The best games writing from around the web.
Good Games Writing Weekly is a round-up of the best writing on games and related fields from around the web. Some themes may be for older audiences.
The doldrums took something of a break this week as major releases from Sony and Nintendo hit store shelves and virtual storefronts alike. More importantly, Ooblets launched, and its dance battles should fill your summer with joy. Let’s dive in!
Arguably the biggest release of the week is Ghost of Tsushima. Three reviews caught our attention most immediately–though there’s a large number we didn’t get to reading this week, so expect more next–for different reasons. For those looking for a review that focuses most on the mechanics and feel of the game, then Julian Benson’s review is for you, as it’s thorough and biting. Matthew Codd does the table setting for us, placing the game in its historical and cultural context, while wading into its problems dealing with that history.
The review we most enjoyed on the subject was Gene Park’s: situating it among samurai flicks, anime enthusiasts, and those who will analyze the finer technical details, this review is in depth, comprehensive, and definitive.
It’s only when you ignore these faults, and even the main campaign, when you start to appreciate what “Ghost” offers. When I later found that the game’s side quests are written much better, I realized that “Ghost” works better not as a long epic campaign, but as a world filled with some pretty good samurai short stories. Many even have twists that surprised me. If anything, the game would’ve worked better as a series of short stories.
We’ve also begun reading on Ooblets. So far, our favourite review is from Fanbyte‘s Jay Castello, who sticks their hands in the dirt, and finds a “saccharine sweet whole”. It’s a game worth being played one day at a time, disarmingly sweet, and completely aware of its own identity.
Finally, we’ve been “circling back” (ugh!) to reviews on The Last of Us Part II, and found this review for the deaf and hard of hearing. Can I Play That‘s reviews have become somewhat essential of late and this review–of this game–seems the perfect time to celebrate them and their mission. It’s hard to imagine a future where their reviews haven’t informed the broader media landscape.
The Usual Suspects
Speaking of TLOU, it ranks among our usual suspects, with Natalie Flores scoring not one but two spots on our list. For Bullet Points, she weighs into the dadification of games debate that we’ve covered before, giving us meaningful Abby criticism while exploring the notion that Ellie is only represented as an extension of Joel. Then, on Fanbyte, Flores navigates the double standard in how we apply the lens violence between men and women enacting it. Obvious spoilers.
“While Ellie commits no more or less violence than Joel did, I’m more inclined to sympathize with her because she actually reckons with it. Unlike Joel, she spends the entire game struggling with her actions almost as much as she takes them.”
Stacey Henley (disclosure: she has work appearing on Liftoff! this week) also wades into TLOU discourse, though this time it’s by looking at trans characters, and specifically how the portrayal of trans men differs in respect to trans women. It’s not completely TLOU talk, bringing in a wide swath of games with trans depictions (albeit, this isn’t a reflection of those characters’ portrayals) to do the work.
At Vice, we see a different read on the themes presented in the game, arguing that the games perpetuates violence in the very way it critiques such a cycle, arguing that it’s based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a bloody conflict that has become one of the most grievous humanitarian crises in the world. That the game seems to present an Israeli worldview is no accident, as Emanuel Maiberg points out, and its centrist viewpoint is actively dangerous. A powerful read.
Animal Crossing continues to elicit interesting discussion and analysis and it appears that is extending to academia. The Washington Post reports on an upcoming academic journal chock full of Animal Crossing pieces across a number of disciplines, a preview of sorts, that all sound like interesting and unique takes on what’s to come for discussion of the series.
We’ve already highlighted a couple of lightly reported pieces but have a few more we want to share this week. Polygon has followed up its recent pieces on the Fighting Game Community (FGC) with another on how black women in the FGC are fighting for true inclusivity. The numerous interview subjects, the optimistic tone, and links to other reported pieces all strengthen this one, making it part of a balanced coverage approach we haven’t seen elsewhere as yet.
Jordan Uhl shocked the world with reporting in The Nation.
The practices employed on Twitch by military e-sports teams are part of a system by which recruiters target children in unstable and/or disadvantaged situations. Recruiters take advantage of the poor seeking steady income, the vulnerable longing for stability, and the undocumented living in fear because of their citizenship status. Now, at a time when all those factors are magnified by a pandemic that has left half the country out of work and over 30 percent unable to afford their housing payments, conditions are ripe for recruiters to prey on anxious youth.
Wowzers. The details in this are eye popping and incredibly alarming as the US military continues to find new and innovative ways to recruit...techniques amplified by a global pandemic.
At IGN, gacha games, loot boxes, and online gambling are put under the microscope as Luke Winkie explores microtransaction addiction. Academics are skillfully utilized to make sense of what we’re learning as gamers share their own stories of spending. We left worried about the potential implications for older parents, in particular, who are newly emerging as gamers in a mobile era, and perhaps less savvy with these particular tactics. While the article doesn’t go that particular direction we can see it being fertile ground for others.
