This Week I Read: Navel gazing

Not terribly long ago, I set up this blog for the purpose of supporting my writing. I’ve been terrible at maintaining it. My wonderful girlfriend prompted me in the past to put it to use with weekly posts sharing things I’ve written, read, played, whatever. It was always a good idea that I never got around to doing.

So I’d like to start now – if not weekly posts, at least semi-regularly. I’m going to share with you some of the good stuff that caught my mind and, where relevant, the thoughts in my brain. Sharing on Twitter can feel like pissing into the sea, sometimes, so at least here it gives the impression of a little bit more permanence.

I’ll try to keep this a thing for sharing only positive stuff, since negativity snowballs on its own merits. I know from personal experience how exhausting it can be when you pour your heart into something and it gets ignored or forgotten because of some dreadful, avoidable scandal, so I’d like to contribute to sending along the joy in our culture.

I’ll start by pointing to this funding campaign for re/ActionZine, which publishes niche games writing not “commercially viable” enough to be justified most elsewhere. By which I mean, not safe enough, not broad enough, etc. Fulfilling though games criticism can be, it’s hard financially to be in the field, so if re/Action could reach its funding goal it would be a big moral victory for freelancers and enthusiasts.

I quite enjoyed this piece by Maddy Meyers on the state of popularity of games criticism, or rather the self-aggrandizing born from our, sorry to say it, petulance at feeling ignored. I include myself in that category, as a nobody writer who nevertheless tries to fill the niche described by my own interests. I get a tad irate whenever these “Where’s does the games criticism be?” pieces pop up, but sure it’s true that my stuff doesn’t exactly circulate as well as that of the Super Best Videogame Friends. Plus, to whip back against the arguments made by Spector et al that they need only google for critique, actively go out and look for it – it somewhat misses the point.

On that matter,  the Super Best Videogame Friends editors admit insularity, that you shouldn’t be mean to them since they all talk and can get you hired or fired. As well as affirming the cliquishness of the space, it might go a ways as to explain why games criticism, in turn, thrives on insularity.

On a positive note (and perhaps not helping my admonishment of insularity) I love Critical Distance as a resource for locating games criticism. What I find myself often wanting when mulling over the medium is a neat resource that categorizes games criticism, not chronologically, but by subject – by game title, or event, or theme. That’s such an academic thing to want, I know, I know.

As it turns out I have a lot more to say than I initially thought, but I’d better be moving on. Before I leave the topic completely, though, do check out Brendan Keogh’s self-conflicted musings on the field of games criticism. He also links to a great piece of his to add to the ‘games criticism resource‘ pile.

Changing over to fighting games, this write-up on executions is spot on about the barriers to the genre. It also helped me to realise something about myself: no matter how passionately people tell me to like eSports (or whatever), I’m just not interested. There’s something exhausting about the form that dispels any curiosity to learn more. I think Jake Eakle hits the point on the head – a lot of competitive gaming involves routing out the niggly bits and wrestling with cumbersome interfaces, and that’s just not something that excites me. In an academic way I can appreciate the effort put in by participants, in the same way that I do for physical athletes, but the idea of turning the abstract into particular makes me feel tired. And the recent wave of folks shouting about how competitive gaming is something you need to like really does not help.

Maybe it’s my ageing bones. Years ago, I used to enjoy fighting games – Tekken Tag Tournament, DBZ Budokai, Soul Calibre. I wasn’t half bad at them either. I derived a lot of joy from prancing around unpredictably as Contrasto, my black-and-white customized dancer character in Soul Calibre 3 (or was it 4? or 2?). My flamboyant playstyle both aided my entertainment and won me match after match. If anybody tried to tell me to analyse frames or memorize animations, I’d have put down the controller and read a book. In the sobering competitive space, dancing around like a maniac is a ton more fun.

Lastly, in case you missed it, I wrote about spoilers, classism and games culture last week. Classism is still one of those things that’s invisible to the games press, sadly. It’s been something I’ve wanted to write about for a yonk now, so I’m delighted to have finally found the space for it.


Blackwell’s Asylum scared the life out of me on Tuesday. I love horror games, and if you do too, you should give it a shot. Without wanting to spoil too much about it, I loved the inversion of darkness and light, the feeling of being too exposed, even when you’re hidden under a desk or behind a curtain. The control scheme hangs in my memory the strongest – it’s so much easier to run than it is to sneak, and the desire to flee is perfectly conjured alongside the knowledge not to.

And since I’m always telling everyone to play it, I’m saying it here: play SCP-087-b. Both these games are free and terrifying so give them a go.


Last night I saw Pacific Rim.

I did not enjoy it.

There was a brief segment of giant monster fighting giant robots that did it for me, but everything aside from the fight sequences was abysmal, and even them most of the fights were obscure, cluttered, messy. I don’t know why movie makers think it’s wonderful to throw so much visual noise at an audience at a time when we want to see the giant monsters and giant robots… but then, considering how everyone else is whooping and fawning over the swill that is PR, maybe I should just jettison myself.

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