“You Ever Have That Feeling Where You’re Not Sure If You’re Awake or Still Dreaming?”

A Review of Woke Gaming: Digital Challenges to Oppression and Social Injustice

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Born from the ashes of Gamergate and the 2016 US election, Woke Gaming: Digital Challenges to Oppression and Social Injustice (2018) investigates video games from the lens of social justice, discrimination, and domination. Edited by Kishonna Gray and David Leonard and published by the University of Washington Press, Woke Gaming includes the work of scholars from a wide range of disciplines—game design, sociology, and criminal justice among others. Continue Reading

Agniq Suaŋŋaktuq and Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (Never Alone)

‘Cause Gaia likes it cold’

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Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (Never Alone) is a side-scrolling, cooperative adventure-puzzle game set in the Iñupiaq landscape amidst a blizzard. Players are placed into the northern setting as a young girl, Nuna, and an arctic fox. The duo embark on an adventure to solve the mystery of the destruction of Nuna’s village. The design of the game, as well as how players interact with it, demonstrates a fundamentally different understanding of, and relationship to, the natural world than most mainstream AAA games. The land is both a challenge to overcome, as well as a support system. Blizzard winds hinder movement, but they can also aid the characters cross large chasms. Bears may try to eat Nuna, but her trusty arctic fox companion helps players solve puzzles. Continue Reading

Spiritual Heritage

The Shared Spiritual Themes of Persona 5 and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

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Content Notification: References to sexual violence

After Persona 4 received widespread critical acclaim and built a large, passionate fanbase, Persona 5 (P5) became one of the most anticipated games during the many years it was in development. While the game was exceptional by conventional standards for game releases, the general consensus tended to be slightly underwhelming as a follow-up to one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved games of all time. Continue Reading

“We Must Be Better”

Hegemonic Masculinity and Dadification in God of War (2018)

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In an interview with Polygon, Cory Barlog, director of God of War (Sony Santa Monica 2018; hereafter GoW4), notes that the studio’s explicit goal is to address the underlying social implications of the franchise in order to “pull [Kratos] back from the brink” and make him “whole” (Plante, pars. 8 and 9). The interview’s headline says it all: “God of War’s director on toxic masculinity and why Kratos had to change.” Barlog attributes this impulse to redeem Kratos to his own experiences with fatherhood and a desire to prevent the continued dominance of problematic notions of masculinity: “This lesson that I hoped to pass on to [my son]: that the concepts of strength and emotional vulnerability and the ability to sort of be free to feel the range of emotions, that these are not two warring or diametrically opposed concepts” (qtd. in Plante, par. 7). Continue Reading

de Blob and the Fun in the Fight

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I’ve played through the first level of de Blob more than any other game, on any console, at any time during my gaming life. More than Mario, more than Zelda, more than Master Chief, this little impish orb with eyes has been my constant since I was first introduced to the game by my girlfriend (now wife) in 2012. I was instantly enamored with the 2008 cult hit’s simple, accessible mechanics (optimal for a casual gamer like me), bright colors, catchy music and ostensibly social justice-y plot. Continue Reading

Unforgotten Fantasies

Romantic Play within the Game Art of Angela Washko and Nina Freeman

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Within the last twenty years, the discussion around whether videogames are art has been in a state of rapid flux, with prominent debates focusing on topics of cultural legitimation and identifying relations to various historical avant-garde movements. Many of these conversations have relied on positioning videogames as a novel medium which needs to be both defined and defended, often in relation to other media forms with longer, established histories such as film and literature. As Aubrey Anable (2018) states, throughout much of gaming history a common assumption about what obstructed videogames from achieving the status of fine art was their apparent inability to “affect our feelings” with the recurring question as to whether or not they can make us cry (location 34). Continue Reading

“You Turned Left”

How Transistor Plays with Agency

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Indie developer Supergiant Games’ Transistor (2014) is a brooding yet beautiful cyberpunk-noir story that features Red, a woman struck mute by a shady elite organization, and her companion, the disembodied voice of a man emanating from a futuristic USB-drive-slash-broadsword.

Red’s muteness places her squarely in a long tradition of silent video game player characters who exist less as integral parts of their personal stories, and more as hollow interfaces for players to project their will into the game’s world and narrative. Continue Reading