The best in games writing.
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.
This week had a ‘GigaLeak’ of Nintendo properties including Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon franchises. While it’s certainly the story of the week it has the potential of being the story of the year–or longer–depending on the impact of the information the leak holds and the response of rights-holders to the breach. There was other news, of course, ranging from Halo‘s multiplayer going free-to-play to new Animal Crossing content to the return of the NHL with help from EA Sports. It was another wild week and one filled with incredible insights once again.
Today is Emancipation Day. Take a read on that here.
A load of reviews captured our attention this week though the lion’s share go to Carrion. There was VICE‘s take that asserts “[i]t’s as if the chaos of 2020 is a fleshy infected mass tearing through our world and sullying our world and inner lives”, a line so evocative it’d normally feel hyperbolic. At Fanbyte, Steven Scaife challenges the game’s marketing as “reverse horror” while somehow bringing in The Last of Us Part II. (It works.) There was also Jeremy Signor‘s read on the game that highlights differences with its contemporaries with respect to precision game play. It’s an angle we hadn’t considered.
Ghost of Tsushima is at the centre of Julie Muncy’s critique, who notes it casts asides attempts at answering larger questions, instead focusing on its aesthetic.
On the topic of 5D Chess with Multiverse Time Travel, Harvard L twins critique of the game with Nintendo’s recent Clubhouse Games, while effectively explaining a complex premise.
“[5D chess is] a game in which learning “how to play” and learning “how to win” are fundamentally different things. Here, “how to play” means knowing that the rook moves in straight lines and the bishop moves in diagonals. Knowing “how to play” chess is knowing how to create and stay within the system of rules that keeps the game existing for both players. “How to win” encompasses strategies like how and when to move your rook and bishop to set up advantages for yourself, or disadvantages for your opponent. It’s wholly possible to know “how to play” and yet not know “how to win”.
A pair of reviews on Spiritfarer make it sound absolutely remarkable: Natalie Flores writes about its strong characters and cozy aesthetic while Elise Favis zeroes in on its narrative focus around death by weaving in interviews.
If you’re at all interested in the ‘Gigaleak’ mentioned at the top of this round-up then Patrick Klepek’s definitive reporting on what we’ve learned and what we haven’t is your essential read for this week.
Aron Garst speaks with Obsidian about the integration of an ‘arachnophobia’ mode into Grounded for GameSpot, a game feature we didn’t know we wanted, or, frankly, didn’t know could exist.
“All studies, surveys, and gameplay tests were done with spider sensitivity in mind. People who participated in the surveys were given the option to opt out midway through if they became too overwhelmed with the models being shown. The research team used this as an indicator for what generally triggers arachnophobia.”
Andrew Webster follows up with some pro-skaters who had their lives changed in the wake of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2‘s groundbreaking success. The article reads as both history and time capsule while skaters reminisce: As a ’90s kid, I feel some of the comments in my bones and instantly feel old but it’s an important bit of context in this, the year of the remake. (Incidentally, this pairs well with Blake Hester’s incredible piece on hanging out with NeverSoft co-founder Joel Jewett from 2019, so go read that too.)
GamesRadar released a massive interview with the developers on Halo: Infinite. It’s by no means groundbreaking but if you’re a fan of old school magazine cover stories this is a real treat from its level of access to its formatting to the way it leans into the excitement of a tent-pole release. This isn’t hard hitting journalism but it’s an immensely enjoyable read nonetheless.
A pair of #longreads on The Last of Us Part II hold court over our usual suspects this week. Spoilers abound. Brendan Keogh situates the game within its place in critical discourse, presents the game’s “filmic feel”, navigates its revenge themes, challenges claims of its superior gender diversity, all while wading into ideas around prestige in art. It’s a masterwork of criticism.
On equal footing–and challenging some of the same notions–is Pop Culture Connected’s sprawling analysis that weaves in identity, Black Lives Matter, and more into its ruminations on PTSD.
“The fact that the playable white characters throughout the series were actively or partially responsible for so many deaths of Black people and other people of color stings, especially with the hindsight of racial equity and their glaring absence from the narrative in retrospect. Soberingly, Naughty Dog Studios, in the pursuit of grim post-apocalyptic storytelling has a race problem.”
Persona also takes the spotlight this week as two critics challenge how love interests are presented in two different games within the same series. These moments are more than uncomfortable and warrant sharper criticism at large.
Trigger warnings for discussions around sexual assault, abuse (generally), attempted suicide, and minors in a sexual context.
Michael Leopold Weber digs into Persona 4: Golden and the culture some in the fan community have of making sexual remarks (or worse) about one of its 15 year old characters, effectively tying in the Idol culture that exists in Japan and elsewhere. (Michael has published a piece on Liftoff!)
Jess Cogswell goes a step further in her assessment of Persona 5‘s baked in toxic masculinity and how notions of rebellion can feed that. Cogswell gives the game room to breathe as it presents relationships–and sex–among teenagers as normal but is troubled (rightfully so!) by the potential for relationships with those in power over the (minor, as in, underage) protagonist.
Ultimately though, the question is this: in a game so fixated on the misuse of power and the moral failings of those in authority, why do we not view these women as corrupt or bad characters? In fact, why are none of the game’s villains women? Whereas every male cognitive palace you enter portrays them as inarguably evil, both the women whose palaces you enter are merely lost. Ultimately, it seems to come down to the idea that despite their morality, positions of authority, age, and their responsibilities as care providers, they are women– and women are innocent.
Odds and Ends
Our odds and ends section is usually fairly light but this week some weighty criticisms deserve their own room to breathe.
At Paste, Waverly calls out complacency in and around games for allowing Ubisoft to change the channel on the countless abuse allegations with its Ubisoft Forward event. That many publications raced to publish canned messaging is part of a larger problem that stems from how capital flows; just because the cause is known doesn’t mean it’s excusable. (We remarked that “there was nothing so important in the show that it couldn’t have been delayed to properly address the issues inside the company.)
Also on Paste, Garrett Martin called out Riot’s decision to uncritically allow for the sponsorship of League of Legends by Saudi Arabia, a decision that would be reversed shortly thereafter.
“If you’ve forgotten, or somehow never knew, Saudi Arabia is a human rights disaster. Homosexuality is still a crime, one that’s sometimes punished by death. Less than two years ago Saudi agents assassinated an exiled Saudi journalist who wrote for the Washington Post, among other outlets, because he was critical of the government.”
Ben Bayliss goes to town on marketing campaigns that contain useless ephemera about the number of layers in a cloud or the dick customization options while failing to address accessibility options within games. Here on Liftoff!, Hylke Langhout applies a conservationist lens to Monster Hunter: World. (Hylke is a former curator for GGW.) Austin Jones reflects on experiences playing the Silent Hill series, trauma, the mundane, and so much more. (Trigger warning for eating disorders, mentions of abuse/sexual assault).
William Partin released an academic paper on the rise of Twitch Bits and how that, among other changes, fits within how platforms evolve over time, changing both on their own and through external influences. Competitive advantages derived by major players like Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are discussed as infrastructure owners able to avoid competitive pressures. As far as academic work goes, this one is an easy read, so if you’re at all interested in Twitch or ecommerce broadly it’s worth the time investment.
Check This Out
Richard Moss’ interview with Kelsey Lewin of the Video Game History Foundation is a fun listen. Moss always seeds the notes section of his podcasts with useful links to follow up with.
100 Word Gaming Reviews is set to review basically every Mega Man game this month. Check them out!
Finally, I learned more about competitive Mario Kart 8 in this 36 second clip than I have in years of playing the game, talking about the game, or otherwise being in the periphery of the community. Breathtaking.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: There won’t be a ‘Weekly’ next Saturday as all three curators are on holidays, We’ll have a collection in its place brought to you by guest curator Lucas ‘Thirdkoopa’ Guimaraes. August 15th will largely focus on the first two weeks of August. Happy Summer!
Bayliss, Ben. “Share Your Video Game Accessibility If You Can Talk About Customizable Penises” (Can I Play That?: July 27, 2020) <caniplaythat.com/2020/07/27/share-video-game-accessibility-features-if-you-can-talk-about-customizable-penises/>.
Cogswell, Jess. “How Persona 5 Royals’ Mature Love Interests Reinforce Toxic Masculinity” (Uppercut: August 1, 2020) <uppercutcrit.com/how-persona-5-royals-mature-love-interests-reinforce-toxic-masculinity/>.
