The Roundup: Blair Witch, Telling Lies, Inside Final Fantasy, What Feels Like Home, And Tragic Game World Evils, And Good Game Worlds, Too!

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 confront the surveillance state, haunted woods, and our impending climate change crisis. Plus, an inside look at the world of competitive Gran Turismo.

Telling Lies, the latest game from Her Story director Sam Barlow, recently launched, sending players into another mystery with nothing to help them but a database teeming with surveillance footage of conversations. Christopher Byrd reviewed the game for The Washington Post, saying no other game this year “has felt as intimate or fully human.” In part, he writes, that’s because of the game’s willingness to stay within its scenes for unnaturally long times, sticking the player into intimate, often mundane moments in the lives of unsuspecting people. The result “brilliantly evokes the texture of life in an age of surveillance,” Christopher says, and “shows how vulnerable we are to deception and misinterpretation.”

Felicia Miranda previewed an upcoming game that’s creepy in a very different way. She went hands-on with Bloober Team’s Blair Witch, the new first-person nightmare based on the revolutionary horror film, and came back with mixed feelings about the property’s latest interactive outing. Felicia lauded the game’s complex, spatial audio and its clever use of the player’s canine companion, but the developer’s insistence on the importance of the game’s seemingly flimsy, predictable plot made her just as uneasy as wandering through the foggy woods of Black Hills Forest.

Even scarier, perhaps, is Heather Alexandra’s essay about the most recent Final Fantasy XIV expansion, Shadowbringers, and how its story of a world brought to its dying breaths by the destructive power of human creation conjures troubling echoes of our own climate crisis. “Shadowbringers isn’t an environmental story in the same way that Final Fantasy VII was, but it similarly does believe that natural order can be restored,” Heather writes. “That’s affirming, but the fact that I saw so much similarity between the real world and the ruins of fictional ones has still left me haunted.”

At Geek.Com, Jordan Minor reported back from getting his hands on Nintendo’s new smaller, tougher Switch model. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Switch Lite is, as Jordan says, exactly as advertised. It’s been slightly shrunken down and the lack of moving parts makes it feel more solid and durable, a handful of factors that come together to make this smaller Switch a much more portable device.

That’s perfect for a massive game like Nintendo’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses (except for the part where the Lite’s smaller screen will make that game’s tiny text even more impossible to read). Circle intern Isaac Espinosa has been spending some time inside the game’s fantasy military academy and came away feeling this latest installment is a fantastic entry in the series, set apart by its academic setting and major emphasis on your relationship with your students. “Three Houses allows for an experience that not many other Fire Emblem titles are capable of replicating,” he writes, “since the ability to teach and bond with your students makes the Officer’s Academy feel like a second home.”

Also on the Circle site this week, Ronald Gordon reported on his experience at one of Sony’s official Gran Turismo esports events. The Pro-Am series was split into two races throughout the day, while the amateur speedsters who showed up looking for a shot at glory were supremely impressive, the speed and precision of the pro Gran Turismo players blew him away. Ronald got a chance to observe and talk with some pros, too, bringing back stories about their work ethic and history with the series. Check it out!

From Beyond The Circle

Earlier this week, several men in the games industry were accused of sexual assault and harassment in a wave of allegations that many have said is all too representative of the quiet realities women and non-binary people in gaming face. Vice put together a beat-by-beat report of the public accusations and the ensuing outpouring of support for the survivors. The most high-profile case and the one that kicked off this chain reaction was designer Nathalie Lawhead alleging they were raped by Jeremy Soule, a composer most famous for his work on the Elder Scrolls series. Kotaku followed up on the accusation, as well as a second allegation against Soule from a vocalist named Aeralie Brighton, with a lengthy report. Following Lawhead’s allegations, several more stories came out including developer Zoe Quinn accusing Alec Holowka, a developer on Night In the Woods, of sexual and psychological abuse and Autumn Taylor of VR studio Owlchemy Labs claiming she was groped by Oculus co-founder Michael Antonov.

On Vox this week, Aja Romano assembled a thorough breakdown of the constant, disappointing argument that violent videogames are to blame for mass shootings in America and the history of moral panic surrounding the medium. Romano spoke with developers, critics, and researchers about the long-claimed link and why it’s important that we change the conversation surrounding games to focus on the very real, positive impacts they actually have on people around the world.

The NYU Game Center is less than one week away from its incubator showcase. Ever since 2014, the Game Center has run its incubator program, fostering project from its MFA students and funding experimental games from across the country. On September 5, the developers of this year’s four incubator games will have a chance to showcase their work to the world, beginning with a presentation and then playable demos for the event’s attendees. You can learn all about this year’s exciting incubator lineup here, and if you’re interested in attending (and you should be) you can RSVP here.

That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading, have a great holiday weekend, and we’ll see you next week when the videogame season really begins to ramp up!

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.

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