The Therapy and Anxiety I Recognized in Celeste

Stanley Cover

It’s early morning, and I’m trapped by an unlocked door, the front entrance to my home, during a year I’d rather forget. Through the window, a breeze rustles trees heavy with leaves so green and vibrant it pains me to stare at them for too long. They stood bare the last time I stepped outside.

This thought lodges a gag of shame in my throat as I slip on a pair of worn tennis shoes and convince myself that a stroll around the neighborhood is something I do all the time, a decision made in impulse and not in agony. It’s only a door, just a door, I repeat. My anxiety – no, let’s be honest, my full-blown agoraphobia at this point – would not get the better of me today. Continue Reading

The Problem with Transactional Sex in Open-World Games

Pane Cover

Sex in video games has come a long way. Comparing the groan-inducing humor of Leisure Suit Larry or the meta-goofiness of Tomb Raider II to the more nuanced romance in modern games like Dream Daddy, Cibele, or To the Moon is inherently difficult because the former treats love like a joke and the later actually explores the pratfalls of intimacy. As games have increased in complexity—both aesthetically and in raw processing power—some have begun tackling sex with the same seriousness you’d expect from a high-brow novel or movie. But unfortunately, most games sink to the level of sexual discourse we see so often in popular culture where men feel entitled to women’s bodies. Continue Reading

Confessions of a Brutal Gamer

Blackman Cover

How should I grapple with being both a fan and a critic? It feels like an impossible task to fully separate my personal pleasures from the wider power structures and ideologies found in video games I enjoy. Amanda Phillips suggests “getting beyond fun” as “an affective position with radical potential” (Phillips, 2018a, p. 118; see also Ruberg 2015). Continue Reading

Room to Reflect

Video Games, Meritocracy, and Toxicity

Paul Cover

Content Notification: online harassment/abuse

When I wrote my new book, The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture Is the Worst, I knew that I would be poking at a soft spot and would get a response. The title alone is designed to provoke and the content within it encourages readers to consider a variety of issues related to game culture, meritocracy, and structural privilege. All of these things get a reaction from people, but the primary argument I want to advance in this essay is the need for all of us to reflect on game culture, game studies, and on how the choices we make reproduce the defensiveness that is so readily seen in discussions around video games. Continue Reading

The Strength of Heart Required to Face Oneself

Persona and Recovery

Saucerman Cover

Content warning for illness, anxiety, and surgery.

It’s hard to know what exactly you should do the hour after you’ve been diagnosed with kidney cancer. I was in that awkward time between the shock and terror of receiving the initial diagnosis and reaching out to my friends and family for support; it was still too soon for me to tell anyone about it. Once my dad and I got into the car and started the long journey back to his house through the city, I stared outside at all the people going about their lives, perhaps walking from one class to another or running a little late to lunch, and craved that sort of normalcy. For me, that meant gaming. So I asked my dad to take me to Gamestop. Continue Reading

A Pace of Walking

Silent Hill, Trauma, and Mapping

Schwager Cover

It occurs to me that some video games might have a “soul” or a thesis kept out of sight, locked away from interactive or procedural elements. And to access this soul one might have to look at these story elements not as a whole but working in their constituent parts.

Think about the painting, Conscience, Judas by Nikolai Ge, that depicts Judas in a moment swiftly following Christ’s arrest. Continue Reading

Like Clockwork

Working Through Depression in Shovel Knight’s Clockwork Tower

Lombardo Cover

At the start of each of Shovel Knight’s nine main levels, the game’s eponymous hero springs in from off-screen and lands on his feet, shovel held aloft, as if to challenge the enemies that await. In all but one of those levels, there seems to be a world outside the one he’s about to explore—a ledge that continues back beyond the edge of the screen, or a pathway that has begun to morph into the cliffs and valleys of the upcoming stage. Continue Reading