By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s weekly look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. This week, we’re celebrating Nintendo Of America president Reggie Fils-Aime, who announced his upcoming retirement, and we’re dipping out toes back into the worlds of Kingdom Hearts and augmented reality. Plus, the Chinese government’s censorship reaches into the world of games. And finally, City Skylines hits New York City.
Just after last week’s Roundup wrapped up, Nintendo announced Reggie Fils-Aime, beloved president of Nintendo Of America, is retiring in April. Fils-Aime is the rare public-facing game executive who’s come to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In fact, Fils-Aime has a special connection to us here at the Critics Circle. Last fall, he returned to his home neighborhood in the Bronx to spend a day with students at the DreamYard Preparatory School, where the Critics Circle mentors and teaches throughout the year. It was heartwarming day that meant a lot to the students, to the Circle, and to Fils-Aime himself, who grew up “literally a mile from” DreamYard, he said, and was proud to be giving back.
While the rest of the internet was making jokes about a guy named Bowser soon moving into the spot atop Nintendo Of America, Jordan Minor used this retirement news as an opportunity to celebrate something about Fils-Aime that often gets overlooked: that he is a Black man leading the American branch of one of the most successful, storied videogame companies of all time. As Jordan has written in the past, in an industry that’s still overwhelmingly white and struggles with racial representation, “Reggie being a Black guy in a position of power does matter.”
With more than a decade of anticipation and prequels leading to up to its release last month, Kingdom Hearts III arrived, unsurprisingly, with a tidal wave of criticism regarding its labyrinthine story and unorthodox creation. This week, Anthony John Agnello published an interesting take on the series, drawing a parallel between the work of Tetsuya Nomura, director of Kingdom Hearts, and outsider art figures like Henry Darger. The big difference, of course, is that Kingdom Hearts is the product of two huge global corporations—quite literally the opposite of “outsider”—but that Nomura was able to use the resources and the tightly protected characters of Square and Disney to create a story so vast and singular is what Anthony finds so astounding. “There’s no single reason that Nomura got to see these games made and James Hampton’s work rusted for years in a lonely garage,” he wrote. “His freedom should be an inspiration, though.”
It feels like it’s been an eternity since Microsoft first debuted HoloLens, its buzzed-about augmented-reality headset that’s spent the last few years out of sight and under development. This week, the company revealed its latest version of the HoloLens kit, and CNET’s Scott Stein was one of the journalists to report back with impressions from the device’s unveiling. This time around, Microsoft didn’t focus on using the headset for games—with HoloLens 2 selling for $3500, it’s aimed more at employers and industry than consumers—but Scott came away impressed with the upgrades and wondering about the future of this promising product.
From Beyond The Circle
In one of the strangest stories of the last week, Red Candle Games, a small Taiwanese developer, removed its latest game, Devotion, from Steam after players discovered it included an image linking Chinese President Xi Jinping to Winnie The Pooh, a reference to a mocking meme the Chinese government has spent several years trying to erase from the internet. After the image was found and publicized, Chinese Steam users attacked Devotion’s store page with thousands of negative reviews, prompting Red Candle to apologize and silently pull the game and all its promotional material. After several hours of worrying silence, Red Candle issued a statement saying it was going to review the game, “making sure no other unintended materials was inserted in,” and hopes to re-release it in the near future. The Verge has an excellent rundown of all the details in this collision of gaming with government censorship and mob attacks.
The Rochester Institute Of Technology’s School Of Interactive Games And Media is one of the country’s premiere game design schools. It’s also spawned a Rochester-based game-development community, which a group called ROC Game Dev seeks to foster and organize. Last week, ROC Game Dev took a huge step toward that goal with the grand opening of its event and co-working space in downtown Rochester. The group celebrated the opening with its first public event, Pixel By Pixel, an art show featuring the stunning pixelated work of visual artist Dennis McCorry.
Tomorrow on Saturday, March 2, Games For Change will be hosting its latest in an ongoing series of Student Challenge game jams where New York City middle and high schoolers get a chance to learn about game design. The theme of each session has tackled a different issue impacting real-world communities. For this jam, the students will be encouraged to create games that explore the implications of the much longer lives people are leading these days. The event is free to NYC middle and high school students and is being held at NYU’s Game Center in Brooklyn. You can register here, and you can find out more about G4C’s Student Challenge series at its official website.
Finally, the people behind the Cities: Skylines sim are producing a YouTube series about gamers who do big things within the software. The video documentary about Jay Sathe, who actually nabbed a job because of the game, is about his city building work, particularly with the New York City subway system. It’s a fascinating look into how work in the virtual life helped procure work in real life at NYC’s MTA in its multimedia production division. We have serious issues with the MTA here in the five boroughs. That’s a given. But maybe Jay’s video work with the MTA will help us to better understand the ups and downs of our old but extraordinarily necessary subway system. –H.G.
That’s what we’ve got for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you next week!
Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.