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Think back to games of the late 1990s; what did they teach you about games that you now take for granted? This week, critics reflected on how genres from the past affect the work they do today.
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Abandoned theme parks
The release of Yooka-Laylee, an homage to early 3D platformers, has some critics reflecting on a genre that was formative for writers and designers alike.
Keith Stuart manages to highlight a lot about what made a fleeting genre formative, not just in terms of style or nostalgia, but in terms of its practical application as a starting point for designers.
Danielle Riendeau finds the recent spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie lacking, for example, the original’s imaginative use of verticality.
“Walking into say, Freezeazy Peak in Banjo-Kazooie, I was dazzled by scale. The disparate zones in Tooie‘s WitchyWorld all felt like parts of a shitty (intentionally so) theme park. The same game’s Gruntilda Industries feels massive and dense by the standards of any 3D platformer. I’ve yet to find a world in Yooka-Laylee that conveys half of the sense of wonder or depth I got from the earlier games.”
Cross-cultural landscapes and spatial manifestations of market capitalism are explored here by some intrepid critics.
Yussef Cole shares a memory about childhood innocence meeting market economics.
Zach Budgor examines the objectifying spatial regimes of a red light district.
Chris Priestman finds something beyond orientalism in one game’s use of cyberpunk imagery and East Asian motifs.
“What we get to see, in these dioramas, are conquered civilizations becoming the physical foundations for others. It’s a place built from accretion, with cities not only being built adjacent to each other, but also on top of another. What Rain World envisions is a world made from strata”
Bodies are the medium
Nier: Automata is provoking some dramatically diverse responses. Here I’ve coupled two pieces on the game with a more general article about the nature of subjectivity.
Problem Machine troubles the notion of objectivity from another angle: the act of (self-)observation itself changes the nature of what is being observed.
Bullet Points Monthly
Ed Smith argues that Nier: Automata is misanthropic, nihilistic, and misses opportunities to embrace humanity’s complexities.
First Person Scholar
Cayla Coats makes a compelling argument for reading Nier: Automata as a transgender narrative.
“The entire conflict of the game is one of problematic bodies. The Gestalts’ inability to control their corresponding Replicants signifies a collective anxiety and mistrust of anatomy—the fear of the physical self rebelling against the mental self. In this battle between Replicants and Gestalts, bodies are the medium of power. They are what’s at stake for either side.”
Two new perspectives on the treatment of marginalized voices in gaming demonstrate how little certain things have changed, but also how significant that lack of change is in light of technological and demographic transformations.
Sayem Ahmed’s skillfully-handled interview highlighted problematic issues regarding gender in the latest cosmic high school melodrama.
“If you walk in someone else’s shoes, then you’ve taken their shoes”: empathy machines as appropriation machines
Robert Yang argues that chasing the sensation of empathy is not particularly virtuous, least of all in the venture-capital-funded playgrounds of virtual reality.
“The rhetoric of the empathy machine asks us to endorse technology without questioning the politics of its construction or who profits from it. Empathy is good, and VR facilitates empathy, so therefore VR is good — no questions please.”