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, our critics give thanks for their gaming beginnings and lessons learned at the Game Devs of Color Expo. Plus, we dig into the latest political dust up over violent videogames and much more.
This week, the Critics Circle welcomed Connor Carson, a narrative designer and MFA candidate at the NYU Game Center, as our newest contributor and intern. Her first article on the Circle site is a personal retrospective on growing up with the games of Sierra Entertainment, the storied development house founded by Ken and Roberta Williams and responsible for pioneering the graphical adventure game genre. For Connor, Sierra’s work served as a doorway into gaming, with King’s Quest and other games passed onto her like a royal heirloom, and as she aged and made her way into the world, they were also a safe haven.
Also on the Critics Circle site this week, Kimari Rennis, our senior intern from the DreamYard Prep School, reported back from last weekend’s Game Dev of Color Expo with a laundry list of lessons she learned from the speakers and exhibition. “The GDoC Expo is very young,” she wrote, “but it’s helping the community learn and think about games in important ways.” For Kimari, that meant, among many other points, thinking about the breadth and depth of jobs in gaming, how the the world of game development is also one big community, and how creators need support from players and colleagues to keep on providing the world with their art.
For The Washington Post, Christopher Byrd dug a bit into the backlog of 2019’s brilliant releases and reviewed Observation, a first-person narrative game that casts players as the A.I. onboard a damaged space station, watching and assisting the lone surviving astronaut. It’s a subversion of the scenarios and human avatars we typically see in games, Christopher points out, which lends the game an immediate sense of disorientation and detachment.
Now for something a little different: Circle member Dan Ackerman has been hard at work on a game of his own—a board game, that is. It’s called Techlandia, and if you know Dan at all, you won’t be too surprised to hear this game of dice rolls and corporate espionage is built around a collision of Lovecraftian intrigue and the tech industry. To fund the final leg of the game’s creation and release, Dan has brought Techlandia to Kickstarter, where he’s hoping to raise $10,000. The Kickstarter page has all the info on the game, plus links to a free digital demo version.
And finally, we turn to the horrific mass shootings that occurred in El Paso and Dayton last weekend and the ensuing, all too predictable naming of videogames as a scapegoat for America’s gun violence epidemic. As Daniel Howley wrote, the president and many other politicians were quick to once again throw blame at the industry, there’s just no hard data backing up what has become a quick and easy talking point to help politicians elide chastising the gun industry. On Twitter, Circle founder Harold Goldberg shared a few thoughts on this subject, and on the subject of what games actually add to society, that we can all probably get behind.
From Beyond The Circle
At The Atlantic, game academic Ian Bogost also wrote the way politicians—of one party in particular—have turned videogames into a political tool. Bogost starts by running down the history of the many inconclusive and flawed studies searching to correlate gaming with increased aggression, as well as the gaming habits (or lack thereof) of mass shooters responsible for the attacks that conservatives have blamed on the industry. As he points out, at this point, it’s really just a convenient way for a certain breed of politician to turn the attention away from actual gun control conversations. “Video-game violence seems to have transformed from an issue of bipartisan and earnest cultural opprobrium—video games are gross and maybe harmful—to a sacrificial lamb slaughtered in the service of preserving gun rights,” Bogost said.
On Kotaku, Cecilia D’Anastasio revisited her massive investigation of the culture of sexism at Riot Games (the story that won our award for games journalism at the 2019 New York Game Awards) to see what kind of progress had been made in the year since its publication. In that time, Riot has been sued by multiple current and former employees and developers staged a historic walkout over a forced arbitration clause that could have devastated such legal action and kept it out of public view. According to Cecilia’s latest reporting, though, employees say the company is heading in the right direction, thanks largely to the efforts of vocal developers and Riot’s new Chief Diversity Officer, Anglea Roseboro, whom one source described as “a godsend.”
There’s another big gaming expo coming up in NYC this weekend: Playcrafting’s annual Play NYC convention. Studios from around New York and all over will be exhibiting at the show in the Metropolitan Pavilion, which this year will be housing approximately 200 playable games. Tickets are still available right here.
And we close this week with material from another big NYC gaming conference: the 2019 Games for Change Festival. This week, the G4C organization uploaded videos of more than 80 talks from this year’s festival to YouTube, including talks about accessibility, ethical game design, anti-harassment measures, and way more.
That’ll do it 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.