This Week in Video Game Criticism: Constructions of Blackness
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Zolani Stewart and Cameron Kunzelman on topics including race and the recent "Left Behind" chapter of The Last of Us.
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Zolani Stewart and Cameron Kunzelman on topics including intersections of race and games and the recent "Left Behind" chapter of The Last of Us.Black Games Criticism
Last month, Isaiah Taylor interviewed voice actress Amanda Strawn for her role as Letitia in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This is amazing! Why did this piece get no traction?
Next up, TJ Thomas spoke at IndieCade East about creating a diverse and flourishing indie game scene. As a critic, I have much respect for TJ's work, but I'm also deeply appreciative of how he challenges the white capitalist hegemonies of indie culture. Listen to him:
really, “indie” has turned into nothing more than a buzzword, and it’s the way we perceive videogames and our community and shun truly interesting works that have turned our identities into something that needs to be marketable and agreeable, which, as you can imagine, naturally excludes minorities 95% of the time. we stifle our own creativity, we stifle the creativity of our peers, and we stifle the development of our culture as a whole. we cultivate a culture where the established continue to reign above all, and the smaller continue to be shunned and silenced.
I now want to point to streamer and Voiceover actress Tunesha Davis, who has been streaming to raise money for her friend Albert's kidney surgery. Davis' streams are great, they're super energetic and fun to watch, and it’s a good example of critical engagement with games that goes beyond writing.
Meanwhile, Nathan Blades on OnePixel makes a sound argument for a queer escapism, an exploration of agency that diverges from white hetero-patriarchal dispositions.
Jordan Minor tells us his experience tutoring a camp of mostly young black girls to make videogames.
And earlier this month, Austin Walker discussed the nature of permanence in EVE Online, arguing against the game's decision to mark a ship graveyard on one of its largest battles.
Now, let us now go to SheAttack.com. SheAttack is a games site completely written by women, with a large collection of black writers. This should be enough to warrant your attention, but I want to point to two pieces from here. One is a piece by Emerald who goes over her thoughts on the Nintendo Girls Club, and the second is Krystal Carr, who took the time to highlight 12 black videogame characters and explain her interest in them.
And lastly, Dr. Kishonna L Gray has written extensively on the experience of being a minority gamer on Xbox Live. You can download her paper on the racism and stigmatization faced by minority gamers here.
Games Are History
Play the Past recently ran a week on the Assassin's Creed franchise, which I encourage you to check out, but I want to highlight this post on the women of the franchise by David R. Hussey.
By the same author at the same website, there's a very readable "Microhistory of Eve Online."
Tracey Lien writes a much more comprehensive and lengthy article on the same game, taking us for an oral and systemic historical analysis of EVE in "The Most Thrilling and Boring Game in the Universe."
Switching into a different mode of history, Jeremy Parish gives us "7 Reasons Super Metroid Was A SNES Masterpiece," which doesn't win any awards in the article title category, but manages to pay off anyway.
Emma Vossen does a bit of personal history, thinking through how her modes of interaction with female characters as a child has formed her. She writes:
I think it took me a lot longer to catch on that games were not “for me” because I lived in an incredibly small town that was relatively cut off from the world. When I was young we had very few television channels and the ones we did have wouldn’t have had video game advertisements or anything like that. Furthermore we didn’t have a Walmart until I was older, and we didn’t have a games store ever. My parents bought all our games for my brother and I, so we had an idea of what we wanted, but didn’t really understand what the “market” itself was like. I don’t think we really realized we had options, and we didn’t always know what was out there until we got the internet. I think the main reason I didn’t realize that games weren’t really for me was because I had the benefit of living with a male sibling who liked both sharing, and more importantly, playing games together.
The game had already long since established its yawningly casual acceptance of extreme graphic violence. I’d listened to soldiers scream as they burned alive on the savannah, shot unarmed hostages in the face while they pleaded for their lives. It’s safe to say that I—both as player and character—had been successfully desensitized to Far Cry 2’s brand of carnage. I’d murdered up-close and personal before, but this was different. This wasn’t murder or even combat; this was a mercy killing. I wasn’t prepared for the look of actual human pain on my buddy’s face, or for him to literally grab the barrel of my gun and pull it to his face, practically begging me to put him out of his misery.
And yet here we are, with an entire studio turned out on its collective ear for doing its job properly, while the one true failure in the story has not just landed on his feet but is poised to crank out vanity projects, post-Spore Will Wright style, for the rest of his life. The games press, for the most part, is salivating about what he's going to do next, thereby enabling this sort of behavior the next time. Hovering over it all is the vicious irony that a man who made his name by writing about a Randian dystopia is going to be just fine because we're currently living in one.
Qwerty: Throw that shit right out and get yourself a DVORAK keyboard to help yourself with typing speed. Never mind that it’ll fuck up the keybindings for all your games, get used to moving your fictional characters around with a game of hand-twister.
Merritt Kopas posted some text about and some results from a workshop that she ran at the NYU Gamecenter a couple weeks back. There's an amazing analysis of what queer game mechanics can look like. Read it.
Reid McCarter writes about guns in games and guns in the world and how those two things are related to one another through the fantasies of humans in "On Guns, Real and Virtual."
Matt Barton asks some open ended questions about Neo-Marxism and how it could operate in games.
Stephen Beirne says some things about "detective mode" and how it is implemented in games.
Lana Polansky extols the virtues of the eroticism of games, championing the ones which manage to be "bleeding and vulnerable." Writer Mo at Imaginary Funerals also thinks through the concept of bleeding and what it means for players and games alike.
Thanks for reading! As always we greatly appreciate the links you send to us by Twitter mention or by our email submissions form.
A final announcement: Critical Distance is now seeking public support to maintain its present curation as well as develop further resources for writers and developers interested in a critical perspective. If you are able to, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation! Every contribution is important.
That's all from us. See you all next week!