The Sunday Papersjuni 21, 2020
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Sundays are for socially distancing at the park while mucking about on your housemate’s slackline, and realising that slacklines were the main thing your life was missing. Here’s the best writing about videogames from the past week.
This is a little old now but more than a little important, so: here’s Imran Khan’s Kotaku piece on why video games have to reckon with how they depict the police.
It would be easy to brush off these concerns with the assumptions that the real world’s darkest hours have no place within the escapism of games. It was, after all, a simple matter to ignore the queasiness I felt at Spider-Man and immerse myself in its other aspects, so I understand the temptation. The gaming industry, while maybe not always being conscientious agents of social change, are certainly aware that they can affect it. The power to tell stories that exert influence can be used to reverse that idea, entrenched though it may be.
For Paste, Joseph Stanichar explained why Breath Of The Wild is one of few to offer true catharsis for his ADHD brain. I like his point about how the design choices here make the game better for everyone, but how they have a special significance for him.
This has made Breath of the Wild one of the only games to “keep up” with my brain, not just allowing but rewarding my propensity to switch tasks and pursue the new, shiniest thing on Hyrule’s horizon. Almost always, this curiosity is rewarded with something, whether it be a Korok seed, a shrine or even a dragon. In most games I’ve played, constraints have forced designers to sprinkle rewards around specific, clearly marked points of interest through a “dopamine trail” of objectives and waypoints to guide the player where they need to go next. In Breath of the Wild, there is no such dopamine trail. The dopamine is everywhere.
For Eurogamer, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell praised most everything about Hardspace: Shipbreaker. This one strikes me as particularly thoughtful, even for Edwin.
In theory, you don’t have the luxury of thinking about the ships that fall under your knife. The pressure to optimise is too great – even a shift in which you don’t nuke yourself may prove ruinous if you do things out of order, or spend too long coaxing some heavy object into the furnace. But it’s impossible not to, because to dismantle something with care is also to feel the care with which it was made. In this way, and for all the need to turn a profit, the game articulates a kind of solidarity with those unseen shipbuilders that extends, curiously but persuasively, to the designers at Blackbird Interactive.
For The Washington Post, Steph Coelho tackled the whole “games as work” paradox. I do like the reasons offered here, and the focus on how games often offer often a feeling of accomplishment. I’m tempted to call that illusory, but what even is accomplishment anyway.
“Work” conjures up a lot of disparate images and ideas without a concrete definition — “right to work,” menial labor, parents working out back in the garden or in the shed — and Bogost’s comparison between the mischievous goose and the 9-to-5 ran afoul for some readers. “Games are work” is not necessarily an idea with broad purchase. One person’s “work” is another’s “play.” Ask someone playing a battle royale how their work is going and you’re likely to get a confused response, at best. Is it “work” to unlock a 100-tier battlepass full of rewards with hours of gameplay?
For Vice, Paul Dean (a pal) chronicled the potted history of Catan. Catan sucks but this piece doesn’t thankyoubye.
No board game released before or since can chart a comparable trajectory. Understanding exactly how Catan was the title to both break out of Germany and to break into mainstream culture isn’t easy, but the explanation may be found in a collection of gently undramatic factors and subtly smart design decisions. Combined, all of these have played some part in its continued success and first among them must surely be the game’s overarching philosophy of negotiation and compromise.
I enjoyed Sirin Kale’s Guardian piece where she spoke to illegal hairdressers, which mostly does enough to temper the fun with warnings about how yeah, this could get people killed.
When I start asking around, I hear rumours, mutterings, intimations. A tip about a clandestine barber in Bethnal Green, east London, slides into my inbox. “He goes from flat to flat,” my informant tells me. Another sends me a blurry photo of a mobile hairdressing van spotted in a London street. Business cards appear in shops. A Turkish barber has put newspaper over its windows, but “there’s always a steady stream of sharp-looking haircuts outside”, says my spy. On the hookup app Grindr, barbers advertise services with a scissor emoji in their bio. In Peckham Rye, south London, posters offering at-home barbering appear on trees. They are taken down the next day. The game is afoot.
Ahhhh nooo bad beetle, stop.
Good elephant. Continue.
Music this week is Sooner or Later by Eliza Gilkyson.