Welcome back, readers.
There a few things I’d like to give mention to this week before starting. First, I’d like to highlight two charity bundles on Itch right now. It’s likely you’ve already seen this one bringing together an enourmous number of digital games in support of humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. I’d also like to bring to your attention this one, organized for the support of trans Texans and their families. The latter is focused on TTRPGs, so as best as I can tell there shouldn’t even be any overlap between the two!
Back here on the site, we’ve got a new Keywords! This episode’s guest is Dr. Esther Wright, discussing her forthcoming book Rockstar Games and American History: Promotional Materials and the Construction of Authenticity.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Empires and Authoritarians
To open this week we’re looking at intersections between games and state power, along axes of game design, story worlds, and labour organization.
- Empire [1977/1984] – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury considers a strategy game which, in line with its simple title, offers a simple and brutal model of imperialism.
- “Torn our world apart” – Gears of War – Super Chart Island
Iain Mew observes how, through its attempt to untether itself from the baggage of US Imperialism by abstracting its setting, Gears of War not only upholds its values but posits them as, in all possible wolds, inevitable.
- Game workers facing authoritarian regimes | RLS Geneva
Nikhil Murthy stresses the need for independent game creators to collectivize as a means of protection from authoritarian state power.
“India is not unique – the mere act of making games can be dangerous in many countries around the world. This is why we need to collectivize. Individually, it is too easy for any of us to be crushed by the mechanisms of a fascist government. Together, we can become something of a spoke in their wheel.”
Next, we examine both characters and relationships in games, as well as the genre and medium conventions, tropes, and expectations at play in how they are written and experienced.
- Let’s Play a Love Game: Adultery and empathy – Haywire Magazine
Eric Cline remarks upon the non-judgmental emotional nuance and realism with which Dream Daddy navigates its extramarital affair plotline.
- On Silent Protagonists: The Case of Persona 5’s Joker – Sidequest
Naseem Jamnia studies Joker as a rich character held back from his full potential by an antiquated game design trope.
- Queerly Ever After: On Queer Endings in Videogames | Videodame
Jeremy Signor looks at the frequent stories of queer tragedy in games, and the less-frequent stories of queer joy, and identifies a crucial but often-missing ingredient: queer healing.
“Tragedy is still a powerful archetype that speaks to real struggles we as queer people face. The key is in the aftercare.”
Art and Expression
We now present a pair of meditations on popular triple-A games, with one example that lingers in the soul and one which does not.
- Uncharted 4 | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente identifies the value of embarassment in art, contrasting Uncharted 4 as too smooth, frictionless, and perfect to leave anything to take from it.
- Sam’s Ladder | In The Lobby
Cole Henry meditates on the practicality, pathos, and profundity of Death Stranding‘s most ubiquitous tool.
“I love Death Stranding’s ladder for what it stands for, but I really, really love Death Stranding’s ladder just for what it is—a really damn good in-game ladder.”
This week’s design-focused segment centres on Game Boy games, bringing together the pleasures of portable play, puzzle-boxes of the profane, and more.
- Cart-sized caving – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi showcases how a roguelike experience translates to the Game Boy platform by going for a mission-based structure.
- STRUGGLE! Soft lock picking and pursuing the nadir of gameplay | KRITIQAL
Selah Driver explores how elegantly engineered Pokémon softlocks highlight in turn the elegant and accomodating design of the Pokémon games.
“Hobbyist engineers the world over have known for a long time that one of the best ways to enjoy a shiny toy is to take it apart; it takes a particular kind of wit to put it back together and lock yourself in it.”
An Elden Thing
This week’s highlights on Elden Ring showcase both the highly diverse play experiences the game supports as well as the game’s historical antecedents.
- Friends make Elden Ring so much better | Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart reflects upon the social pleasure of sharing in the mystery and strategy of Elden Ring.
- I’m Living My Best Life Playing Elden Ring as a Platformer | Fanbyte
Danielle Riendeau finds a different path to progression in Elden Ring.
- There’s no such thing as an Elden Ring cheese | Eurogamer.net
Emma Kent positions Elden Ring–and FromSoft’s work broadly–as games built to be broken.
- Before Elden Ring, There Was Eternal Ring | TheGamer
Jade King looks back at the classic FromSoft stuff–the buggy, broken, weirdo stuff–and identifies its continuing influence on the studio’s contemporary output.
“It is laughably obtuse, coming from an era before objective markers and more direct gameplay instructions were a common factor in the games we play. While Elden Ring doesn’t hold your hand, is it well-designed enough that players always know what possibilities are before them and how exactly they can interact with its myriad systems. Eternal Ring just kicks you in the shin, laughs in your face, and tucks a cheesestring in your pocket to munch on incase you get lost. Which you will, because this game is a nightmare.”
I’m really digging the short experiemental stuff coming out of Spine lately!
- Tides of Memory | Into The Spine
John Patterson offers a short, lyrical meditation on memory loss and identity in Torment: Tides of Numenera.
“It hints at the search for self-knowledge, and whether we know anything about ourselves or if it’s just a construct like outside perception. Am I who I think I am, or am I who others remember? The thought roils around in my head during late nights and early mornings, but the answers aren’t clear.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!