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 writers are discussing some of the unseen consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on gaming, a wonderful but unusual new throwback micro-console, and the Animal Crossing black markets. Plus a cathartic coffee-shop game, some hectic family fun with Save Your Nuts, and more!
With tons of people spending more time at home than usual, it’s only natural that digital game sales are up and online services are seeing record activity. But, as Jordan Minor wrote about in PC Gamer this week, it’s important to remember that the games industry isn’t immune to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, there are the obvious impacts, like The Last of Us Part II being delayed indefinitely (surely just the first of many major releases to suffer the same fate) and the launch of this year’s big console releases being thrown into question, but the outbreak and the economic collapse that’s followed has only further illuminated the ways this hobby favors those with lots of disposable income, Jordan argues. “This strange period we currently find ourselves in is making us question some things about the hobby we previously took for granted,” he wrote. “The pandemic is putting our video game privileges into perspective.”
The Xbox Series X and PS5 aren’t the only consoles that might run into release troubles this year. There’s also the Amazon-exclusive Turbografx-16 Mini, a Konami-produced micro-console throwback to an odd but beloved mid-generation gaming machine. While pre-orders for this most niche of consoles are still open and Amazon will only specify delivery sometime before the end of the year, reviewers now have their hands on the device and have already given their verdicts. That includes Scott Stein, who reminisced about falling in love with the original Turbografx-16 and put this new mini in front of his kids to see whether they might develop the same obsession.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t all watering flowers and leisurely strolls. Those that take it seriously take it very seriously, and this latest installment’s online features have led to some wild out-of-game developments. Heather Alexandra reported on these underground fan sites where hardcore players are making bank off their turnip prices, trading rare items, and even trafficking high-demand villagers. “The result has been an eclectic economy where communes give out goods for free, opportunists vye for Nook Mile Tickets, and artists turn the current cultural moment into a way to earn a buck or two,” she wrote.
On the Circle site this week, senior intern Ronald Gordon found some solace from all the pandemic isolation in a little game called Coffee Talk. It casts players as a barista in a coffee shop that serves all sorts of folks in a fantasy world featuring elves and orcs and monsters living in modern times. That collision of contemporary technology and aesthetics with fantasy tropes hooked Ronald, but really, it’s the character writing that most impressed him. “It’s like they’re sitting right next to you, spinning their tales,” he said.
Also on the site this week, we’re happy to have published the first piece from Jade Entien, one of our high-school students in the Bronx. Jade has been spending some quality family time playing an odd little multiplayer game called Save Your Nuts. While the speed of the game made it tough to grasp the controls at first, a little time with its hectic scramble for suburban animal supremacy and Jade was able to find the fun. “This game is adorable, has maps full of surprises and will provide people of all ages with a few laughs as they compete against each other to collect some nuts and battle it out,” Jade wrote. “The pros seemingly outweigh the cons for me as I continue to play with family through these scary times.”
From Beyond The Circle
If you’re looking for a different sort of entertainment out of your gaming content, this story about the history of in-game improv by Emily Rose at Ars Technica might help point you in the right direction. Rose contextualizes this trend within the evolution of theater, posing that it might be “just another step in a long lineage of narrative tradition.” But instead of the stage, these goofy thespians perform inside of games. Oddly enough, so much of this world, Rose demonstrates, has splintered off from Half-Life, a decidedly not very goofy game that has nonetheless laid the foundation for some very popular, creative, and hilarious improvisational reworkings.
At Eurogamer, Jack Yarwood brings us the interesting and infuriating story of the creator of a game called Jalopy and what happened when he told his publisher he wasn’t interested in making a sequel. What resulted was Jalopy’s name getting attached to a suspiciously similar game from another developer and its designer, Greg Pryjmachuk, suffering from the harassment and disappointment of Jalopy fans who thought its creators had moved on to a “sequel” they believed was sub-par.
Games For Change’s blog series on using games and technology to adapt to pandemic life continued this week with a post from Elizabeth M H Newbury, the director of the Serious Games Initiative at The Wilson Center (Woodrow Wilson’s memorial library). Newbury wrote about how games that explore science, clinical research, and policy can help us better understand what’s going on and how to tackle it. Critically, she also writes about how, with students now forced to learn from home, this crisis is highlighting and worsening racial and economic divides and the unequal access to resources that are associated with them.
That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Stay healthy. 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.