The best games writing from around the web.
The Weekly is your round-up of all the best in games writing and related spaces. Reviews, news, features, and more await you each week as the curators of Good Games Writing scour the Internet for the best of the best. Some themes are for older audiences.
2021 brings with it a year full of promise but that promise is only meaningful if we act to protect those systems that uplift us while dismantling those that oppress. While we’re referencing the insurrection in Washington, D.C., we’re more specifically referencing the assaults on journalists, and the calls for more to come. The media is the fourth estate that holds governments and other powerful actors accountable: That so many are willing to assault the important work of journalists violates everything we believe in. In games media, we’ve seen the consequences those face who speak truth to power, and it’s hard not to see the culture of 2014 spilling into the streets of Washington. We don’t have answers on what comes next but we will continue to stand for the storytellers and journalists who courageously carry out their work.
On to the update…
The Usual Suspects
It’s hard to imagine a time where Cyberpunk didn’t drive discourse and we’re now seeing the results of it sitting with critics for several weeks. Brittany Vincent helpfully created a list of cyberpunk games that aren’t Cyberpunk if you’re in the mood.
You might be in the mood for non-Cyberpunk cyberpunk (we know, we know) after reading Alexis Ong’s blistering assessment of its use of cyberpunk for Fanbyte:
Cyberpunk today conjures immediate visions of an 80s-tinged future, but is far from a one-size-fits-all skin for fictional dystopias. Many of the people who rang in this new genre are far removed from current realities. It is a genre that just as often exalts transhumanism as regressive gender and identity values held over from old-school science fiction. 2077 isn’t particularly progressive in any such regard. It’s got an almost sophomoric flavor to the way it handles the dichotomy between humankind and technology. It’s a placebo that coats the brain like a high-end lubricant; if you want to tune out and turn off, it’s absolutely easy to do that while running around the streets of Pacifica or roaring down a highway on a stolen bike. But you can’t really do cyberpunk without, in some way, engaging with the politics at the heart of the genre: transnational anxiety and xenophobia, capitalism on steroids, and corporate oligarchy.
We also appreciated Stacey Henley’s latest for Gayming Mag arguing that “[m]any trans people have known for some time that Cyberpunk 2077 would not welcome us” and it upholds that unwelcome patina through its trans-exclusionary romance scenes. We’re particularly impressed with the analysis of Panam. The piece is a wonderful follow-up to Henley’s December piece for Polygon.
We’ve been following Teen Vogue‘s general coverage for some time and are continually impressed with both the reporting and insightful opinions offered by its contributors. Consider this its official shout-out as we ask it to create even more gaming content.
This week, we enjoyed Sara Li’s piece on a recent attempt to “refresh” and “update” the classic game Mahjong while charging hundreds of dollars in the process, all while destroying the game’s Chinese heritage through its appropriation.
Li ends it well by saying “[a]s we continue into 2021, it’s far past time to leave this kind of cultural gentrification in the past, where it belongs.”
Horror & Politics
We’re stretching by putting these themes together, we know, but the pieces found within kept being the pieces we returned to throughout the week for whatever reason.
There is, of course, a piece on literal politics, in WIRED’s assessment that Twitch is having a political renaissance, citing recent evidence from the Georgia special elections and beyond, but most interestingly, arguing that Twitch is becoming more of a general video platform. Hello, Bob Ross. Such analysis isn’t particularly new but we continue to be fascinated by the evolution of the platform particularly as one of the platforms that has banned Trump prior to this year.
Then there’s Jordan Oloman’s tribute to Fallout: New Vegas and this particularly juicy bit on its environmental storytelling:
The first time you meet the NCR – the supposed moral peacekeepers of the Mojave – they’re hapless and outmanned, on the outskirts of a town besieged by the failures of the movement’s own bureaucracy. A breakout at their own “correctional facility” gave rise to the Powder Gangers, who have now taken over Primm. The sheriff’s sleeping, decapitated body is still warm in an outskirt shack when you arrive…
We like that piece for other reasons, though, not least of all how ordinary New Vegas feels by today’s standards, a game that has had an outsized influence on its genre.
