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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for playing board games with old uni friends, at your old uni. Or for reading about video games. Thems your choices.

Blogger "problemmachine" wrote a short piece that questions whether every story needs conflict. I'm fascinated by it, because I think they're wrong but can't help but wonder if that's based on an assumption I'm unaware of because it's baked into me so deeply. Every story has to be about an attempt to overcome an obstacle, doesn't it? What's more interesting about not seeing that struggle through the lens of conflict? What would it mean to actually look at events through a different lens? It's one thing to say they can exist, but another to give me an example of a conflict-less story I'd value being told.

There are lots of stories! Stories of love and loss, of the unreliability of memory and the temptations of imagination and of hurt and exploration. It’s impoverished to regard these as a conflict between Man and Time or Man and Death. What sort of conflict is that? We are not in conflict with gravity or with the ground, we are suspended between them. Even if we fall, our death is not conflict with the ground. Things happen that don’t fit this conflict model, and they frequently make interesting stories anyway. It’s a bit terrifying that we’ve been able to tell the line that stories are based in conflict as a generally uncontested bit of storytelling advice for so long – that, itself, tells a story: It’s like science fiction, a culture that can only understand the world through fights.

Natalie Flores wrote about the problematic presentation of a Latino character in the Cyberpunk 2077 E3 demo, who inserts Spanish words into "what feels like practically every other sentence". It's disappointing, and I can only echo Flores' hope that CD Project address the issue.

The truth is that visibility isn’t important when the representation itself is poor because marginalized people — as redundant as this might sound to say, but we keep having to repeatedly assert this — are real people, and we deserve more than crumbs of representation. Representation isn’t necessarily good representation, and when that representation feels like it harms the people it’s supposed to represent more than it does them and their identities justice, can we be happy about such representation at all?

On Waypoint, Cameron Kunzelman reflected on whether buying more games than you'll ever have time for in Steam sales is actually a good idea. I liked his point about how the sale feels more wholesome for its lack of trading card guff.

The old Twitter koan about there being no ethical consumption under capitalism rings out here. Žižek emits a shriek that we should not try to imagine capitalism with a human face, by which he means that there is no possible way for any of this buying and selling should feel good or be valorized in any way. And yet when I head over to the Summer Sale, I can alter what I’m doing a little bit. I can still accrue more games than I can play, but the platform isn’t looping me into a massive ecology of consumption, card generation, and profit extraction.

On Motherboard, Samantha Cole interviewed Bonnie Ruberg about her research studying how sex workers are presented in video games. My first reaction whenever I hear a game lets you pay a sex worker is usually 'oh no', but Ruberg argues that including sex workers in games shouldn't be a problem in and of itself. I'm still conflicted, because while I agree that viewing sex work as "fundamentally exploitation" is wrong, I'm not sure that enough players are equipped for its inclusion in most video game contexts to not just deepen existing prejudices... though total exclusion doesn't seem like it would help anyone either. It's a tricky one.

I was really struck by how often, when sex workers appear in AAA games, they almost always offer to give their services to the player-characters for free or at a discount. If you watch the Feminist Frequency "Women as Background Decorations" videos, one clip after another shows women sex workers telling the player-character that they're so attractive they don't have to pay for sex or they can get a special reduced price. That's not something I had seen any one else address in depth when it comes to sex workers in video games — how problematic it is that these sex worker characters are always telling player-characters that they're so exceptional they're willing to devalue their own labor.

Rosh Kelly wrote about what Cultist Simulator did to his brain. It did this a bit to my brain too, but I'm not sure I'd connect its compulsiveness to a need to feel special. I'm still not sure what I'd connect it to though, so you may as well listen to Kelly.

And with that the madness behind the cultists doesn’t feel so alien. The all-consuming nature of their study becomes almost sympathetic. Cultist Simulator is not just a game, but a thought exercise. Before playing it might seem impossible to lose everything in the pursuit of knowledge, but there is something inside us all, something old and self-destructive that can be activated under the right, or wrong circumstances. Cultist Simulator uses the human condition to find patterns and solve problems, the need to feel special and our desire to understand what it all means to destroy ourselves.

On Kotaku, Maddy Myers delved into the world of esport training houses. She spoke to both the young 'uns who live in them and the parental figures that run them, and oooooh boy do these places sound unpleasant. If I ever catch myself contemplating what life would be like as a pro Dota player, I'll be sure to read this again and snap myself out of it.

Yoo’s bedroom is the only one with a fully stocked liquor cabinet. “That,” Tran says, gesturing towards the bottles, “is how you make it four months with four days off.” Yoo, for his part, joked that whenever he’s had a drink in the past, he has “walked it off” whenever any of the pro gamers comes to his room in the middle of the night to tell him they had a nightmare.

PC Gamer's Andy Kelly went on a tour of surreal high street shops in The Crew 2. I chuckled out loud, twice.

Music this week is definitely something by the Grateful Dead, because I've hardly listened to anything else. This version of China Cat Sunflower is real good.

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