The Sunday Papers
Sundays are for reading stuff you apparently don't have the energy to during the week. I've got Ursula Le Guin in one hand, and the best recent writing about video games in the other.
Neima Jahromi took a colossal dive into Magic The Gathering for The New Yorker. His piece spans the game's D&D inspired origins to the money-hoovering beast it's become, and how its card design has oscillated between the diverse, the inclusive and the objectionable. They've now arrived at a good place, it seems.
The company went through more philosophical growing pains after Sanders, Adkison, and Garfield trickled out over the next decade. In 1998, Wizards’ marketing eschewed “broad appeal” and narrowed its focus to “established gamers.” To a degree, the old ideals still held. An artist’s style guide, posted in 2005, included a general plea for diversity and an admonition that though “beautiful women” could, of course, be painted, they must be “kicking ass. No damsels in distress. No ridiculously exaggerated breasts.” Nevertheless, it also made clear what was meant by established gamers: “Remember, your audience is BOYS 14 and up."
At Waypoint, Rob Zacny explains why he hates his video game boss in F1 2018. Jeff is indeed a prick.
Fake email and social media have become standard features in sports game career modes, the former being used to simulate the workaday aspects of your fantasy and the latter being used to simulate a fraction of the attention and pestering that goes with being a famous athlete. For the most part these little touches of real-world grounding are pretty shallow and easily ignored… but occasionally they get under your skin and make you appreciate the ways in which even a job as a highly-paid athlete is still just that: a job.
I don't think I'm going to get a chance to visit the Design/Play/ Disrupt exhibition in London, which is a shame because Keza Mcdonalad has made me really want to.
Usually discourse around games focuses so intensely on the products themselves that players rarely get to peek behind the curtain of video game development to see who created them, how and why. Far from puncturing the magic, seeing a spreadsheet breaking down Journey’s eight stages by mood, colour palette and the intended effect upon the player only enhances appreciation of the work, for those who’ve played it.
Vladimir Slav has been asking everyone who tries to scam free game keys of off him why they do that. The translation from Russian is a little rough, but it's still fascinating to see scammers speak candidly about their practices.
Another thing is that the digital key has no price, since you can generate it for free. That’s why it does not seem like such a horrible thing. You sell the key, the game gets new audience. The only thing is that you, developers, are not going to get a percentage, which makes it mostly your problem.
Jordan Erica Webber wrote about UK game communities based outside of London. I already knew about Feral Vector, but I didn't know it was as wild as this.
Typical Feral Vector activities include making games and controllers out of cardboard, walking through the woods, and LARPing (live-action roleplaying) as businesspeople in some kind of post-apocalypse. “We make video game developers go outside,” said David, “And they’re starting to figure out that even in the context of a games event, it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”
Over at cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer, Tyler Wilde interviewed Matthew Mercer and Taliesin Jaffe about what went down recently on Critical Role. I've flirted with D&D, but always find myself wishing I could get as invested in it as these chaps. I wind up acting as myself rather than 'Herk Dently, the absent-minded mystic detective'.
It's appropriate that one of Mercer's favorite videogames of late is Darkest Dungeon, a merciless adventure which is pleased to eviscerate your best-trained fighters. But how often in a videogame to you get to witness your friends say a few words over your corpse, or come back in a new form to find them mourning you? Permadeath in videogames typically means that a party character—someone you wouldn't consider 'yourself,' such as an XCOM soldier—has died, or that the game is over and you've got to restart. It can be a big deal, but I've yet to play a digital game in which death is as consequential as it can be in a tabletop roleplaying session.
PC Gamer have also published this year's edition of their top 100 games, which is at least 73% accurate.
Merely looking at Emily Short's "Incomplete List of Things I’d Need to Know In Order Not to Be A Total Impostor" is exhausting. But also fun.
The best thing I learnt this week: there are people that paint secret pictures on books that you can only see if you hold them at the right angle.
Music this week is Wolf by First Aid Kit.