“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

Playing Dead

Queerness, Photography and Video Games

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As early as I can remember, there is a Buddhist shrine carved out of redwood (metasequoia) placed right in front of the entrance door of my family home. As you leave and come home every day, it is the first and last thing you see. On it are three levels; the top level is Guanyin, the bodhisattva that protects peace and tranquility. In the middle are photographic portraits of my ancestors, and on the bottom level is Dizhu Gong, the protector of travel and the land. Continue Reading

Life After an El Presidente

Tropico through a Post-Colonial, Post-Martial Law Lens

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Content Notification: references to torture, sexual violence

“Satire does not work in the Philippines because this country is the theater for the absurd.” – Carljoe Javier, author

I thought about that one cold November night, looking down at a crowd of students wearing black, standing right next to the major road outside our school. The nightly Manila traffic beeped their horns as they passed by, seeing the signs that said “busina para sa hustisya” or “honk for justice”. In the distance, I could see police cars stuck in traffic on approach to the rallying site Continue Reading

VA-11 HALL-A

Queer Spaces and Drug-dream Fantasy

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I first played VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla, like the Norse hall of gods) the day it released while I was living in an indoor patio used to house dog kennels. I only had a mattress to my name and ate instant noodles just to survive. Such is the life that VA-11 HALL-A’s protagonist, Jill, lives in her pursuit to pay rent by the end of the month during a financial crisis plaguing Glitch City. This title is as much about escapist-fantasy as it is about survival all while trying to maintain a positive outlook on life. It’s a bittersweet title that wastes no time strapping its player into a queer world of cyberpunk nostalgia, winding conversations about life, and flirtatious drink-mixing. VA-11 HALL-A is preoccupied with the question of what does capitalism ultimately give us, and what do we receive in exchange for not just our physical labor, but our emotional labor, too. Continue Reading