Good Games Writing Weekly: Not E3 2021

by Team GGW

The best games writing from around the web.

The Weekly is your round-up of all the best in games writing and related spaces. Reviews, news, features, and more await you each week as the curators of Good Games Writing scour the Internet for the best of the best. Some themes are for older audiences.

We’d like to begin by acknowledging the more than 500 bodies of children discovered across former residential school sites in Canada over the past few weeks. That number is expected to grow in the coming weeks. As a team of educators, the systemic racism that led to the creation of these schools, and the genocide of these peoples, is a black mark against our very profession. The very fabric of our system is built on such racism that is interwoven into many practices today. We stand with the Indigenous communities seeking truth, accountability, and action.

Indian Residential School Survivors and Family

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The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of his or her Residential school experience.

Our Not E3 special is a longstanding tradition in which we feature smaller voices and typically non-gaming publications in the midst of the chaos that is *E3*. It’s far too easy to have our feeds devolve into a long list of trailers and reactions; while fun, it’s not for everyone. Here are a few completely E3 free pieces for your enjoyment.

Non-gaming publications

We start our collection with pieces from non-gaming sites that (sort of) fit the bill.

First is SB Nation‘s look at the rise and fall of trading card scalpers. Their demographic is sports enthusiasts but Pokémon cards have seen a meteoric rise in value in recent months. If you’re not the sports type you might be unaware that the bubble seemingly started with basketball and football cards before Game Freak’s iconic creatures became paper gold for speculators.

The fever spread from basketball into everything else. First football, then baseball, and finally Pokemon. “Pokemon makes me too nervous man,” Tyrone says to a friend who suggests they start buying it up, “we don’t know shit about those. I mean, can we break it? I don’t know. I know Luka and Ja, not Squirtle and shit. I’ll stick to what I know.”

Over on the CBC are a pair of features that reminds us the heart of games is play, and we’re remiss to forget that a game of tag counts as games writing. First is this competent consumer guide that masterfully recommends everything from a glowing hula hoop to sidewalk chalk, Spikeball to magnetic chess sets.

While that bit of service writing is well done, we appreciate Sebastian Yūe’s list of games to play in the park, which has no commercial implications whatsoever. Go run. Play pen and paper games. The simplicity and joy of park play is captured throughout the piece.

The Guardian ran this fantastic piece on gaming parents (and grandparents!) last month and it reminded us of the halcyon days of families descending on parks to play Pokémon Go: the cross-generational appeal of gaming was so clearly on display for the world. Lucy Campbell points out it isn’t just mobile experiences attracting older games–everything from Animal Crossing to Call of Duty: Warzone is played–a reminder that the 18-34 year-old demographic isn’t the end-all-be-all of game design.

Grief

This pair of pieces connects loosely with grief: the loss of a family member and the loss of home feature here.

Oisin Kuhnke details their experience with Loop Hero, a game they describe as “a game about the end of the universe”, and how that bleakness brings comfort in dealing with their own loop centred around the death of a loved one.

At the New York Videogame Critic Circle, Makeda Byfield connects the experience of grounding oneself through Wii Sports after several moves to the excitement of playing Miitopia as they enter adulthood. From there it’s a somewhat typical review format, but a promising start from this writer, nonetheless.

Craft

This final section focuses on the craft of making games in various forms.

Let’s start with another somewhat conventional review: Rowen Cameron tackles Lacuna, a “pixel art sci-fi noir adventure [with] a futuristic universe of technological advancement, uneasy planetary alliances and colossal social divides.” The review itself is punchy and filled with solid one-liners. We’ve highlighted Cameron a couple of times before and we’re happy to see her continue to improve her writing craft.

Arcade Idea reliably posts interesting retro content: This week’s entry is 1984’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is a longread, no doubt, that’s filled with nuggets both for those looking to reminisce about the game and those who didn’t realize there was a video game adaptation at all.

Dent is only the primary player character, because the game changes which character’s perspective we control and see things through frequently, always accompanied also with flashback. Well, time travel technically: you need to collect items and possibly do tasks once-not-done in the past to change the present to give the flashback segments mechanical puzzle reasons to be there.

