Welcome back, readers, and welcome to 2022.
If you haven’t seen it already, Kris and Zoyander beat me to the punch this week with their outstandingly jam-packed and tenderly-articulated year-in-review. Dedicated readers may discover that one article from this week’s selections also snuck its way into that compilation. Not that this is a scavenger hunt or anything.
So yeah, we’re still here, and will continue to be here, thanks to the care and support of our readers, and the writers on the ground sticking it out in this scene past and present.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
It feels appropriately on-brand for us to make the opening salvo of the year about labour organization, monetization schemes (actually, make that Capital-Ess Schemes), and how top-end games continue to reflect the trends (and woes) of their attendant industry. So let’s do that here with the first four.
- Red Dead Redemption 2 as a commentary on The Game Industry (my love–hate relationship with it) – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead considers RDR2 as a microcosm for the triple A games industry–sprawling, interconnected, messy processes, all of it flattened into a product, unable to take a critical or ideological stand on anything for fear of risking profits.
- And they look like me | KRITIQAL
Skeleton muses on the hollowed-out tourist towns of rural america as pyramid investor-types prepare to gentrify the internet and videogames next.
- Halo Infinite’s Woes Expose the Exploitation Inherent to Current Gaming Trends | Paste
Grace Benfell looks at Halo Infinite‘s progression problems as a microcosm for the monetary exploitation structures in games that have long since become normal and even banal.
- Organizing for the Future | RLS Geneva
Emma Kinema situates the need for labour organization in games in both immediate worker-level and broader social and global-level contexts.
“Labor unions approach worker issues from multiple angles, addressing both economic issues like pay and benefits, as well as social ones like discrimination, harassment, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our economic and social issues are deeply linked with one another, and our personal day to day issues are connected to our broader societal goals for the use of our labor.”
The Matrix ReDooted
These next two pieces, discussing how the latest Matrix film vibes particularly well with videogames, also vibe particularly well with one another.
- The Matrix Resurrections is not a sequel — it’s a video game remake | Polygon
Maddy Myers describes The Matrix Resurrections in the language of the spiritual successor, putting it more in tune with videogames than the previous films and inviting comparisons to Final Fantasy VII Remake.
- What The Matrix Resurrections Really Says About Video Games | Kotaku
Carolyn Petit ponders The Matrix Ressurections‘ obvious–and not-so-obvious–meditations on revolutionary art, triple A games development, and transformative change.
“It may not be quite the level of radical change that Neo hoped his sacrifice at the end of the third Matrix film would precipitate, and indeed, radicals and revolutionaries rarely if ever see the world become the better world they know is possible, no matter how much they sacrifice in pursuit of their ideals. But just because the change isn’t as tremendous as we long for it to be, that doesn’t mean the fight for a better world is futile. And just because a work of art doesn’t actually dismantle the oppressive systems it seeks to challenge, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t change the world in meaningful ways.”
Culture and Context
In spite of the best platitudes of whichever studio lead is trying his hardest not to piss off the conservative wing of his studio’s fanbase this week, art never exists in a vacuum. Culture and context inform its production, guide its reception, and ultimately sever it from its creators’ control. Three pieces this week look at how stories and characters are shaped and reshaped by this ongoing collective conversation.
- The Complicated Queerness in Breath of the Wild | Videodame
Natalie Schriefer considers BOTW‘s queer-coded characters from multiple angles and critical contexts.
- Never Trust a Lady Mechanic: Final Thoughts on The Witness | Gold Machine
Drew Cook ruminantes on gendered and racialized Others in an 80s Infocom IF game and not, in fact, that more recent puzzle game.
- Descending the Lighthouse – No Escape
Skeleton writes about Bioshock Infinite‘s Elizabeth and the whole uncomfortable, convoluted, sprawling culture of clinical, possessive horniness that surrounds her creation and arc. I probably summarized that badly but take that as extra reason to just go read the article for yourself.
“Bioshock Infinite is a game redolent in the imagery of fear: Booker is afraid of Elizabeth’s power as a Woman as is Comstock and Ken himself. We’re there to break up with Elizabeth, to see her suffer: one goofy quote from Ken Levine about the way he feels seeing his virtuous invincible plastic creation actually have a good time: Look, don’t touch.”
Jump n’ Sit
Next up, we’re platforming a pair of pieces pursuing design along diametrically different axes, so pull up an avant-garde recliner and take a load off.
- To A or Not To A?: The Ontology of the Platformer
David R. Howard gives platformers, their possible antecedents, and their probable antitheses the Berlin treatment.
- Animal Crossing Furniture’s Surprising Designer Origins — n8pf
Nate does a little digging to find out where some of all that neat furniture actually came from.
“Many of them are real, or are at least largely derivative of existing designs, some truly iconic, others requiring a bit more searching. I saw a real opportunity here to bring some new insight both to Animal Crossing fans and product design enthusiasts. This, of course, was also an excuse for me to spend hours setting up adorable showroom vignettes in the game and excuse it as content for the blog.”
Not contrarian, no, I had to make up a new word to describe how I want to bring these next three pieces together, which each describe contradictions in their respective bad games: a series that remains functionally fine but which has been drained dry by annualization, a bona fide bad game that only got to the finish line at all through the herculean labours of a peerlessly good programmer, and a largely (?) fondly-remembered game with a lot of good ideas going for it, but which struggles with a moral framework of juvenile and singularly videogamey nature.
- Pokémon Brilliant Diamond Review | Video Game Choo Choo
John Michonski reviews Game Freak’s release schedule.
- DOOM (3DO) – Bad Game Hall of Fame
Cassidy recounts the troubled tale of DOOM‘s most legendarily bad console port, as well as that of the talented programmer responsible for the game being shipped at all.
- In Which I Critique A Game I Have Not Played In Three Thousand, Nine Hundred And Thirty Nine Days, Give Or Take
GB Burford suggests that maybe Dragon Age II really was the bad one.
“Imagine a story where you’ve got two characters. One of them is a famous comedian worth millions of dollars who, in recent years, has been making offensive and hurtful jokes — he punches down, and he hates criticism, acting as if saying “that was really shitty of you, dude” is the same as doing something shitty. Another is a person who says “that was really shitty of you,” but uh, well, they kick dogs. Who do you support? The racist homophobe? Or the guy who points that out (but kicks dogs so he’s bad too?). Game morality is fucking stupid.”
Our critical chaser this week isn’t a joke piece or a poem, simply a well-written and broadly gesturing review of a game itself of dubious reviewability.
- Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker Is a Heartfelt Way to Tackle an Impossible Challenge | Paste
Dia Lacina reflects on a decade-plus of the fraught, transformative, tedious, hopeful, and ultimately miraculous Final Fantasy XIV.
“Endwalker posits a different way out. That even though there is suffering and sacrifice, what if there can still be hope and happy endings, no matter how “for a time” they may be. Yes, it’s hokey. Yes, it’s the same old interplay of dualities. But it works. And in the middle of a global pandemic, maybe we need a story about the epic power of friendship and community? That through working together, upholding each other, and forging bonds even in the darkest of places that nothing is truly impossible and we can even smack the hell out of the literal embodiment of Despair? Is this anything new? Not for anime or JRPGs or any of the building blocks that Endwalker draws from, but that’s okay. It doesn’t need to be novel. Teamwork and Friendship are evergreen.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!