The Sunday Papers
Sundays are for... watching the world cup? Is there a world cup thing? There's bound to be a world cup thing. If not, at least there's writing about video games.
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, who sometimes writes words for us, wrote some words for Eurogamer about Ubisoft's attempts to sweep Tom Clancy's politics under the rug by doing their best to avoid talking about them. Thirlwell argues that equates to an endorsement, to "politics by stealth" - and he's not wrong. It's an attempt to be anodyne that, in modern-day America, I can only hope is doomed to fail - so long as people pay attention to articles like this one.
But perhaps the bigger problem with Clancy is that all we have left is his shell. Decades after Ubisoft acquired the rights to his name, the publisher and its imitators have buried the author so handily that the views that animate his fictions now slip by uninterrogated. While Clancy the man was outspoken about the political dimensions of his work, Clancy as a brand is terrified of taking a public stand on anything, even as the games themselves deal freely in the policing of rogue states and the trampling of due process in the name of the greater good. The Division franchise is an especially obstinate example of this. It poses an America saved by its citizens, "ordinary people" rising up by presidential decree to battle tyrannous feds and sociopathic have-nots.
Also on Eurogamer, Sam Greer wrote an appropriately short piece on how Minit illustrates that games don't need to be big to be good. I think I'm not quite as beset by open-world ennui, but I do recognise that mindset where quests become tasks to tick off rather than interesting in their own right. Also, this is objectively the best headline this week. And I really should play Minit.
Some games are so big, and yet we engage with such a small percentage of their space in a meaningful way. When time isn't an obstacle, why not have miles and miles of samey fields? "More is better" is such a common characteristic of big budget titles and the result is big spaces, filled with repetitive content and scarcely anything memorable. Our interactions with so many gaming worlds is passive. Even when they're pretty enough to make us stop and snap a screenshot we're still not learning them or unravelling them. They just want to get us to the next item on a checklist.
For PC Gamer, Gareth Damien Martin explored the origins of Cyberpunk 2077, and how the genre is far from straight up dystopian. The most interesting turn comes near the end, where Martin talks about the parallels and lack thereof between cyberpunk and reality.
The idea of still using technology, but remaining separate, apart from corporate exploitation is a pipedream, and for most of us, an impossible-to-achieve goal. Meanwhile, our counter-cultures have been absorbed by corporations, making it difficult to self-define as a punk when Silicon Valley tech firms talk endlessly about “radical” concepts and “disruption” and Iggy Pop tries to sell us car insurance. But when we look to cyberpunk worlds we see an escape, we see the empowering nature of a just struggle.
On Kotaku, Keza McDonald told the fabulous story of a mortifying encounter she had with a gaming celebrity. It involves a VR horror game, which I now dearly want to play - though maybe not in public.
By this point I was frequently flicking my eyes downward toward the little gap between my Oculus headset and the floor. I was reminding myself that the real world was still there. When I get nervous, I get chatty. “I’m not sure I like this,” I said to the woman who had helped me put my headset on, hoping that she was still there. “Do I want to go in the kitchen? I’m not getting great vibes from the kitchen.”
On GamesIndustry.biz, Rob Fahey wrote about why figures in the games industry should put down their pitchforks in response to the World Health Organisation's adoption of "gaming disorder" as part of their most recent diagnostic criteria. I remember doing a lot of 'hmmming' at all the problems with categorising behaviour as 'abnormal' in a philosophy of medicine module when I was studying, but ultimately agreeing that the term can be useful. Fahey emphasises how the diagnosis would only apply to behaviour that most people would regard as unhealthy - myself included. The whole concept of 'unhealthy behaviour' is fraught with subjectivity, but I'm still comfortable with pointing at extremes and going 'yeah something's gone wrong there'.
Worst of all is the public image damage done by presenting the industry as being stubbornly set on butting heads with the WHO, based on arguments that stem from what feels like a rather wilful ignorance of the clarity and precision of the disorder's definition. Having your industry's negative externalities pointed out by a high profile international health body may sting, but setting yourself up in the public eye as an uncooperative enemy of that body is like responding to the sting by amputating a limb.
Aubrey Hesselgren wrote a neat little thread about treating first-person perspective as a window into a character's perception and situational awareness rather than a simulation of an eyeball.
Music this week is Rock Paper Scissors by Katzenjammer.