Welcome back, readers.
We return this week, as always, with another issue of timely, valuable, offbeat, fun, difficult, and important criticism. There are no major site updates to discuss this time around, but I want to extend my thanks to the readers, supporters, and writers who continue to make this project possible.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Sitting Down to Chat
We begin this week with a pair of interview-focused pieces, looking alternately at an underappreciated genre and the ongoing developments around the Activision Blizzard workplace abuse reports.
- Mucking Out The Stables of Horse Games | The Indie Game Website
Hylke Langhout talks to developer and curator Alice Ruppert about creating a space for horse-focused games that reaches beyond the traditional barriers of shovelware-style development and gendered marketing.
- Activision Blizzard QA and customer service employees say they’re underpaid and overworked | Polygon
Nicole Carpenter talks with some of Activision Blizzard’s most vulnerable employees about the daily realities of exploitation and abuse at the company (content notifications here for worker abuse and sexual harrassment).
“All 15 current and former employees Polygon spoke to, as well as the majority of workers that emailed statements through a representative, said that pay is exceptionally low, with rates as low as $12 an hour. During crunch periods, some people said they worked up to seven days a week for at least 10 hours a day. Some workers said they struggled with their mental and physical health during these times, yet felt compelled to work anyway, simply because they otherwise were not paid enough to survive.”
Next up, two authors this week look at the state of queer representation–and queer agency–in games past and present.
- Boyfriend Dungeon Understands The Importance of Exploring Sexuality | TheGamer
Jade King reflects on Boyfriend Dungeon‘s pansexual, gender-agnostic approach to smoochin’.
- The Syberia series represents the search for lesbian liberation | Gayming Magazine
Kylie Noble examines the queer character arc of the Syberia series’ protagonist.
“Kate develops a stronger personality across the series, with her dramatic break from heteronormative capitalist expectations serving as an allergy for the realisation of a lesbian self. The isolation, struggle, and dangers of the new life she chooses, appeal to Kate. They pale in comparison to the loneliness and immense disconnect that her old life contained.”
Style, Story, and Structure
Our next section this week threads together ideas and analyses about storytelling structure, narrative choices, and game design in a variety of forms and contexts.
- In games, the environmental crisis is just another bedtime story | Input Magazine
Lewis Gordon considers the tone and framing at play in contemporary environmental storytelling of another sort.
- Zarf Updates: Design ruminations: Subverting the ending
Andrew Plotkin discusses design and stoytelling approaches to breaking promises and putting players off-balance.
- Mailbag: Plot. It’s a Problem. – Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short discusses plot, branching, and writing characters with intention, in interactive fiction and beyond.
“If you want active, agency-holding characters, that means knowing which character wants what – or which character fears what; how they’re trying to get it; and what incidents happen as a consequence. Only sometimes do game mechanics or tech come into it at all.”
Here we’ve got three authors asking thorny questions about the spaces we visit and occupy in games, framed through the lenses of presence, photography, colonialism, and the tourist gaze.
- Games that care about their places get me caring too – No Escape
Kaile Hultner asks how series like Yakuza and TWEWY imbue their settings with a sense of place and character via pacing, people, and focus.
- How Umurangi Generation Avoids the Tourist Trap | A Luke to the Past
Luke discusses how Umurangi Generation‘s strongly situated characters and scenario mitigate what might otherwise have been tourist gaze-like feel.
- Picture Imperfect: Photography, Dark Tourism and Video Games | Historical Games Network
Florence Smith Nicholls unpacks the concept of Dark Tourism and studies how Umurangi Generation makes some use of but predominantly critiques the practice and reveals its limits.
“If the advent of photography heralded the increased conceptual portability of places, what does the representation of those places in video games mean? What are the ethical implications of engaging with video games as a form of digital tourism, especially when the ‘tourist gaze’ is so intertwined with colonial fantasy? Moreover, how should we consider sites of trauma or suffering in video games as digital tourism experiences?”
Coming up next, a pair of authors survey the PS2-era Final Fantasy games, unpacking their critical themes with an eye for both grand narrative movements and smaller-scale vignettes.
- High and Low – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age | PixPen
Sam Howitt zooms in on the smaller-scale stories Final Fantasy XII has to tell about class and privilege.
- Killing Our Gods: Faith Remains in Final Fantasy X – Uppercut
Grace Benfell contemplates structure and sacrifice, community and cruelty, as she unpacks Spira’s complicated relationship with faith.
“FFX believes that more is possible. Together, with the families that are chosen, not forced, with communities that support not exclude, with a vision beyond the day-to-day problems of survival, we can make a sustainable world.”
This week we’re ending off with a pair of fun and very different selections, both reaching back through time towards different ends. Enjoy!
- I buy digital games like a ten year old – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi weighs the hoarding instincts of digital game collecting against the pleasure of having childhood favourites in accessible and portable form.
- Virtual Lab | Bad Game Hall of Fame
Cassidy examines the last, rarest, and purportedly worst game for the ill-fated Virtual Boy, as well as the curious developer who made it live.
“Most folk inclined to cover the Virtual Boy’s history are simply content to write off Virtual Lab as unfinished, borderline unplayable, and unworthy of any other further comment. But here on the Bad Game Hall of Fame, we take our studies very seriously. What this scientific paper sets out to demonstrate are the known circumstances of Virtual Lab’s development, to describe the depths of its gameplay, and to measure its ultimate impact on the planet (or at the very least, the games industry).”
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