Odds and Ends
Alas, our final section, a hodge podge of bits and pieces we enjoyed but don’t fit particularly well with anything else. Jordan Oloman argues that a next-gen price hike is going to make gaming inaccessible for more and more. Mike Sholars writes an evocative essay on a handful of games that make him feel free–the choices are spectacularly unique. Jeremy Signor digs into the nuts and bolts of the platforming challenges and room design around a particular game mechanic in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. Our own piece, by Desma Fettig, on Undertale‘s darker undertones is underappreciated. And Rob Zacny’s preview of Watch Dogs: Legion is an interesting story about a fictional Starbucks and the surveillance state.
Benson, Julian. “‘Ghost Of Tsushima’ Review: A Beautiful World That’s Too Shallow” (GAMINGBible: July 14, 2020) <https://www.ladbible.com/technology/gaming-ghost-of-tsushima-review-a-beautiful-world-thats-too-shallow-20200714>.
Castello, Jay. “Early Assess: Ooblets Breaks Through the Corny Barrier With Sincerity” (Fanbyte: July 15, 2020) <https://www.fanbyte.com/reviews/early-assess-ooblets-breaks-through-the-corny-barrier-with-sincerity/>.
Codd, Matthew. “Review: Ghost of Tsushima aims for Kurosawa, lands on The Last Samurai ” (Shindig: July 15, 2020) <http://www.shindig.nz/videogames/game-reviews/ghost-of-tsushima/>.
Craven, Courtney. “The Last of Us: Part 2 — Deaf/HoH Review” (Can I Play That? : June 12, 2020) <https://caniplaythat.com/2020/06/12/the-last-of-us-2-deaf-hoh-review/>.
Epps, De’Angelo. “The Black women of the fighting game community are pushing for true inclusivity” (Polygon: July 17, 2020) <https://www.polygon.com/features/2020/7/17/21328490/black-women-fighting-game-community-inclusivity-racism-misogyny>.
Fettig, Desma. “Choice and Consequences in the Underground” (Liftoff!: July 15, 2020) <https://liftoffmag.com/choice-and-consequences-in-the-underground/>.
Flores, Natalie. “Absent Mothers” (Bullet Points: July 17, 2020) <https://bulletpointsmonthly.com/2020/07/17/absent-mothers-the-last-of-us-part-ii>.
Flores, Natalie. “The Last of Us Part II Shows a Gender Double Standard for Violence” (Fanbyte: July 14, 2020) <https://www.fanbyte.com/trending/the-last-of-us-part-ii-shows-a-gender-double-standard-for-violence/>.
Henley, Stacey. “Games like The Last of Us Part 2 are giving trans men a spotlight nobody else will” (VG24/7: July 14, 2020) <https://www.vg247.com/2020/07/14/videogames-trans-men/>.
Leporati, Gregory. “Inside academia’s growing interest in ‘Animal Crossing’” (The Washington Post: July 14, 2020) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2020/07/14/inside-academias-growing-interest-animal-crossing/>.
Maiberg, Emanuel. “The Not So Hidden Israeli Politics of ‘The Last of Us Part II'” (Vice: July 15, 2020)<https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bv8da4/the-not-so-hidden-israeli-politics-of-the-last-of-us-part-ii>.
Oloman, Jordan. “The next-gen price hike is going to make video games even more inaccessible” (NME: July 16, 2020) <https://www.nme.com/features/the-next-gen-price-hike-is-going-to-make-video-games-even-more-inaccessible-2708862>.
Park, Gene. “‘Ghost of Tsushima’ is a so-so samurai ‘film,’ but a pretty great samurai game” (The Washington Post: July 14, 2020) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/reviews/ghost-tsushima-is-so-so-samurai-film-pretty-great-samurai-game/>.
Sholars, Mike. “The Games That Make Me Feel Free” (Kotaku: July 15, 2020) <https://kotaku.com/the-games-that-make-me-feel-free-1844392220>.
Signor, Jeremy. “Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 and An Ode to Knockback” (The Life of Game: July 15, 2020) <https://thelifeofgame.wordpress.com/2020/07/15/bloodstained-curse-of-the-moon-2-and-an-ode-to-knockback/>.
Uhl, Jordan. “The US Military Is Using Online Gaming to Recruit Teens” (The Nation: July 15, 2020) <https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/military-recruitment-twitch/>.
Winkie, Luke. “Here’s How Loot Box & Microtransaction Addiction Destroys Lives” (IGN: July 13, 2020) <https://www.ign.com/articles/heres-how-loot-box-addiction-destroys-lives>.
Zacny, Rob. “Press X to Dismantle Surveillance Capitalism in ‘Watch Dogs: Legion'” (Vice: July 12, 2020) <https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wxqznq/watch-dogs-legion-preview-ubisoft-forward>.