Against Timelines

The Legend of Zelda as Variations on a Theme

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The chronology of The Legend of Zelda series is a source of great debate among fans, who have created several potential timelines, most involving three divergent realities in their convoluted attempt to incorporate every game. Even articles that discuss the timeline logistics in earnest acknowledge how absurd the undertaking is (Jackson 2017). Nintendo developed each game without planning an inclusive timeline, yet this fervent fan speculation prompted Nintendo to release a “definitive” timeline in the 2011 collector’s book Hyrule Historia (Aonuma et al.). The fact that the most recent release in the Zelda series – 2017’s Breath of the Wild – has no evident place in these timelines draws renewed attention to their inadequacy. 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

What the Final Girl Sees

Gender Psychology and Slasher Tropes in the Deception Series

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Content warning for discussions of sexualized violence.

Outside a small handful of reviews with each new release, little attention has been paid to the Deception (Tecmo, 1996-2015) series. This is in spite of the critical depth a close reading of these games can afford. In an industry that has consistently struggled with representing women, all but the first Deception game see female protagonists driving the narrative (Zorrilla 2011, Van Name 2013, Statt 2016). And during a time when commercial games like Resident Evil (Capcom 1996), Alone in the Dark (Infogrames 1992), and Clock Tower (Human Entertainment 1995) looked to film for their exploration of horror (Edge 2010, par. 5; Rasa, 2017), the Deception games looked to slasher films and offered players a world in which they both actively perpetrate violence and avoid such threats themselves. 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

Book Review: The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games

Why Gaming Culture is the Worst

Paul Cover

Reviewing The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games presented a bit of a meta problem for me. Once I finished the introduction, a thought popped into my head and refused to leave. I had been asked to evaluate on its merits, including the skill of the author, a book that is about the toxicity of games that “valorize skill and technique” (back cover copy). One of the major points of the book is that meritocracy is a flawed concept. Identifying meritocracy as a system in which skill is measured and outcomes tracked, with a mixture of talent and hard work rewarded, the author states that “meritocracy isolates, individualizes, and strips out context” (13). 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

From Passion to Power

Game Unions and Historical Lessons from Media Labor

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The standing-room-only roundtable on unionization at the 2018 Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco occasioned a meeting of minds across industrial sectors. On one side, the roundtable represented a recent groundswell of labor consciousness in the mostly-unorganized field of video game development visibly spearheaded by Game Workers Unite, a grassroots pro-unionization group whose buttons and advocacy literature had already spread throughout the conference (Williams, “After Destroying”). On the other side, invited speaker Steve Kaplan from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) educated the crowd on practical steps for organizing, and encouraged them by saying that “unions focus leverage…. If you’re not at the table you’re essentially on the menu” (Orland). Continue Reading