Sundays are for continuing to stay inside. Here’s the best writing about videogames from the past week.
In a remarkable piece for Vice, Jess Morrissette laid out the toxicity-endorsing marketing practices of companies in the early 2000s. The headline is a little overstated, seen as Morrissette does recognise the mutually reinforcing relationship between players who brought toxicity and the companies who capitalised on it.
These ads, along with others from the era, point us toward an uncomfortable truth: Companies like Microsoft and Sony frequently marketed toxicity as a key selling point for their new online gaming platforms. This is a puzzling strategy from the vantage point of 2020, a time when toxicity is practically synonymous with online gaming and too often spills over into real-world harassment. Perhaps these campaigns were eerily prescient in anticipating the downward spiral of gaming culture. Or maybe these edgy advertisements modeled the exact brand of toxicity that the same companies are now struggling to curb.
For The Verge, Ewan Wilson analysed depictions of post-soviet environments in videogames. The highlight is his chat with the developer of It’s Winter, who does not understand why people like his game.
While the It’s Winter store page talks about how there’s “no room for adventures and breathtaking plot,” players seemed to be engaged just by exploring the austere environment and were pulled in by the somber mood and atmosphere. Ignatov tells me that he finds it difficult to think of the game as being attractive to anyone. “Russian players were very focused on the game’s flaws, and often commented that it was too similar to reality — why pay for the game when you can just look out of the window? — which made it feel repulsive. For Eastern European expatriates, perhaps the game was nostalgic, but it’s difficult for me to imagine what attracted other non-Russian players other than exoticism.”
For his blog, Spelunky developer Derek Yu outlined two big traps people fall into when they try to make a videogame. There is a lot of clear, succinct advice here, and it’s still interesting to read as someone who has no intention of ever making one.
The Loop of Restarting is a danger in any long-term creative project, but games, as a complex mix of traditional arts and software engineering, are particularly at risk for it. The longer a project goes on, the more you will learn and mature, and consequently, the worse the temptations will become. Over the many months and years that a game takes to make, new tools will also come out that will tempt you to switch over, with the tantalizing promise that, after some initial rejiggering, your productivity will soar. New games will release during your development, too, adding extra pressure to “keep up” and stay competitive.
The problem is that these temptations never go away.
For EGM, Phillip Moyer spoke to the developer of Petscop about his… creation. It’s interesting, but I do think you could argue that talking directly to someone who uses Lynchian YouTube videos to tell surreal, bleak and novel stories undermines the mystery they’re trying to create. It’s a weird interview that has you wishing the interviewee would say less.
Something like Petscop couldn’t really have existed at any previous point in time. It’s a series of videos that, at first, appear to be just amateurish uploads of footage from an unreleased video game, complete with halting, unpracticed voiceovers by the player. It’s the kind of thing you might stumble across during a deep dive into YouTube, among the thousands of Let’s Plays and game analyses that get uploaded on a daily basis.
However, it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something different about Petscop, and over the course of its 24 videos, it slowly turns into a surreal, haunting, and often unnerving journey, filled with themes of abuse, trauma, and obsession.
For Bullet Points, Amanda Hudgins explained why Kentucky Route Zero is wrong, actually. (But also why it is good.) Watch out for spoilers in the last few paras.
Pastoral literature is a movement to ascribe a kind of rose-tinted glow to the life of shepherds tending their flock, the natural world, and this bucolic, idyllic sort of place where the folks are down to earth and the living is simpler. What also defines pastoral literature is that it isn’t written by shepherds. No matter how much Marlowe cries for his shepherds’ love, he still lived in London. During one of my first copy-editing jobs, I had to edit an article about Kentucky Route Zero. The writer had written that Kentucky was a land free of strip malls. I think about this everytime I pass a strip mall.
For Aeon, historian Erika Harlitz-Kern highlighted the antisemitism of medieval owl depictions.
Befitting the agenda of the medieval Church, the owl was the perfect animal to represent the Jews. According to the Church, no other group turned away from Christ more decisively than them. Anyone who was not with Christ was with the Devil, and consequently evil. Evil dwells in darkness and is unclean, just like the owl. The owl surrounded by the attacking birds is the Jew surrounded by Christians vanquishing evil. In short, what we see when we look at the scene on the seat of the misericord in Norwich Cathedral is an example of medieval antisemitism.
Music this week is Sedi Donka by The Trials Of Cato.