Favis, Elise. “‘Spiritfarer,’ a game about the afterlife, seeks to ease the terror of death” (The Washington Post: July 30, 2020) <www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2020/07/30/spiritfarer-game-about-afterlife-seeks-ease-terror-death/>.
Flores, Natalie. “I Don’t Know If I’ve Fallen in Love with a Game as Quickly as Spiritfarer” (Fanbyte: July 30, 2020) <www.fanbyte.com/trending/i-dont-know-if-ive-fallen-in-love-with-a-game-as-quickly-as-spiritfarer/>.
Garst, Aron. “Grounded Lets You Make The Spiders Less Terrifying If You Have Arachnophobia” (GameSpot: July 29, 2020) <www.gamespot.com/articles/grounded-lets-you-make-the-spiders-less-terrifying/1100-6480035/>.
Gault, Matthew. “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Monster in ‘Carrion'” (VICE: July 27, 2020) <www.vice.com/en_us/article/akz4gg/monster-horror-carrion-phobia>.
Jones, Austin. “Is It My Body” (Into the Spine: July 31, 2020) <intothespine.com/2020/07/31/is-it-my-body/>.
Keogh, Brendan. “The rest of us: revenge, prestige, and putting The Last of Us: Part II in its place” (Overland: July 28, 2020) <overland.org.au/2020/07/the-rest-of-us-revenge-prestige-and-putting-the-last-of-us-part-ii-in-its-place/>.
Klepek, Patrick. “A Massive Leak of Nintendo Source Code Is Causing Chaos in Video Games” (VICE: July 28, 2020) <www.vice.com/en_us/article/7kp7bx/a-massive-leak-of-nintendo-source-code-is-causing-chaos-in-video-games>.
L, Harvard. “5D Chess With Multiverse Time Travel – A beautiful look at the limits of the human mind” (Digitally Downloaded) <www.digitallydownloaded.net/2020/07/5d-chess-with-multiverse-time-travel.html>.
Langhout, Hylke. “Criticizing Monster Hunter: World’s Trophy Hunt” (Liftoff!: July 28, 2020) <liftoffmag.com/criticizing-monster-hunter-worlds-trophy-hunt/>.
Martin, Garrett. “Riot Games Will Regret Saudi Arabia’s Sponsorship of League of Legends” (Paste: July 29, 2020) <www.pastemagazine.com/games/riot-games/riot-games-saudi-arabia/>.
Muncy, Julie. “Ghosts of Tsushima Isn’t Samurai Cinema—It’s a Popcorn Flick” (WIRED: July 28, 2020) <www.wired.com/story/ghosts-of-tsushima-essay/>.
Partin, William. “Bit by (Twitch) Bit: “Platform Capture” and the Evolution of Digital Platforms” (SAGE Journals: July 27, 2020) <orcid.org/0000-0002-9967-5328>.
Pop Culture Connections. “PTSD While Gaming: Processing Black Death In The Last of Us Franchise” (Medium: July 26, 2020) <medium.com/@popcultureconnections/ptsd-while-gaming-black-death-in-the-last-of-us-franchise-575566e7e85b>.
Scaife, Steven. “Carrion is Bloody Fun, But Not a “Reverse Horror” Game” (Fanbyte: July 30, 2020) <www.fanbyte.com/features/carrion-reverse-horror/>.
Signor, Jeremy. “Carrion Operates on Instinct” (The Life of Game: July 31, 2020) <thelifeofgame.wordpress.com/2020/07/31/carrion-operates-on-instinct/>.
Waverly. “Ubisoft Forward and the Way It Was Covered Highlighted Everything Wrong about the Games Industry” (Paste: July 28, 2020) <www.pastemagazine.com/games/ubisoft/ubisoft-forward-abuse-harassment/>.
Weber, Michael Leopold. “Dear men, please leave Rise Kujikawa alone” (New Game+: July 31, 2020) <newgameplus.co.uk/2020/07/31/rise-kujikawa/>.
Webster, Andrew. “How Tony Hawks’ Pro Skater changed the lives of some of the world’s biggest skaters” (The Verge: July 29, 2020) <www.theverge.com/2020/7/29/21346436/tony-hawk-pro-skater-remaster-mullen-muska-lasek-interview>.
West, Josh. “Halo Infinite: Inside 343’s attempt to build “the most ambitious Halo game ever made” (GamesRadar+: July 26, 2020)