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This Week in Video Game Criticism: Constructions of Blackness

This Week in Video Game Criticism: Constructions of Blackness

March 7, 2014 | By Zolani Stewart and Cameron Kunzelman

March 7, 2014 | By Zolani Stewart and Cameron Kunzelman
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More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Production

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, ďindieĒ has turned into nothing more than a buzzword, and itís 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 itís 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 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 ďfor meĒ 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 wouldnít have had video game advertisements or anything like that. Furthermore we didnít have a Walmart until I was older, and we didnít 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 didnít really understand what the ďmarketĒ itself was like. I donít think we really realized we had options, and we didnít always know what was out there until we got the internet. I think the main reason I didnít realize that games werenít 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.

Podcasts! You Listen To Them!

GI Janes recorded an inaugural podcast where they talk about Gone Home.

Moving Pixels Podcast discussed the endings of Grand Theft Auto V.

Thinking About Specific Games in Detail, or T.A.S.G.I.D.

Paul Haine writes about strange envy, or "aspirational living" in Animal Crossing.

Patrick Lindsey wonders about the modes of death living in Far Cry 2. A sample:
The game had already long since established its yawningly casual acceptance of extreme graphic violence. Iíd listened to soldiers scream as they burned alive on the savannah, shot unarmed hostages in the face while they pleaded for their lives. Itís safe to say that Ióboth as player and characteróhad been successfully desensitized to Far Cry 2ís brand of carnage. Iíd murdered up-close and personal before, but this was different. This wasnít murder or even combat; this was a mercy killing. I wasnít prepared for the look of actual human pain on my buddyís 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.

Alice Kojiro has two recent pieces that I want to highlight, the first on Alice: Madness Returns and the second on Chrono Cross's Dead Sea.

Leigh Alexander, Quinns, and Jesse Turner collaborated to put together an incredible feature on the now-universally-loved Netrunner.

Over at Unwinnable we have Jill Scharr on The Novelistand how it made her question her own life as a writer.

Austin C. Howe
provides some analysis of the painfully under-written-about Final Fantasy VIII by weaving together fan theories and close analysis in order to make some sense of what the game is actually attempting to do.

Chris Franklin created yet another brilliant analysis video, this time of fan-favorite Thief. He also write a quick clarifying post about it.

We Literally Cannot Stop Talking About The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite

Anna Kreider writes about Joel and how he could be improved upon in a number of narrative ways.

Joseph Berida writes in "The Last of Us: Left Behind and Denial" about the new DLC and how characters interact with one another in that world.

Irrational is closing, which elicited a few pieces from prominent games writers about the industrial and cultural symptoms and reasons for that closure. Brendan Keogh wonders if we can connect up the themes of Irrational's blockbuster franchise with the relations between creative leads and the people who actually do the creating. Leigh Alexander connected it up with her own journalistic practice and how she navigated reporting on the studio's work environment while having to pretend she didn't know about its work environment. Ian Williams laments that the studio's collapse means a few things:
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.

To round out the Bioshockery for this week, we have Kyle Fowle reviewing its box art and Felan Parker doing some amazing and specific work on how Bioshock Infinite fits into the larger cultural narrative of games and their status as art.

Wait one last thing here is Maddy Myers writing about Biocock Intimate which is exactly what you think it is.

culture culture culture

Dan Cox cautions everyone to think about the people who don't have the means or simply can't manage to make their way to the coastal conferences and festivals every three months in his "'Everyone Was There' and You Weren't."

Paul Reid wrote an article with lots of visualized data that seems to correlate conservative thinking with certains kinds of games. I am not a scientist.

Robert Yang delivers some advice for people submitting games to the IGF.

Mat Jones does us all a wonderful service and finally presents "The Real ABCs of Games Journalism," such as
Qwerty: Throw that shit right out and get yourself a DVORAK keyboard to help yourself with typing speed. Never mind that itíll fuck up the keybindings for all your games, get used to moving your fictional characters around with a game of hand-twister.

Game Theory

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!

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