Great Game Writing of 2014 — May to August

by Jed Pressgrove

A few months ago, I talked about what I thought was great game writing from January to April in this spectacular year of 2014. Ergo, if I am to appear to be somewhat serious, I must also talk about great game articles from May to August and from September to December in this spectacular year of 2014. So here’s the May-to-August batch. Even though I wouldn’t call this post “curation,” the exercise has given me greater respect for those who do curate on a consistent basis. Rest assured, I do not see myself doing this in the stupendous year of 2015. Feel free to share any other great pieces or disagree with my choices.

Song of Storms, by Matt Rockefeller

This selection isn’t a curve ball; it’s just a comic that understands the power of writing more than most game articles. Largely overlooked by the game community, Matt Rockefeller’s drawing connects spontaneity with priority-driven thinking. Editor Sara Clemens deserves credit for publishing this masterpiece.

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and the Price of Fame, by Gita Jackson

Not only does Jackson’s review of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood make other pieces on the subject look amateurish and opportunistic, it speaks to the potential of video games that Social Justice Warriors and Gamers often don’t bother to identify or debate. Jackson contrasts her personal experiences and observations with the object of the game to offer perspective on human experience, not a market-obsessed sermon. Her natural, thoughtful approach sets the bar higher for game criticism.

What Is a Racing Game? On Wave Race 64, by Zolani Stewart

Don’t let the question in the title fool you. Instead of setting genre parameters, Stewart uses his appreciation of beauty in Wave Race 64 to pinpoint the joy, the specialness, of racing itself. The piece’s exploration and celebration of the sublime are very much needed in a game community obsessed with darkness.

Game Review Drabbles, by Tevis Thompson

In all of these 100-word game reviews, Thompson treats reviews as one should — as art. Ironically (or maybe it’s not ironic), these short entries have more big ideas and big reactions than most “full-length” reviews. Even the quips challenge the reader to think, such as this line from the Mario Kart 8 review: “No wonder Luigi’s death stare has dominated discussions. What else is there to talk about?”

Proteus, by Indie Gamer Chick

I share this review on principle. Indie Gamer Chick’s no-holds-barred take on Proteus challenges the anti-criticism notion that “art games” are inherently special because they’re “different”: “And here I thought ALL games were a form of art.” Some Proteus fans cry, “Oh no she didn’t!” Oh yes, she did. (Indie Gamer Chick’s Goat Simulator review demonstrates similar conviction.)

From Lara Croft to Bayonetta: What Is a ‘Strong Female Character’?, by Ria Jenkins

I’ve heard many reasons why this article is “flawed,” including the notion that people covered this topic years ago. Yet Jenkins’ bluntness about the contrast behind Lara Croft’s bland marketing and Bayonetta “thrusting her vagina into the face of the player” makes an understated point about contemporary fear of sexuality.  There is no hint of disingenuous commentary from Jenkins, whose textual analysis demands self-examination: “Bayonetta makes the men in the game (and perhaps many of those playing) uncomfortable.”

Level 99 Capitalist, by Stephen Beirne

Beirne’s claims about RPGs functioning as consumerist fantasies can be endlessly debated as a polemic. On a simpler level, Beirne asks the RPG fan, such as myself, to consider the meaning behind the numbers and whether consumption is the primary theme of a given RPG. In this way, Beirne’s article acts as a guide for identifying the greater, wiser RPGs from those that merely give us more numbers.

How Game Forms Are Shaped by Their Environment, by Daniel Cook

Cook raises the question of how art is affected by economic circumstances. He then argues that games like Proteus and Gone Home haven’t established a niche due to a “sudden explosion of artistic appreciation within the human race.” Rather, they’ve established a niche due to a list of economic factors that Cook provides. Cook’s most provocative question relates to different degrees of economic success: “How do the developers, journalists, museums, critics or other middlemen benefit from promoting the works that they promote?” In short, this piece gives developers, critics, and gamers a theoretical framework for looking beyond the hype.

Killed at the Conference Table: Gaming’s Balancing Act Between Art & Product, by Mike Williams

With this piece and others (including this explanation of muted Twitch streams), Williams has established himself as the best game reporter in the business. “Killed at the Conference Table” is labeled an editorial, but that’s just modesty — Williams’ sense of fairness, balance, and depth is off the charts. If one is too shortsighted to define “game journalism” with a straight face, one should start reading Williams.

Awakening the Dead, by Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin

This article compares the universality of loss with how Fire Emblem characters appear “more meaningful than chess pieces.” Mac Dhonnagáin smartly frames his critique with a reminder about national privilege before dissecting Fire Emblem’s successes and failures with depicting soldiers as humans. His sober conclusion rejects player fixation on the inconvenience of permanent deaths of characters: “It’s all business as usual.”

Screw Your Walking Simulators, by Joel Goodwin

This examination of what games like Proteus are actually asking us to do is as playful as it is insightful. Goodwin, in his inimitable rambling style, suggests ditching “walking simulator” for “secret box games,” both for the latter’s more neutral tone and its more accurate description of the appeal behind Proteus and company. It’s very easy to get ugly about genre terminology, but Goodwin recognizes that genre debate is just a game.

Indie Entitlement, by Liz Ryerson

Ryerson has a gift for honestly addressing any given elephant in the room without pandering to a particular agenda. While it’s true Ryerson has clear political values, she doesn’t promote thought control or bandwagon causes with questions like “when most AAA games reflect hyper-imperialist values, why would more marginalized people want representation in them?” Ryerson constantly inquires about the logic of everyone’s motivations and demands.

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