By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. In this installment, our writers pick apart Sony’s very big June, with reviews and behind-the-scenes looks of The Last of Us Part II and breakdowns of the big PlayStation 5 reveal. Plus, our critics and writers from outside the Circle continue to examine the industry’s treatment of Black people and characters, particularly in the wake of its many token statements in support of Black Lives Matter, and much more.
It’s been a big couple of weeks for Sony, with the unveiling of the PlayStation 5 and the launch of The Last of Us Part II, one of the final major releases that will grace the PlayStation 4. Our critics were plenty busy covering both of these long-awaited events. For starters, Christopher Byrd reviewed The Last of Us Part II for The Washington Post, calling it “an astonishing achievement” and “one of the best video games I’ve ever played.” Christopher writes about the game’s grueling violence and death, the constant onslaught and escalation of which has the effect of leading us to want Ellie to escape and find a way out from this horrible life. “It’s a meditation on loss—not simply loss of life, but of community, family, and individual capabilities—and the effort it takes to muddle through maddening grief,” he wrote.
For Vulture, Harold Goldberg dug into the making of a specifically touching scene from the game, one that isn’t based in hate but—believe it or not—love. The scene in question is, of course, the kiss shared between Ellie and her significant other, Dina, that Sony released as a trailer back in 2018. Harold spoke with the game’s creators about what made this seemingly innocuous scene one of the most difficult elements of the game to get right: rounds and rounds of rewrites, a delicate balance of tones, awkward motion-capture suits, and an especially pesky Velcro rip.
At Time, Patrick Lucas Austin walked us through the big revelations about the PlayStation 5 that came from Sony’s premiere showcase. His focus was on the machine itself. Patrick breaks down many of the high-level technical specs, its announced accessories, and the console’s divisive physical design. “The new console cuts a distinctive figure when it comes to industrial design,” he wrote, “making competition like Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Series X and its gray boxy aesthetic look downright bland.”
One narrative Sony surely didn’t expect to be worrying about coming out of the PS5 event was its scrambling to clarify what Spider-Man: Miles Morales, one of the games announced during the show, actually is: a full sequel, a new expansion within a Spider-Man PS5 port, or something else entirely. It turns out, the answer is it’s not a full sequel but a shorter, standalone in-between game, which is a huge bummer for everyone hoping Sony was committing to a massive first-party game starring a young Black man. Jordan Minor used this moment—a disappointment coming amid global Black Lives Matter protests and so many companies saying they want to do more for Black people—to talk about the myriad ways the game industry continues to let down and alienate Black players.
In non-Sony-related pieces from the week, Whitney Meers had the opportunity to interview Dazs, the general manager of esports and gaming content brand SoaR Gaming, as well as a Twitch partner, competitive Apex Legends player, and a guy with a fiancé and day job. That’s a lot of hats for one person to wear, and Whitney spoke with Dazs about how he manages to balance so many outlets and responsibilities. Their conversation also gets into the state of Apex Legends as a competitive game and what kind of esports future, if any, it may have.
From Beyond The Circle
Like Jordan, Vice’s Gita Jackson looked at the Miles Morales situation and recognized it as yet another disappointing moment of Black lead characters being relegated to some side project rather than a full-fledged, big-budget game. In a piece simply, effectively titled “Black People Are Always The Side Story,” Gita expresses her frustration with this trend and runs through the history of how it just somehow keeps happening over and over again. “The industry has been clear: it sees Black protagonists as a risk, and thinks it’s safer to A/B test them alongside larger, bigger-budget offerings featuring white protagonists,” she wrote.
Nuchallenger’s Treachery in Beatdown City is brilliant in so many ways, as our own Kimari Rennis wrote about recently, and with its focus on rightfully angry BIPOC protagonists, its depiction of a New York on edge, and its confrontations with racists, abusive cops, and their defenders, its release could not have been timed any better. Designer Shawn Alexander Allen spoke with the Los Angeles Times’ Todd Martens for a fantastic interview about the game, its messaging, and the many real-world threads that have come together to bring it to life.
The police in Treachery in Beatdown City are nowhere near close to the heroes or allies they’re so often portrayed as in games. For Kotaku, Imran Khan wrote about how the industry is really going to have to reflect on this current moment and reckon with how it depicts police. Sony’s aforementioned Spider-Man game, for instance, received plenty of criticism for how it turned Marvel’s young hero into a spying extension of the NYPD. “If there is not currently someone at Spider-Man developer Insomniac telling colleagues that they knew this was going to happen, then that is a problem, because it means there wasn’t a voice in the room that understood the larger issues at play in a silly joke or lighthearted story,” he wrote.
At Polygon, De’Angelo Epps wrote about how this moment has been handled in the fighting-game community, easily the most diverse gaming community there is. Speaking about the scene’s history and leading figures, Epps notes that much of its success and growth has been driven by Black organizers, players, commentators, and personalities. With this kind of leadership, it’s no surprise that members of the community have been outspoken in their support and fundraising efforts. Epps doesn’t gloss over the community’s warts, though, and also spoke with figures about how there is still work to be done to make sure the FGC is as inclusive a space as possible.
Representation in games is about more than just the characters we see on screen and inhabit through our play. For a medium that relies so much on voice acting, it’s also important that the people behind the scenes—the unseen actors bringing these characters to life—are diverse and casted with authenticity and sensitivity in mind. George Yang wrote a great story for USGamer exploring this concept through the particular lens of Asian American actors. Yang interviewed several Asian American voice actors who’ve appeared in games like Death Stranding, Prey, Sekiro, and Devil May Cry 5 about the growing opportunities for Asian American actors in games, hurtful voice-direction pitfalls like stereotypical accents and not “sounding Asian enough,” and the importance of authentic casting.
That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Stay vigilant. Seek out and support diverse voices. 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.