Welcome back readers.
We’ve got a fine selection of reads for you this week, including a number of new names to the site–something I’m always glad to see here.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
The Business of Making Games
Our opening section this week is concerned with different approaches to game-making: as business, as art, as advice, as historical practice.
- How To Make Good Small Games | Far Away Times
John Thyer asks aspiring developers to find value in art beyond the five-year dream project.
- The California Problem | \\………..//
Liz Ryerson discusses cycles and lenses of art, authorship, and exploitation in the games industry.
“at some point, a larger movement is going to develop to push for the broad recognition of games as objects of personal authorship and cultural significance. it will exist outside of product-oriented language, outside of a mere industry context of a time and place, and outside of “fun”. and it’s probably not going to look pretty, it’s probably not going to be respectable, and it’s probably going to be a struggle. it might come from weird obsessive self-interested nerds like the French critics who went on to start the French New Wave. but one thing i can guarantee it won’t be is fixated on pure ‘innovation’ for the sake of innovation, or the religious belief in creative destruction of prior spaces by new technologies. if video games are to be saved, it will happen by redeeming their past.“
This section brings together different critical approaches to the body–the posthuman body, the disabled body, and the trans body–as they are explored through games and play.
- Persona 5: Technology and The Body – Through The Looking Glass | Unwinnable
Jenny Zheng explores the posthuman, postmodern anxieties of Persona 5.
- Rain World: On Difficulty and Exulting in a Disabled Body | Uppercut
Thomas Sullivan finds appreciation and satisfcation in the endurance of an imperfect, limited body.
- I Wouldn’t Have Transitioned Without Catherine | Paste
Madeline Blondeau looks back at the successes past and present of a game little-loved by even well-intentioned cis critics.
“If there’s something to be learned from Catherine: Full Body and its lack of complex discussion at release, it’s that cis folks ought to pay more of us instead of just asking us what we think all the fucking time.”
Next up, three authors explore games as stories and systems, taking into account authorship, simulation, cultural narratives, and colonial biases.
- Dead Space’s Unsettling Colonialism | Unwinnable
Emma Kostopolus meditates on necromorphs and the white saviors who stomp them into submission.
- The Pleasure of Translation in 4X Games | Why Not Games
Nikhil Murthy contemplates translation–and simplification–of experiences and expectations in strategy games.
- One Thousand and One Excuses | Unwinnable
Saniya Ahmed reflects on the watered-down, secondhand cultural images and archetypes that white creators mine to tell exoticized stories, in games and elsewhere, about the Muslim-populated world.
“It feels impossible to break fantasy out of its European mesmerism while also hoping to not end up in other people’s exotic fantasies.”
Text to Worlds
This section engages games both with their antecedent texts and their forward-looking critical and thematic goals.
- In Like a Dragon: Ishin Kazuma Kiryu Returns to His Samurai Roots | IGN
Francisco Dominguez examines the roots of the Yakuza games in history, film, and folk heroes.
- Fantastic Detours – Frontier Scum | Bones of Contention
Marcia B. examines the consequences when game worlds invested in some idea of social critique interrogate surface but not structure.
“I have a particular interest in texts which, despite making conscious and unsubtle efforts to avoid certain conclusions, still end up reproducing the presuppositions they’re trying to run away from. This is often because they oppose things on an aesthetic basis, but their underlying patterns of thought and belief align with what they think they oppose.”
Our next trio of featured authors explore how different games approach more challenging themes–to varying degrees of success.
- Get in the Car, Loser! Is an Unflinching Portrait of Anxiety | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks finds purchase in Get in the Car, Loser!‘s questions of self through the specificity of its character writing.
- mortal shell should be more interesting | a weapon to surpass blaming yourself or god while knee-deep in the dead
Chuck Sebian-Lander plays a game about mind and self that doesn’t quite stick the landing thematically or mechanically.
- Let’s Play a Love Game: Love Across the Fourth Wall | Haywire Magazine
Eric Cline finds heady themes of death, purpose, and reality in a seemingly silly self-referential crossover game with Namco and Homestuck characters.
“Though it gleefully acknowledges its status as a work of fiction, Namco High avoids the pitfalls of shallow meta commentary by inviting the player to consider the similarities between the game world and their own. The point is not the acknowledgement of artifice, but the blurring of any meaningful distinction from the real.”
This one really is a hall-of-famer.
- Popeye (2021) | Bad Game Hall of Fame
Cassidy chronicles a history of play with the venerable Sailor Man culminating in this improbable and unfortunate remake of Nintendo’s 1982 arcade staple.
“What I’m trying to say here is, Popeye is the embodiment of what the inevitable wave of ”AI-generated video games” will look like, when that technology is able to facilitate such a complex undertaking. It’s almost impressive in a sense that actual flesh and blood human beings were capable of producing something so utterly soulless and devoid of craftsmanship — something so close to resembling a real video game, but ultimately missing that mark.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!