This moment sets up two thundering paragraphs about the character swapping that ultimately crescendos into a description of the game’s narrative structure and related decisions. This is essential reading.

In a much shorter piece, Matt Gregoire writes that Destiny is crossing a threshold with its violence, in which once squishy targets now have a narrative, a story, a life. Suddenly those bullet sponges feel far more consequential. The penultimate paragraph of this piece has some of our favourite writing so far this year, too, so check it out. Here’s but a taste…

It almost goes beyond physical violence at this point and into the realm of cruel spiritual violence; we robbed them of the Traveler’s gifts once unintentionally, and now we’re knowingly ripping away what scraps are left by force.

Chris Penwell, meanwhile, interviews a narrative designer on Returnal, discussing the importance of the role, describing them as “more of an editor and interpreter between the writer and the game designer“. The challenges of designing the narrative around the already established gameplay systems make for interesting interview fodder, too.

Finally, we end with a wonderful D&D guide on how to accurately–and respectfully–portray some Chinese dishes in your campaigns. Mouthwatering.

Because hot pot is such a social meal, it’s the perfect backdrop for any number of roleplay-heavy hooks and scenes. A scheming noble invites the party to her manor for hot pot, but one of the ingredients is poisoned. A band of thieves rolls into a hot pot tavern, demanding the best meats for themselves and no one else. Two warring clans sit down to discuss a tenuous peace treaty over a shared pot of roiling broth. The possibilities are endless. 

Quick Hits:

Arcade Idea. “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy [1984]” (June 14, 2021) <https://arcadeidea.wordpress.com/2021/06/14/hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-1984/>.

Byfield, Makeda. “The Insight: A Brilliant, Brave Story About Miitopia, Miis And Being Evicted From An Apartment” (New York Videogame Critic Circle: June 11, 2021) <https://nygamecritics.com/2021/06/11/the-insight-a-brilliant-brave-story-about-miitopia-miis-and-being-evicted-from-an-apartment/>.

Cameron, Rowen. “Lacuna Review” (The Indie Game Website: May 27, 2021) <https://www.indiegamewebsite.com/2021/05/27/lacuna-review/>.

Campbell, Lucy. “‘A wonderful escape’: the rise of gaming parents – and grandparents” (The Guardian: May 7, 2021) <https://www.theguardian.com/games/2021/may/07/a-wonderful-escape-the-rise-of-gaming-parents-and-grandparents>.

Chang, Connie. “3 Chinese Dishes Your Fantasy Tavern Should Have – And How To Portray Them Respectfully” (Start Playing: May 29, 2021) <https://startplaying.games/blog/posts/3-chinese-dishes>.

Dator, James. “The rise and collapse of a scalper’s sports card empire” (SB Nation: May 25, 2021) <https://www.sbnation.com/22445479/sports-cards-scalpers-walmart-target-nba-nfl-pokemon>.

Gregoire, Matt. “Headshots in Destiny Feel a Bit Different Lately” (Quest Logging: June 3, 2021) <https://questlogging.com/headshots-in-destiny-feel-a-bit-different-lately-112faece51e8>.

Kuhnke, Oisin. “Loop Hero and the Cycle of Grief” (Into the Spine: May 23, 2021) <https://intothespine.com/2021/05/23/loop-hero-and-the-cycle-of-grief/>

Penwell, Chris. “Returnal’s Eevi Korhonen on how narrative designers impact game development” (GameDaily.biz: May 20, 2021) <https://gamedaily.biz/article/2040/returnals-eevi-korhonen-on-how-narrative-designers-impact-game-development>.

Toole, Brittany. “A very big, fun list of games and activities to play outside” (CBC: April 29, 2021) <https://www.cbc.ca/life/home/a-very-big-fun-list-of-games-and-activities-to-play-outside-1.6003966>.

Yūe, Sebastian. “7 super-chill games to play in the park” (CBC: May 27, 2021) <https://www.cbc.ca/life/culture/7-super-chill-games-to-play-in-the-park-1.6043247>.

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