Sundays are for continuing to continue staying at home. Here’s the best writing about videogames from the past week.
For PC Gamer, Luke Winkie spoke to a dad who quit his job to run a Minecraft server for autistic children. I teared up a little, and that is rare.
“When you first join in there will be 30 people who welcome you and offer to give you a tour. They’ll show up and start giving you stuff,” says Duncan. “You’ll see in chat ‘hey mom, come build this with me.’ Somebody will say ‘I’m such an idiot’ and everyone will say ‘don’t say that, you’re not an idiot.’ It’s because all these kids have been bullied everywhere they go. They all know what each other feels like. So when they’re there they’re so positive and so supportive.”
For Unwinnable, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell applied Ursula Le Guin’s carrier bag theory of fiction to videogames, arguing that, in theory, we don’t need to talk about every game in terms of “the hero’s journey”. This is one of those discussions where I can nod sagely and appreciate every point being made, while also knowing I relish videogames that let me whack things with big heroic swords.
The other critical factor is that Pathologic doesn’t wait for you. You are not the narrative’s propulsive force, dragging a chain of events behind you, but a single cell churning through the body of a town that changes, day to day, without your permission or awareness. Understanding that body as it sprouts, bleeds and decays requires curiosity, patience and a sensitivity to the resonances between people and possibilities, rather than the mere drive to overcome. You must become not a conqueror but a “weaver,” in the words of narrative designer Alexandra Golubeva, tracing buried lines and helping to bind the whole together as it lurches towards the sunset. “In a way, the protagonist collects what was scattered.”
For Vice, Cameron Kunzelman looked at how videogames portray governments that exert power during crisis, and asked how we feel about our own. It’s a very good question to be asking, and works nicely with the piece above.
The failure of Dishonored is that it gets stuck in the heroic stories that I mentioned at the start of this piece. There’s no Corvo in the real world. No heroic mystical libertarian is going to change the world for us. The masses that we see, the plague-addled and the quarantined and the working class, are not thought of as a people, as a collective, but instead just a lot of individuals. And when Dishonored suggests that the boot on a human face forever is part of a cycle of control, there’s no room for people to make themselves known and then craft a radical world in the image of community. In other words, the game shows us the end game of authoritarian plague management, but it doesn’t show us any possible response.
For The New Yorker, Simon Parkin wrote about how Animal Crossing can bring people together during a pandemic. Plenty of people have written similar pieces, but this one gave me the best idea of what you actually do in the weird animal game I’ll never play.
The result, all the more likely if you’re trapped at home, is that the game becomes a fixture in your daily routine. Each morning, you might tour the island, dig up the handful of fossils that have surfaced overnight, pluck some fruit to sell at market, browse items in the village shop, and check in with your neighbors. The game’s overarching objectives — weeding, bridge-building, the organization of a pop concert — aren’t urgent, and wasps that chase you are the only villains. The game’s demands are rarely overwhelming. It’s merely life, lived somewhere else.
For Unwinnable, David Shimomura described the faults of Doom Eternal via extended baked potato analogy. I’ve seen this criticism pop up a fair bit, and I get where they’re coming from. I thoroughly enjoyed drowning in Eternal’s toppings, though, and think it’s a better game for them.
But it’s been hard to find any enjoyment in all of this. Where Doom 2016 felt like a svelte, lithe antelope bounding across the hellish terrain of Mars, Doom Eternal feels like subtraction by addition. It’s heavy, dense, a layer cake of systems on top of systems on top of systems. Instead of cohesion it produces cacophony.
For Ars Technica, Jennifer Ouellette dug into the BBC’s 1957 April Fool’s spaghetti tree hoax. What delicious trickery.
Peacock hadn’t told his superiors at the BBC that the prank segment was going to air, lest they nix the idea. So the public broadcaster was not prepared for the immediate flood of calls from viewers. Some caught on to the joke, but according to the BBC’s Leonard Miall, “Mainly the calls were requests for the BBC to settle family arguments: the husband knew it must be true that spaghetti grew on a bush because Richard Dimbleby had said so, and the wife knew it was made with flour and water, but neither could convince the other.” A few wanted to know where they could get their own spaghetti tree. BBC operators were told to respond, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Music this week is Flashlight by The Amazing.