Sundays are for staring boldly into 2019, grabbing it by the horns, vowing to seize each of its 365 days, then taking a nap instead. But not before you read the best writing about videogames from the past week. I'm including some stuff from when I was on holiday, too, and there's nothing you can do about it.
At Waypoint, Cameron Kunzelman discussed the limits of time-travel within Kingdom Hearts II. It's not physics or paradoxes - it's Disney's grip on its intellectual property rights.
Sora and Goofy shout him down. They grab his arms and drag him to the portal to take him back home, open the door, and bodily toss him through it. They smile and play it for laughs, like he’s the most ridiculous person who ever existed for wanting to dive into the primordial ooze that produced him in order to create something more to his liking. The game can’t help but play it for laughs because to play it as anything else, and god forbid if you played it straight, it would be too disturbing. Whatever Donald wants to do here in the past is literally unspeakable and unknowable for the plot of Kingdom Hearts II. Any kind of tampering with the source code of the Disney enterprise is strictly off-limits.
At Eurogamer, Christian Donlan explained why he regards an illustrated book called Home as a game. It's an interesting perspective, and leads to a great point about how part of every game concerns unravelling its meaning.
Pages later, however, we learn that some people live in palaces, or underground lairs. Some people live in shoes or on the moon. Each illustration is delicate, detailed, and wonderfully, organically strange. This is a peculiarly unforced kind of strangeness: of course a Japanese businessman lives in a sort of geometrical papercraft rock with a chimney poking out of the top. Of course he shares the double-page spread with a Norse god and his wooden church. This is that kind of imagination that has a sense of certainty to it - its fancies do not feel like fancies at all. They feel like clear-eyed reports from another world that has its own rules and its own rigour.
Also at Eurogamer, Emma Kent looked back at the surge of fan creativity surrounding Bowsette. She reckons that the internet's habit of drawing sexy female versions of video game turtles can only explain so much, and that it was partly driven by a desire to subvert Nintendo's family-friendly branding. I reckon she's right, though we should never underestimate the internet's urge to draw sexy versions of video game turtles just for the sake of it.
The company is defined by its family-friendly image: and the Mario series is truly the face of this brand of childish innocence. Just remember the reception to Stormy Daniels' comparison of Trump's penis to "the mushroom character from Mario Kart". Plenty of disgust, but also unbridled joy that someone had inadvertently trampled all over Nintendo's years of careful marketing, quite horribly, on the largest stage in the world. Another iconic moment of 2018.
What does your favourite game of 2018 say about you? A tricky question, but fortunately "Skeleton" has come up with the definite answers. If you liked Monster Hunter then I'm sorry, but truth must be heard.
You’re the type of person who’s just got so much time: you don’t know how to spend it and I wont tell you a better way. You’ve got many distant relatives and people that want to be you, most of them highschoolers with large collections of swords, but nobody really comes close. Tons of people want to spend time with you, but the initial experience is too daunting for them even when you do your best to seem approachable.
Somewhere is a dating profile and your favorite activities are all hiking and outdoors related. You also probably call yourself “down to earth” and flinch whenever your friends make fun of that phrase.
I enjoyed Nicholas Lund's coverage of Red Dead Redemption 2 from the perspective of a birder. I'm also now very cross at every person I've met in my life so far, who have all failed to inform me there is a type of bird called a booby.
Of course, unregulated hunting was a major, very real threat to birds at the time. The demand for egret plumes for fancy hats was driving several species toward extinction. (Snowy Egret plumes can be sold in-game for $2.50 apiece.) Habitat loss and overhunting contributed to the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet soon after the game’s timeframe, in the early 20th century. (Carolina Parakeet flight feathers can be used to make far-flying arrows in the game.) The type of wanton destruction encouraged in Red Dead Redemption 2 is what led the National Audubon Society to lobby for, and Congress to pass, the real Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, and other environmental legislation in the following decades. But in the game, the player must kill to progress.
I do like Aeon, even if many of their articles are soporifically long. Ross Andersen spent a week with high-flying Oxford philosophers, paying particular attention to Nick Bostrom, who is my longtime fave. His piece covers the risks and possibilities of AI superintelligence, the great filter explanation for the Fermi paradox, and our moral obligations to future humans. It's hard to feel sleepy through all that.
If Curiosity spots a vertebrate fossil embedded in Martian rock, it would mean that a Cambrian explosion occurred twice in the same solar system. It would give us reason to suspect that nature is very good at knitting atoms into complex animal life, but very bad at nurturing star-hopping civilisations. It would make it less likely that humans have already slipped through the trap whose jaws keep our skies lifeless. It would be an omen.
Quintin Smith of Shut Up and Sit Down, a site whose videos I mysteriously never link to*, forms one-third of this panel sending a heartfelt farewell to Netrunner. The best bit is near the end, where members of the audience share their favourite stories.
Music this week is Country Joy by The Moulettes.
*I've no idea why. I'll start.