Remembering Katamari Damacy

YouTube era nostalgia and memories of childhood play in Keita Takahashi’s cultural critique

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The last time a work of art made me cry was at a local screening of My Neighbour Totoro. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a film that captured what playing pretend as a child felt like, befriending magical creatures that live separately from the world of adulthood.

The credits rolled, and a little girl sitting in front of me asked her mother in amazement, “Mommy, is Totoro real?” and I was a sappy, sobbing mess.

In games, such overwhelming, positive experiences often come from the resolution of an epic story, or completion of a difficult final boss. Think to the moment in which we complete a difficult final boss, with quivering hands and your heart in your throat as you land the final strike. Continue Reading

Darkmoon Tomb

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For me, being trans is a lifelong experience. My childhood and adolescent memories are coated in a thick layer of sadness. Something that was invisible and omnipresent. Because I didn’t have the language to understand myself, and that language was the subject of high scrutiny. Constantly marked with the label of “impolite conversation,” keeping it, seemingly, forever out of reach for a kid like myself. I had to learn to cope with dysphoria without knowing what it was. It was a lot like being trapped in the dark. I can tell when I’ve tripped, hurt myself on a cave wall or stray rock. But I can’t ever see the things that cause that pain. Continue Reading

World of Warcraft and Getting out into the World

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During the summer break of 2010, back when I was a 13-year-old student about to start his first year in high school, I decided to start playing World of Warcraft. I had no prior experience with a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) nor even the basic knowledge to understand the lore of the game. I chose to play in the Horde only because the idea of creating my own Orc seemed tempting, as they were bound to become fearsome warriors or living shields that would protect allies from danger. Continue Reading

The Therapy and Anxiety I Recognized in Celeste

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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

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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

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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

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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