essentiallist framework for locating pleasures of play in Dungeons & Dragons.
- Final Fantasy V’s Job System is Amazing, But its Story and Worldbuilding are its Soul | RPG Site
James Galizio sheds some light on what makes Final Fantasy V‘s underappreciated narrative structure and tone shine.
- Opened World: The Hollow Spectacle of Power – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella meditates on meaningless choices and the ideology of power in Wolfenstein: The New Order.
- Super Mario Bros. Kaizo hacks: six of the best trolls | Polygon
Jeremy Signor presents a taxonomy of building blocks in a troll-makers toolkit.
“A simple, unexpected obstacle is not only funny but also creates that special sauce that makes kaizo so fun to watch. But not all trolls are created equally, and many creators use different interpretations of the concept to subvert players’ expectations.”
Our next three selections this week all take for their object texts games which seek to simulate or represent tensions and struggles in our own world, but in doing so produce some degree of dissoannce because the real thing is to some extent unknowable when abstracted from lived experience.
- Lake and the Alluring Escapist Fantasy of the Readily Available, Decent Job | Carolyn Petit
Carolyn Petit muses on Lake as a nostalgic experience increasingly removed from the contemporary American experience of perpetual precarity.
- Being a Shark at the End of the World | In The Lobby
Cole Henry finds that for all of its gestures to excess, Maneater‘s cynically humourous take on environmental catastrophe still doesn’t cut as deep as as its real-world subject material.
- Kill the Overseer! The Gamification of Slave Resistance — Gamers with Glasses
Isabelle Williams spends some time with Sarah Juliet Lauro’s Kill the Overseer! The Gamification of Slave Resistance, investigating the possibilities and problems games present in depicting–and playing through–slave resistance.
“The urgency of the book comes to light in this observation that the past is perpetually present. In other words, the “void” for Lauro is an actively maintained gap filled with silences, silences which can only be highlighted through the questions Lauro poses through the text: Can you play as the slave? Can this playing be called resistance?”
Bodies at Play
Next up, two articles with a focus on bodies both material and virtual, looking alternately at gender, fashion, pain, illness, and more.
- Why Breath of the Wild’s Link Is a Gender Neutral Icon | TheGamer
Jade King reflects on gender performance, fashion, and the Hero of Serving Looks.
- My body is a bit like a game of Candy Crush Soda Saga | Eurogamer.net
Jennifer Allen makes intuitive associations between bubblegum levels and menstrual health (content notification here for descriptions of surgery).
“I don’t know how long one move in my body lasts for. It’s obviously far longer than a session of Candy Crush Soda Saga but the general principle remains the same. I know there’s still some stickiness on my liver but it’s not clashing with anything yet so it wasn’t removed during my operation. General other stickiness could and probably will develop at some point. There’s no timeline on it. Unlike a Candy Crush Soda Saga level, I don’t have a set number of moves before it’s game over and I head back to hospital. I just have to hope that the hormonal contraceptives I take will continue to hold things off.“
Squinky’s keynote here coveres a lot of ground–more than a quick blurb can encompass–and will speak to a lot of audeinces here, but especially those who have moved in establishment games spaces–as developers, as critics, or otherwise–and for whatever reason have decided to move on. With this, we close out our week.
- Freeplay 2021 keynote: a letter to 20-year-old Squinky – squinky.me
Squinky reflects on 15 years of making games, growing, identifying injustice, finding belonging, and putting it all together as a person and an artist.
“I’m going to tell you right now that among many other things, your career as a game designer isn’t going to go quite like you’d planned. I know how meticulously you’ve been researching how to make it in games in hopes of becoming some kind of auteur figure like Tim Schafer: you started learning early, as a teenager, and released a game when you were 16, and now you’re doing this internship while in the middle of finishing your computer science degree. You probably still have it in your head that you’ll work your way up into leadership positions and start your own company someday. It makes sense that you believe this about yourself: your particular combination of skills, interests, and class privilege meant that you were labelled a “gifted” child, who could go on to do anything they wanted in life.”
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!