Sundays are for recovering from a Halloween party. Perhaps by reading the best writing about videogames from the past week.
Most writers for (ostensibly) sports website Deadspin quit on Wednesday, after its recently acquired buyers G/O Media insisted they “stick to sports” rather than write the kind of personal and political articles people liked them for. I’ve never been a reader, but the suppression of both silly and thoughtful articles for reasons that don’t even make business sense makes my blood run cold. The Guardian’s Jack Moore has a good rundown.
It is an absurd edict. The separation of sports from the real world is a pipe dream. How can you attend a publicly funded stadium filled with primarily white and rich fans watching teams filled with men of color from underprivileged backgrounds in the country with the widest income inequality gap in the world without seeing politics? As the GMG Union representing Deadspin employees succinctly put it in a statement Wednesday, “‘Stick to sports’ is and always has been a thinly veiled euphemism for ‘don’t speak truth to power.’”
For Kotaku (incidentally also owned by G/O Media), Riley MacLeod wrote about gaming without drinking. Or just living without drinking, really. Parts of this hit home.
After a few days, stop being a monster. Instead, become someone whom nothing will satisfy. Open up your Steam library, your Epic account, your Origin account, your Switch library, your PS4 home screen. Boot up Spelunky. Boot up The Witcher 3. Boot up Fortnite. Boot up Red Dead Redemption 2. Worry that you only enjoyed games, or anything else, because you were drunk. Remember that you have enjoyed games while not drunk. Remember that you have enjoyed anything while not drunk. Worry that you’ll never enjoy things again. Find out from sober people that this feeling is normal. Keep not drinking, even though it feels like it’s making everything worse.
Also for Kotaku, Heather Alexandra reviewed Death Stranding. She has confirmed all of my suspicions while simultaneously denying them. I will never play this videogame.
Death Stranding is also about throwing grenades made from your own piss and shit at ghosts. It is about hiking alone in the wilderness for hours. It is a tireless grind. It is a commentary on social media and the internet, delivered through the asynchronous interactions players can have with one another as they play. It is breathtaking in scope, consistently intelligent in design, and beautiful to behold. It is a heaping pile of pretentious nonsense. It is a game in which characters drop overwrought interpretations of Kōbō Abe quotes. Its most recurring visual motif is a not-so-subtle gesture towards Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. It progresses not with the quiet stroke of a pen but with the pounding crash of a hammer. “I brought you a metaphor,” one of the characters says late in the game. It is stupid, and obvious, and perfect.
For the Ringer, Ben Lindbergh spoke to various media types about the sometimes hot but often cold relationship between mainstream media and videogames. Hey, at least the BBC asks us to talk about Fortnite all the time. (Ta for linking this in last week’s comments, “kwyjibo”.)
In 2009, Warren left the Journal and cofounded a crowdfunded print and online literary magazine about video games called Kill Screen. The magazine was well-regarded — its reviews, Time Magazine sniffed, were “so smart and polished that they might help convince doubters that games are worth taking seriously” — but it stopped publishing after 2016. “The big learning was that the intersection between the ‘high-brow’ reader and the gaming website reader was not particularly large,” Warren says. “The criticisms Kill Screen faced from game readers was that we don’t focus enough on the games. The criticism from the high-brow reader was that we were too focused on the games. Pleasing both audiences is really difficult.”
Vice’s Patrick Klepek spoke to Steve Filby, who’s heading up a team splitting of from Motion Twin. Those are the Dead Cells devs, who work in a co-operative business structure where everyone gets paid the same. This new studio will not, because Filby reckons it won’t be able to grow if they stick to the same structure. This sounds like a shame, and not necessarily true, but it’s not like I’ve got any experience to go on.
Filby pointed towards the concept of “permanent battles,” where Motion Twin’s zero hierarchy model, in which bosses are made irrelevant and everyone has a voice in a creative decisions regardless of their expertise, as “a game of persuasion” and “really taxing.” He pointed towards moments, without specifics, where parts of the team would be “blindsided” when a decision that had once been a “yes” would become a “no” for “uncertain reasons.”
For The Washington Post, Ferris Jabr did a big ol’ investigation into the nature of videogame addiction. It’s a long tour that lands somewhere as close to definite as we can reasonably get, while acknowledging that kind of framing is a bit silly.
And while addiction was once regarded as a kind of vice or chemical thrall — and in more recent decades has been framed as dysfunctional neural circuitry — there is now a substantial body of research contextualizing addiction as a consequence of social isolation. People who are deprived of a dependable social network, or who have severe difficulty connecting with others, have a much higher risk of both developing an addiction and relapsing. Addiction itself can drastically magnify loneliness.
For her blog, Kimimi enlightened me about the wondrous horrors of the original Tomb Raider. I’m mystified that I’ve gone this long without finding out about the Atlantean flesh cave.
As surprises go this unusual take’s a very effective one – nobody really expects a game that pits players against relatively mundane threats like gorillas, angular lava, and a functional statue of King Midas to suddenly assault them with SKINLESS ATLANTEAN MONSTERS IN A CAVE MADE OF FLESH, and yet that’s exactly how Tomb Raider’s climactic final areas play out.
Music this week is The Ramblin’ Rover by Siobhan Miller.