That sense of the ordinary was part of Ty Galiz-Rowe’s assessment of Paradise Killer, too, as they interweave recent politics with the game’s confounding message about maintaining existing power structures. That normal and mundane can be scary is a take that needs to be repeated again and again and it’s a reminder we’re all too happy to have.
Our must-read of the week leans into the horror perhaps more than any other piece: It’s a sprawling demonology that challenges what we know about the occult and ultimately tasks the medium to do better in representing the multiplicity of what demons have embodied for so long. If you’ve ever enjoyed sending a demon back to aytch-eee-double-hockey-sticks, this is the read for you.
Odds & Ends
Our final segment is always bittersweet. It means the end of our time with you but not quite the end of good games writing. Here’s three last pieces to send you off.
Cole Henry applies his own experiences to NBA 2K21 as a student-athlete and examines it from the lens it so capably hands him, that of those hallowed years on the hardwood, playing high school hoops, a story element interwoven into its storymode. Our Evan McIntosh is a high school basketball coach and the recognition Henry gives of the highs and lows of that level of athletics had him nodding along.
Over on The Escapist, Marty Sliva looks back on the best video game music of 2020, setting up inspiration for some playlists if you so desire.
Finally, Fanbyte‘s new column on video game bosses includes Horatio Caine removing his sunglasses, Bowser-as-meme, and a detailed breakdown of the iconic King Koopa’s battle in Super Mario 64. It’s a piece that’s tonally disparate throughout but it comes together to create a uniquely satisfying overview of Bowser. A promising start.
Galiz-Rowe, Ty. “Paradise Killer: The Horror of Normal” (Uppercut Crit: January 3, 2021) <uppercutcrit.com/paradise-killer-the-horror-of-normal/>.
Henley, Stacey. “The Cyberpunk 2077 Romances Weren’t Made for Trans People” (Gayming Mag: January 8, 2021) <gaymingmag.com/2021/01/the-cyberpunk-2077-romances-werent-made-for-trans-people/>.
Henry, Cole. “I’m Playing a Sports Game.” (January 8, 2021) <colewriteswords.medium.com/im-playing-a-sports-game-156ce775d331>.
Inderwildi, Andreas. “Digital Demonology: The Historical Origins of Gaming’s Infernal Obsession” (EGM: January 8, 2021) <egmnow.com/digital-demonology-the-historical-origins-of-gamings-infernal-obsession/>.
Khan, Imad. “Twitch Is Having a Political Renaissance” (WIRED: January 5, 2021) <www.wired.com/story/politicians-twitch-voters-georgia-election/>.
Li, Sara. “Mahjong Doesn’t Need to Be Updated for White People” (Teen Vogue: January 6, 2021) <www.teenvogue.com/story/mahjong-doesnt-need-to-be-updated-for-white-people-op-ed>.
MacGregor, Colin. “Who’s The Boss? Super Mario 64’s Bowser” (Fanbyte: January 6, 2021) <www.fanbyte.com/features/whos-the-boss-super-mario-64-bowser/>.
Oloman, Jordan. “‘Fallout: New Vegas’ 10 years on: why Obsidian’s RPG is still unbeaten” (NME: January 8, 2021) <www.nme.com/gaming-features/fallout-new-vegas-10-years-on-why-obsidians-rpg-is-still-unbeaten-2851933>.
Ong, Alexis. “Everyone Is Already Pretending Cyberpunk 2077 Never Happened” (Fanbyte: January 10, 2021) <www.fanbyte.com/features/everyone-is-already-pretending-cyberpunk-2077-never-happened/>.
Sliva, Marty. “The Best Video Game Music of 2020” (The Escapist: January 1, 2021) <www.escapistmagazine.com/v2/the-best-video-game-music-of-2020/>.
Vincent, Brittany. “5 cyberpunk games that aren’t Cyberpunk 2077” (Laptop Mag: January 9, 2021) <www.laptopmag.com/best-picks/cyberpunk-games-that-arent-cyberpunk-2077>.