Sundays are for whinging about your winter lurgy, and once again rounding up the best writing about video games from the past week. I’ll offset the whinging by quickly mentioning how I much I enjoy doing this: there are so many stupendously talented writers out there, and it always warms my heart when it turns out they appreciate being featured here. Even when all I do is pick out the parts I disagree with. Merry Christmas!
For SideQuest, Melissa Brinks waded into the goose discourse. The goosecourse takes no prisoners, but Brinks picks her way through it with aplomb.
Real violence — that is, violence that occurs in the real world, be that physical, emotional, or mental violence — causes harm to real people. Simulated violence — including the rampages of Postal and the mischief of Untitled Goose Game — does not. That isn’t to say that simulated violence has no consequences, but rather that there are degrees of harm, even as we accept that violence is violence regardless of whether it is emotional or physical, real or simulated. Untitled Goose Game is not, for example, a game about gaslighting a partner or other kinds of psychological torture. It’s not so much that there is an acceptable hierarchy of violence and Untitled Goose Game does not count because it is not sufficiently “bad” enough to warrant discussion, but rather that equating enjoying simulated mass murder with laughing at a boy falling over doesn’t do that discussion any justice. There is a clear difference between simulated murder (such as in Postal and Hatred) and being an asshole goose.
For Vice, Gabriel Soares wrote about how Civilisation reflects poorly-formed notions of historical progress. It’s not the first (or even the fifth) time I’ve seen the argument, but Soares adds some interesting historical detail. I do feel a bit torn: I’d rather live in a society where our assumptions about culture don’t produce games like Civ, but I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed conquering the world through the spread of Crabtholisicsm. They’re worth playing, but with your eyes open.
By comparison most current day European kinship systems are among the simplest ever observed, and that’s the point: complexity and simplicity is very much in the eye of the beholder. Unsurprisingly, strategy games tend to only engage with complexity when it can be converted into a military or economic trait, the rest is treated as irrelevant or merely aesthetic. The tendency, when looking at different populations, is to fixate on familiarities, either because something appears similar or because something supposedly essential is missing. Much of anthropology up until the midpoint of the last century could be crassly summarized in the question “how come all these people don’t have a State?”
Also for Vice, Cameron Kunzelman took stock of Disco Elysium’s ending. Appropriately for Elysium, I failed a vital check and didn’t get to see any of this.
And it is interesting to see this cryptid, which calls the experience of human memory “a kaleidoscope of fire and writing glass” and “eternal damnation,” here at the end of 2019. With dying oceans and accelerating destructive weather patterns and increased nationalism that cannot help but align itself with a division between the climate haves and have nots, the beauty of the natural world doesn’t seem to be the guarantor of perspective and potential that Disco Elysium or the pastoral painter want it to be. In fact, the beauty of the thinking thing beyond the human already feels like an artifact of a kind of aesthetic beauty that we can’t call on anymore. Our own almost-mythological creatures die in droves all the time. The most beautiful sunsets are pictures drawn by emissions interacting with weather patterns.[collapse]
For Eurogamer, Ewan Wilson argued for more spomeniks in videogames, which are both fascinating and fun to say aloud. I think Wilson’s onto something. Spomeniks.
After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, perceptions of spomeniks inevitably shifted. For some newly independent nations, the sculptures and what they represented were a painful reminder of the past. Over 3000 monuments were damaged or destroyed. This is the state of the spomenik today, in many cases abandoned, decayed, vandalised, stripped for parts and graffitied. In some ways this has only added to their allure. Video games in particular seem slightly obsessed with ruins and abandoned places – great for “environmental storytelling” or injecting a bit of historicity into something fundamentally fabricated.
For Wired, Louise Matsakis took a delightful look at the farmers who earn extra cash by streaming on the side. Some of them actually earn more through YouTube than their land, which is a frankly ridiculous. They’ve even started buying more viewer friendly livestock, as if they live in Stardew Valley or something.
YouTube is home to influencers from nearly every professional and cultural niche, from crystal healers to fast food connoisseurs, and farming is predictably no exception. In fact, agrarian content is growing: Creators uploaded 61 percent more farming-related videos to YouTube this year than the one before, and views on farming content are up 69 percent, according to Madeline Buxton, a culture and trends manager at the company. Buxton traveled to Nebraska last week to give a keynote presentation about the phenomenon at the annual Farmer2Farmer conference, an industry event put on by the Farmers Business Network.
Let’s finish 2019 with a festive look at what modesty is and why it’s important. Nicolas Bommarito’s Aeon essay should do the trick.
I hate telling people that I write about modesty. It’s not because of all the ‘Oh, are you the best scholar of modesty?’ jokes either. (Low-hanging fruit, but still classic humour.) It’s because modesty too often feels like a repressive, cranky killjoy that masquerades around as a ‘virtue’. But when it feels like something worth having, it becomes less like the old cover-yourself-up-and-keep-quiet kind, and more like a way of breaking out of the blinders that experiencing life in a self-regarding way can impose.
No wait, let’s end with the best philosopher, Nick Bostrom, telling us about how the world might end and how we might avoid it. Happy New Year!
Music this week is Lives Be Brave by The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra.