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, videogames (mostly) take a backseat as the industry gears up for E3, but in the meantime we’ve got insightful looks at an unsightly Game Of Thrones controversy, a selection of thoroughly modern board game, a trip through the black plague, and much more!
We’re just a few short weeks away from E3, and while gaming’s biggest show of the year is sure to bring some big news and exciting moments, these last days leading up to it are pretty darn quiet. So while videogaming settles down and gears up for its big moment, Dan Ackerman took a break from his usual high-tech hijinks to recommend some thoroughly modern board games that videogame fans might love. These are a far cry from Monopoly and Candy Land. Many are intricate adaptations of videogame series, and many more still combine their cardboard and plastic with smartphone apps and digital elements.
And while we’re taking a break from videogames, we might as well dip our toes into the TV phenomenon that’s taken over all cultural criticism: Game Of Thrones. After a particularly dark and hectic episode from this final season of HBO’s fantasy hit, the conversation turned away from predicting who would end up sitting on the throne and toward how hard it was to see anything that was happening on screen. In the weeks since that incident, the show’s creators have defended their lighting choices and blamed viewers for improper TV settings, but as Samit Sarkar points out in a long, detailed explainer article, there’s a lot more affecting how the show looks on your TV than how dark your room is and how perfect your settings are.
Also on the Game Of Thrones beat this week was Sara Clemens, who covered the season’s first four episodes with co-host David Shimomura for her monthly podcast on Unwinnable. Sara and David go deep into everything from the waning fullness of the series’ characters to the aforementioned too-dark-to-see battle and some wacky fan theories about Arya.
Getting back to games for a bit, while reviews have been out for a while (we talked about Scott Stein’s take not too long ago), Facebook’s all-in-one, no-wires-required VR headset, the Oculus Quest, finally launched this week. Sherri Smith delivered her in-depth review of the new device for Tom’s Guide, and she came away very impressed by what the Quest is providing: a more seamless, worry-free way to get immersed in virtual spaces. “It’s incredibly freeing to dodge or lunge without the fear of yanking out a cord or toppling over a connected PC or laptop,” she wrote, calling the Quest “the best all-in-one VR solution available, hands down.”
And finally, Circle senior intern Ronald Gordon shared some thoughts on A Plague Tale: Innocence, the newly released stealth and survival game set among the ravages of the bubonic plague. Ronald was especially impressed with its non-traditional characters and how the game melds traditional stealth mechanics with exploration and crafting, as players have to forage for supplies and safe routes to make it through this dangerous world.
From Beyond The Circle
Post-apocalyptic fiction is nothing new, but we’ve been absolutely buried in nuclear wasteland games over the last few months (and years, for that matter). One trend that’s run through several of the most prominent of those recent releases is adding a dash of bright, unexpected color to break up the browns and grays of wasteland living. You can see it in Rage 2, Far Cry: New Dawn, and even Fallout 76. At US Gamer, Alyse Stanley set out to figure out why so much color has suddenly invaded our end-of-civilization scenarios, and found that what may have started as a way to stand out in a crowded market of dark fiction might have more to do with our anxiety-inducing reality.
CityLab, a subsidiary of The Atlantic focusing on urban issues and design, published a fascinating illustrated history of New York City playgrounds and the politics behind them. Visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger uses text, highlights, newspaper clippings, and historical photos to depict the birth of playgrounds as a safe space to “socialize” urban children—fueled by an undercurrent of fear about the “undesirable” people they might otherwise grow up to be—and their spread across America’s cities, the racism that drove them into white neighborhoods, and their evolution over the last century.
This week, Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer published a manifesto of sorts on Microsoft’s official blog, outlining the industry’s toxicity problem and the measures his company is taking to try and mitigate it. Spencer notes that gaming, in addition to teaching young players many necessary modern skills, has become a valuable social space for many people and a near-universal force around the world, but there’s an underbelly of hate and harassment that continually sullies that experience for so many players. While it’s hardly enough to make a difference—although Spencer says Xbox is committed to working on this problem and has published new community standards and tools to fight toxicity—it’s rare to see industry figures come coming out to directly address these issues. Good on you, Phil.
And finally, we close with another fun excavation of videogame ephemera. Preservationist Frank Cifaldi and the nonprofit Video Game History Foundation have been hunkered down in Game Informer’s Minneapolis offices for the last week, digging through the magazine’s vast collection of press materials. It’s one of the foundation’s biggest projects to date, and the group has unearthed some cool as heck items, including incredibly rare promotional art pulled from slides and disks of all kinds. Lucky for us, the VGHF has been posting beautiful scans of some pieces on its Twitter feed, so be sure to go peruse its account.
That’s all for this week. Thanks 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.