Welcome back, readers.
Apologies in advance–there is some material I didn’t read this week, which I promise is on my list for next. A lot of people went long this week!
Elden Ring looms large in my reading this week, even in some pieces that aren’t actually about the game proper. I think we’re still far off from really understanding the game’s eventual impact, but it’s neat to watch those critical foundations being built in real time.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
First, a pair of meditations on play and the production of play in different contexts of colonial Empire.
- Killing My People | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole reflects on Othering, assimilation, and SOCOM.
- Awake on Foreign Shores | Bullet Points Monthly
Molly Zara-Esther Bloch situates a game of Empire in its wider aesthetic and material contexts.
“The forever wars seen in AAA mainstays like Halo exist—at least partly—to compactify the stocks and flows of global capitalism into the simplicity of three dimensions. In its current state, the grind of modern industry isn’t a fight that can be finished. It can only evolve.”
The following section straddles the boundary between narrative and design–narrative design–if you will, bringing together different perspectives on story worlds, how they are received, and how they might be made.
- Horizon: Zero Dawn’s future is blind to the failings of our present
alex articulates the limits of Horizon: Zero Dawn‘s ecocritical aspirations by way of its inability to decentre settler-colonial conceits and mindsets, nor technology as at once an overarching existential menace and a means for salvation without limitations.
- Racing Line: Your Dream Life – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella contrasts the dreamlike wish-fulfilment of the Forza Horizon games with the turbulent reality from which its players seek escape.
- on the art of how to be making your players give a fuck | GB ‘Doc’ Burford
GB Burford reckons that modern game design still tends not to have much respect for narrative, or narrative designers, even when it comes to ostensibly story-driven games, and proposes a focus on player emotion and intrinsic motivation as a restorative.
“If you want people to care — and I mean really, really care — and you want to keep them motivated, composed, and open, then you need to provide a powerful intrinsic motivator, like, say, curiosity about what will happen next, delight at a character interaction, or yearning for long-lost lovers to reunite.”
With the arrival and success of Elden Ring, critics are thinking rigorously about the nature of the open world in game design–where it comes from, where it’s headed, what it looks like right now, and why.
- The Next Decade Of Open World Games Is Going To Suck | TheGamer
Stacey Henley wonders whether the pendulum of open-world design, now firmly swinging away from Ubisoft-style checklists and heavy-handed guidance, may be swinging too far the other way.
- Wandering Above a Sea of Fog (February 2022)
Esteban Fajardo draws association between our recent elevation of open-world games with the west’s long-standing elevation of perspective art technique.
““Open world” is an extension of the values pushed by perspective art. Our culture has told us for generations that the superior art is one which feels like a habitat, viewed by a subjective individual, that could stretch infinitely beyond our of sight.”
A pair of narrowly-focused design meditations, putting smaller parts of larger games under the microscope.
- Elden Ring’s Torrent is the ultimate horse companion – Polygon
Nicole Clark describes how Elden Ring’s spectral horse opens up the playbook in addition to the map.
- Weapon Degradation – Or Ephemeral Equipment? | Unwinnable
Ruth Cassidy contrasts the weapon mechanics of games like The Witcher III and Breath of the Wild, noting how starkly different they are in operation while wondering at the shared critical langauge used to describe them.
“Does having the specific language to spot a mechanic – or a narrative trope – prime players and critics to see what they know, instead of what they’re experiencing? And when you’ve played so many games, when you’re literate in game verbs and mechanical shorthands, are you supposed to unlearn that fluency?”
This week’s featured reviews share a focus on representation, identity axes, and indie development.
- Aztech Forgotten Gods: hablamos con el diseñador narrativo de este videojuego mexicano | GamerFocus
Julián Ramírez chats with Aztech Forgotten Gods‘ narrative designer Guillermo Vizcaino about Aztec Futurism, anime, and more (Spanish-language article).
- How indie game devs are using games to explore their queer identity | Gayming Magazine
Eliana Zebro talks to developers making the characters and stories they want to see themselves in.
- Are browser games a way for LGBTQ+ bodies and desires to resist being policed? | Gayming Magazine
Kylie Noble talks to developers and artists working outside the corporate walled gardens in an increasingly reationary social climate.
“Browser games permit a degree of deviation from the policing of LGBT lives and desires, but in the end, corporations and States still yield massive power and influence.”
Ok, that last heading postively creaks under my commitment to the bit, but these next two featured pieces are character studies.
- Shades Reborn | Bullet Points Monthly
Julie Muncy remarks that the the arc of Halo Infinite‘s deuteragonist is poignant, but obfuscated by the series’ heavy dependence on transmedia storytelling.
- Disco Elysium’s Approach To Racism Is Incredibly Cynical | TheGamer
Khee Hoon Chan looks closer at Harry’s character, his privilege, and the implications behind his less-predictable racist outbursts.
“But perhaps it’s one evidence of Harry’s personality as a shitty, drunk, and definitely very white cop—that such racist epithets linger so dangerously at the tip of his tongue, that they can spill out of his mouth at times when his self-control is waning.”
Thank you Skeleton for accidently coordinating with my theme.
- ELDEN – DEEP HELL
Skeleton gets the Critical Chaser this week.
“before you start picking these up and thinking i did something grand, like i died in some far off battle. i didn’t. i died at the bottom of a bottle and woke up here.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!