Sundays are for moaning about hot it is.
I’ve got something a little different to open with this week. Dia Lacina has launched Capsule Crit, a “a monthly online journal dedicated to games criticism, personal essays, reviews, and fan fiction in micro genres”. Any of the articles in the first issue would feel at home here, but I’ve picked out a couple of my favourites. First up is Jackson Tyler’s piece about the hidden earnestness of Metal Gear, which offers a smart and funny deconstruction of storytelling I’d written off as inane.
Somewhere beneath all of Metal Gear’s hypermasculine posturing lies a beating heart of earnestness that it doesn’t even know it has. Seventeen years after Snake’s dogs, the series is shoving bombs in the vaginas of women named Peace, and now starring everyone’s favourite unrepentant fascist from 24. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain even gives you a dog of your own (a wolf, actually), who runs around the battlefield tagging enemies for you. He’s very useful. Nothing but useful. Metal Gear takes its own symbol of a peaceful life and repurposes it to give you a boost to your murder skills.
Yussef Cole wrote about how the post-human world of Subserial Network reflects our own. I adore sci-fi that examines post-human consciousness and post-human society, and Cole makes Subserial Network’s exploration sound particularly intriguing.
The synthetics of Subserial Network live in the shadow of the rigid and impersonal taxonomies that humanity left behind. Yet, in this predawn digital world, synthetics have begun carving out spaces to be messy, corrupted, even confused, to be “weeds pushing through the sidewalk’s cracks,” as one synthetic puts it.
A computer that invents its own category is as rebellious and deleterious to existing power structures as a person who does the same. Behind the bluster of the anonymized hacker coolness of the various synthetics you come across, there’s a bed of doubt, a sputtering core of vulnerability. For anyone who’s spent time on the margins, resisting the confining limitations of mainstream categorization, their anxieties feel deeply familiar.
For as long as Joe Donelly keeps getting up to stuff in a GTA roleplaying server for PC Gamer, I’ll keep linking to it here. This time he assassinated some people who took him hunting, which does seem like a bit of an overreaction. (I don’t normally do this, but the second comment is so stupendously inane it made me laugh out loud, so you should read that too.)
Lifeinvader is GTA’s answer to Facebook. Located in the game’s affluent Rockford Hills area, I pull up outside its headquarters and await my hire. I sound my horn, and a trio of loud and excitable chaps spill from the building into my cab. They direct me to Legion Square—the server’s spawn point and unofficial central hub. They chat for a bit amongst themselves before turning to me.
“Do you like hunting, driver?” one of the men asks.
Patrick Klepek didn’t convince me to play Vampyr in his review for Waypoint, but he did make me consider it. I can see truth in the idea that only playing games at the top of the general critical consensus pile is limiting, but I’m also not interested in devoting time to a game that’s evidently deeply flawed. Fun combat is too important to me, even though I sort of wish it wasn’t.
Still, this B-game muddling is [what] makes recommending games like Vampyr such a hard sell. In a world where there are seemingly infinite good games to play, why spend time (and money) on something that’s clearly missing a few pieces? I’ve made my arguments for playing bad games in the past, but Vampyr isn’t a bad game. It’s much different: missed potential. Just because Vampyr doesn’t fully capitalize on its promise doesn’t mean there isn’t worth in getting what you can out of them. The obsession over a game being “perfect” is misguided, anyway; lots of games have only a handful of standout elements, but those may shine bright enough to make your investment worthwhile.
On Kotaku, Heather Alexandra argued (or rather showed) that queer characters in games don’t usually get to be happy. Her piece was prompted by the “kiss of death” many people suspect a moment in the Last of Us 2 trailer will turn out to be, as now do I.
Ellie seems to have found some of what she’s lost at the outset of The Last of Us Part II, based on the promotional materials released so far. She has found romance again, although it remains to be seen how that relationship will go. Given the series’ tone and track record, and considering the pile of queer corpses in media as a whole, I cannot imagine a scenario where she gets to keep what she has found.
On Game Design Aspect, Sande Chen took a look at research about how VR effects empathy. Turns out VR can be a powerful tool for getting people to empathise with others, though the relationship isn’t as simple as you might think.
In fact, in Archer’s research, the team found that too much familiarity in a subject led to less emotional impact. Oversaturation of refugee news stories resulted in less immersion in the VR setting. Those who weren’t familiar with the stories and said they were not really that interested in the topic had the most empathetic responses.
Music this week is still the Grateful Dead. This time it’s St. Stephen.