Welcome back, readers.
There’s a point to that remark. Which is to say: I don’t know how these writers do it, week-to-week, article-to-article. Seriously! Even so, I’m grateful for it, because it keeps our own work fulfilling, no matter how I feel from week-to-week. So, thanks.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week we open with two pieces looking at either end of the two-way street between games and the rest of our popular culture, both in the micro with Genshin Impact and the macro with the industry as a whole.
- Genshin Impact’s Opera Controversy Is A Big Cultural Moment | Kotaku
Sisi Jiang breaks down why it matters that Genshin just exposed a wide international audience to Chinese opera.
- Virtually Ideological: Cycles of Neoliberalism in the Video Games of 2021
Jon Bailes considers the games produced by–and sometimes in opposition to–a year stuck on ideological repeat.
“It also feels appropriate given where we started that The Eternal Cylinder was made in Chile, the location of that early neoliberal experiment, but also a country that recently elected a new president on an anti-neoliberal platform, rather than cycle back once more towards Pinochet’s legacy. Whatever the future holds, it’s a statement of intent. A rejection of nostalgias of resistance for a new social vision. A refusal to accept that we’re stuck in a loop.”
Next, two pieces on Sable, in direct conversation with one another, courtesy of Uppercut.
- Sable: Small Stories, Epic Scales – Uppercut
Kaan Serin examines how Sable understandings that coming of age is an earnest, authentic epic.
- Sable: The Freedom to Choose – Uppercut
Lotus muses on fresh starts and the joy of striking out–at the precipice of adulthood or beyond, or again.
“It’s a joy to follow Eliisabet from place to place as she adventures back out into the world of Midden, seeing sights she’d only heard tale of standing stationary as a protector. She’s a great example of that same sensation you and I had while playing – as free as the Gliders roam, the burden of choice weighs heavy on their shoulders. But Eliisabet realizes life doesn’t have to be so rigid. I mean, who’s gonna stop her? And why would they?”
Also Sprach Kimimi
I’ve been digging Kimimi’s critical examination of the Xenosaga series, so here are the latter two issues to complement the first one we already curated (Curator’s disclaimer: I don’t speak German).
- Jenseits von Gut und Böse – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi reckons with Xenosaga Episode II as a game with a lot of promise and a lot of wonder at the outset, but also one struggling with characters and writing that can’t support the series’ own grandiose ambitions.
- That meeting could have been an email: The Game – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi concludes that Xenosaga closes out with the same narrative problems it started with.
“If there’s one word I’d use to describe Episode III and Xenosaga as a whole, it’s “squandered“: The universe Monolith Soft created is a beautiful virtual space brimming with unique ideas. The story they tried to tell within it has been tripping over itself from the very beginning, and I sincerely don’t believe that problem would have gone away if only they’d had even more time to [re]tell me about something that happened on Old Miltia.”
A Matter of Faith
Faith and spirituality are core to these next two pieces and their discussions of identity and representation.
- Unpacking: Examining Queer Judaism in Transition – Uppercut
Mik Deitz unpacks objects and moments in the life of an uncommonly represented character and identity intersection.
- Mandinga: A Tale of Banzo & Faith As Power – Uppercut
eloquentire situates faith as an integral aspect of Mandinga’s protagonists’ Black liberation in the face of white supremacist, Catholic-colonial Brazil.
“Mandinga doesn’t expound much about the atrocities of chattel slavery because it doesn’t have to. It simply lets you object to the whole of the system by killing its agents in the name of Allah and by the strength of Ogun. This is not something I get to do in most media, particularly not video games. Not only do these Black men have interiority as characters, but their interiority is defined primarily by faiths that are routinely disrespected by the white supremacy that existed then and that we live in today. For six hours I was able to invoke the name of Allah down the barrel of a gun aimed at white people who would rather deny a Black man his right to be free. For six hours I was able to use capoeira—a martial art I practice, that I’ve only seen in fighting games until now—in its original culture, context and purpose infused with a spirituality I operate within to declare that a man will not be chained. It is incredible.”
Pick Up Two
Next up, a two-pair of meditations on different aspects of design and structure.
- Disco Elysium’s Amnesia Is The Heart Of The Game | TheGamer
Khee Hoon Chan breaks down how ZA/UM has taken the amnesia trope and given it real structural substance.
- Why all the best game developers play Tarot | Rock Paper Shotgun
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell chats with developers about the intersections between Tarot, play, and design.
“Tarot is all about options, and there are countless left to explore as regards the cards discussed in this piece, even if you confine yourself to the symbolism of the Rider-Waite deck. They’ve certainly given me a few tools with which to re-examine my life, as yet another gloomy pandemic year drags to a close.”
Every Now and Then
These next two admittedly-loosely-associated pieces situate their games in the wider contexts of the authors’ lives, pulling apart time and space to arrive at a thematic resonance.
- TOEM: The Beauty of Taking Your Time – Uppercut
Eva Herinkova takes their time in a photography game that resists the chrononormative pull, in pandemic times, in all times.
- I BLAME YOU – DEEP HELL
Skeleton wrote a cool and nice piece about MGSV and nothing else.
“I know where I’m supposed to be and where I’m not supposed to be. I know when they’re looking for people that look like me and aren’t. I know what a cracked door and a smoke break invites, if I’m curious enough. I bury the urge. Just because you see the rules doesn’t mean you’re not a law abiding citizen.”
I don’t have a clever takeaway to end on here, I just like the jacket.
- Review: Kim Kitsuragi’s Disco Elysium Jacket By ZA/UM Atelier | Kotaku
Cool jacket, Renata Price.
“Enter Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi—a veritable digital drip-god who has a very similar fashion sense to me, but better. Consider his massive, boxy, burnt orange Aerostatic Pilot jacket, his old but well cared-for white T-shirt, and his absolutely incredible brown cargo pants, which taper below the knee. His fit is immaculate and functional, as he uses every one of his dozen pockets to their utmost effect. I’ve stood in awe of him since the day he graced my screen, and fell in love with his incredible vibes. Which is all to say that, despite my feelings around video game merch, I have dreamed of owning his jacket for the last two years. Now, thanks to my wonderful girlfriend, I do.”
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!