Welcome back, readers.
This week I’m running a pared-down issue in a nonstandard format, as I seek out the narrative glue that binds all nine of this week’s new selections.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week I’m starting things off with Kalie Hultner’s piece–impolite, impatient, and absolutely spot-on, I think, in both message and tone. There could be a sort of revolutionary potential in games media, I think, if enough people put their foot down and used their voice to name and rebuke the abuse and explotiaton that have beome absolutely bog-standard at all levels of games development and publishing. Hultner notes that some people already are using that voice, but that more must take up the call if there is to be meaningful pushback against the Bobby Koticks of the world.
- Bomb the Videogame Industry! – No Escape
Kaile Hultner observes that the apparatus is in place to take the games industry to task for its rampant abuses, but that there needs to be a more coordinated front among journalists and critics rather than noble outliers.
“The problem as I see it, from my limited view, is that we have a critical apparatus that by and large stays silent, or, if we mention systemic industry abuse at all, it is as an aside in an otherwise glowing review of one of their new titles, the 46th sequel in some drab-gray military shooter set in space or some shit. That simply can’t fly anymore.”
Let’s zoom in a little now, from criticism as a collective apparatus to criticism as an individual practice. This week, Gabrielle de la Puente at The White Pube talked about how chronic illness has reshaped her relationship with games both personallty and critically, and how she has found that in many ways having to approach games, life, everything, under new bodily and social frameworks has made her writing stronger.
- Becoming A Disabled Game Critic | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente writes about how Long Covid has reshaped her perspective as both a critic and a player.
“I only ever understood disability as taking things away from someone — as loss — and never as giving a person something new in return. But then, I wasn’t to know any different, looking in from the outside and now I know better. Approaching the one year mark, I’m finding things inside me that weren’t there before beyond this famous infection that changed me. It is a stronger kind of love for what I have been left with: for the people who have cared for me when I haven’t been able to look after myself, for the people who have remembered me even though I’ve had to withdraw from so much, and for the huge, constant culture of games that has kept me entertained and engaged and even social in spite of it all. I feel grown in good, hard ways. I feel grateful.”
Hold onto that thread about bodies for a moment. Our next featured piece this week sees Ryan Stevens examine how Samus Aran’s body has been coded for violence over the course of the Metroid franchise on multiple levels, with things coming to a head in the recent Metroid Dread.
- A Girl is A Gun: How Violence Lives in the Body in Metroid Dread | Fanbyte
Ryan Stevens unpacks Samus along axes of violence, expression, and bodily autonomy.
“While past Metroid games have coasted on Samus being a silent protagonist, Dread takes her opaque character and depicts a Samus that is, both through her experiences and her own will, living a life that has been sanded down to being a weapon of violence. To paraphrase a common aphorism: when all you have is an arm cannon, everything looks like a Metroid.”
Metroidvanias and Roguelikes share a fair bit of DNA, not just in terms of structure, but also in their relationships with death and violence. Here, Emma Kostopolus has zeroed in on what a couple of recent roguelikes/lites in particular have to say about death, and what we can take from that in our own lives.
- Death Is Only the Beginning: Mortality in the Roguelike | Sidequest
Emma Kostopolus breaks down how Returnal and Hades respectively expand our critical toolset for talking about death and mortality.
“Returnal explicates our fears about death, about losing our sense of self, and allows us to face them directly. It still presents death as something to be feared and avoided, but not as something insurmountable. By working to overcome and subvert death, we can work to minimize it as a point of anxiety in our minds. Hades, on the other hand, flips the social script and presents death as something that isn’t to be feared at all, but rather a normal part of the progression of time.”
Building on how virtual worlds can offer new insights on themes and challenges relevant to the material world, Simone de Rochefort observes that the same is true of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Assassin’s Creed Unity–just not in any of the ways that have gained traction in popular discourse.
- Assassin’s Creed Unity: Ubisoft can’t help rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral | Polygon
Simone de Rochefort debunks the idea that Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s adaptation of Notre-Dame could serve as a basis for reconstruction efforts along axes of game design, copyright, and the living history of the cathedral itself.
“The Notre-Dame that existed during the French Revolution would be unrecognizable to us today. The original gargoyles were removed around 1726. The nave’s stained glass was replaced with white glass — to better illuminate the interior — in the 1750s. In the 1770s, a huge chunk was taken out of the central tympanum on the western facade so that it would be easier to carry things in and out during processions, according to historian Jennifer Feltman, assistant professor of medieval art and architecture at the University of Alabama. And once the revolution got going properly, the cathedral was stripped of ornamentation, statues, and the like. The rows of biblical kings were torn down and beheaded, and weren’t found again until the 1970s.”
Notre-Dame in Unity is an assassin’s playground first and a historical reproduction second, and a distant second at that. Moving along, Skeleton this week delves into the many playgrounds built over the years by community mapmakers working in a long-running co-op Half-Life mod.
- IT’S NOT A MISTAKE – DEEP HELL
Skeleton spends some time in the many verses of Sven Co-op‘s liminal, user-created playgrounds.
“We joke about The Metaverse already existing, somewhere drifting between abandoned campaign maps and the fraying electrical cables of the GoldSrc engine making themselves apparent with buzzing and sparking. It’s always been here, hasn’t it?”
We’re deep enough in the roundup–virtual worlds, mods within mods–to revisit the dreaded “what is a game, anyway?” question, not in a futile effort to arrive at any sort of Berlin Interpretation, mind you, but rather as a lead-in to our next featured selection, wherein Victoria explores a work that presents itself as a game but is in many ways structurally similar to the creator’s already nigh-uncategorizable previous work, Homestuck.
- Psycholonials – Part 1: A Post-Homestuck World – Indie Hell Zone
Victoria, in this part the first, sets the context for an interesting, promising, disappointing interactive game-ish (?) work from Andrew Hussie.
“It’s clearly personal, and shockingly frank from a person known for being under a billion layers of protective irony. I compared it to correcting the anatomy on Saturn Devouring His Son, and then I recommended it on Steam, both because it’s good manners and because I think that if you liked Homestuck, you might get something out of it. It’s got a feeling of closure to it that Homestuck in general dreadfully needed.”
Keeping that thread in particular for a moment, I must admit that I’m a little behind–Victoria has already penned two articles on this topic in a planned series of three. Here’s the next one, which moves beyond context to wrestle with text and subtext.
- Psycholonials – Part 2: Text and Subtext – Indie Hell Zone
Victoria, in this part the second, examines the ways in which Psycholonials is ultimately too mired in the baggage of its creator’s prior work to articulate a coherent theory of revolution.
“It’s afraid of its own stakes, and is more interested in presenting the story of the Homestuck fandom and its massive reach, and its impact on Hussie than anything else.”
Finally, we’ve worked through several degrees and kinds of “meta” this week. In keeping with my preference towards ending issues off with a bit of lightness and/or brightness, here’s a solid critical piece, by way of Emma Kent, on a topic that regular readers already know has gotten its hooks into me.
- Skyrim’s fishing minigame is a reel missed opportunity | Eurogamer.net
Emma Kent reels in an in-depth angle on Skyrim‘s new fishing update.
“If I were to miss a fish because I was distracted by gazing at the northern lights, so what? All I really wanted from Skyrim’s fishing was a thinly-veiled excuse to watch the world go by.”
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