Trevor’s Favorite Criticism

Here is a space in which I can both archive my favorite pieces of criticism and (hopefully) provide some reading material you might enjoy as well!

(Listed by author’s last name. NOTE: Some articles cited may have been credited using a deadname pulled from the byline depending on the article’s age. If this is the case with any below, please let me know and I will update the citation.)

Heather Alexandra:
Death Stranding: The Kotaku Review – Kotaku, 11/1/19

“That said, Death Stranding is also just as infatuated with the male body. Whether that’s the sensual framing of Mikkelsen smoking a cigarette or the way the camera moves to ensure you’ve seen just enough of Reedus’ naked body during shower scenes, Death Stranding’s bisexual camera is more interested in men than even the torture-laden, blood licking Metal Gear franchise. The difference is ultimately in how lovingly men are framed compared to women, both by the literal camera and also their place in the larger narrative.”

Aevee Bee:
“I love my untouchable virtual body” – Offworld, 5/6/15

“See, even in this very hard game, there is something wonderful and fair: The game doesn’t care about the way bodies actually intersect. If your timing was correct, it agrees: “You were not touched.” Many games hide that tiny moment of invincibility within quick movement, and it feels so kind just knowing, no mater how bad you are, that if you could fit every moment of pain in that one tenth of a second you could be invincible for the rest of your life.”

Grace Benfell:
“Dated Visuals Made the Environmentalism of ‘Final Fantasy VII’ Come Alive” – Vice Games, 4/9/20

“Its world is interconnected, but not continuous or uninterrupted. Rather it is fractured, suggestive, and strange. We lose sight of ourselves in the coral reefs and power plants. They have hidden corners that neither cameras or players will ever reach. This holistic view reflects a wild world, both threatened and threatening.”

“Why Final Fantasy VII’s Trans Story Resonates” – Uppercut, 4/2020

“The “queer” stories that most often resonate with me are sub-textually, rather than literally, about repression and self-actualization. My “trans canon” includes everything from Bruce Springsteen’s song Dancing in the Dark to Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Tombs of Atuan. Very rarely are these works about explicitly trans characters. Rather Dancing in the Dark communicates a desperate need to connect to a body that will not cooperate. The Tombs of Atuan is, quite literally, about the terror of being nameless, of being in a culture built around you that cannot tolerate you. It’s an interpretative act that requires a leap, but I find it incredibly satisfying. Rather than waiting for someone to make a story for me, I take it and make it my own.”

Madison Butler:
“No Matter His Age, the Point of Nier is Compassion, not Tragedy” – Sidequest, 7/28/20

“His hair is white and wild, his brow is permanently furrowed in a scowl, and his posture suggests he’s always ready for a fight. Nier’s behavior, however, is a sharp contrast. He’s never resentful toward Yonah—even when she goes exploring without telling him, he’s concerned for her safety above all else. Instead, we get a father who is doing his absolute best to care for his chronically ill daughter and make her happy, even if that frequently involves eating her dubious home cooking. Like countless other RPG protagonists, Nier makes money by taking on odd jobs and random hunts for the others in his village, and his kindness extends to the community, too.”

Ruth Cassidy:
The Horrifying Solace of Sunless Skies – Into the Spine, 8/19/20

“The ports where the game saves and you replenish your supplies are no safer than the wilderness of the skies, but instead serve as homes for  opportunities to be curious. Horror in Sunless Skies isn’t something that simply happens to an unaware captain, but something they explore, eyes wide open, because the alternative is not knowing what could have happened.”

“I Tried to Make Him Hate Me” – On Summer Vacation 1999 – Medium, 5/11/21

“Regardless of readings of subtext, it is undeniable that it presents a type of gender neutral masculinity, perhaps conflating them, perhaps combining them. It’s thorny, but it makes the moments of tenderness and of violence pop. It’s not that gender is divorced then from their experience, but rather, it is made a bit unfamiliar, and the ‘play’ of it all takes on a context of adolescence first, over boys or girls.”

Jess Cogswell:
How Persona 5 Royals’ Mature Love Interests Reinforce Toxic Masculinity – Uppercut, 8/1/20

“Like Kamoshida, these women are presented as extremely attractive, but unlike Kamoshida, their perceived lack of agency allows us to distance ourselves from viewing them as predators and merely take in their attractiveness- they are not predators, they are prizes. Furthermore, the game prevents us from seeing their behavior as repulsive because, once again, we are a man. Men are expected to want, especially from attractive women. If they don’t—if they are to wait, question, or resist—society tends to perceive this as a failing of the man. Men are actors– so act.”

Max Derrat:
Bloodborne’s Hidden Secret to Becoming a God – YouTube, 10/30/20

Dante Douglas:
“The Three Modes of Male Sexuality in Videogames” – Paste, 4/7/16

“When the masculine is coded as being in opposition to femininity, male characters that are coded as “sexy” often do so by performing femininity (in some fashion). Traditionally-coded “sexy” male characters are “sexy” via their vanity, their attention to personal attire, etc. In this way, their status of being “sexy” is founded on their ability to perform as an object of sexual desire (this is also often queercoded and/or played as a joke).”

W.C. Hoag:
Geese are Scarier than Monsters – Unwinnable, 9/15/20

“Yes, Carrion provides its own sort of power fantasy – players control the ever-evolving blob and decimate legions of government employees – yet that power is tinged with desperation. The blob’s ultimate goal is carnage and freedom, but the goose provides a more grounded power trip that is rarely found in gaming or anywhere else. Untitled Goose Game’s primary objective is havoc; it grants players the ability to be unabashedly, unrelentingly petty while hiding behind the adorable guise of an evil, evil goose.”

David R. Howard:
“Metaphor and Mechanization in Banjo-Kazooie – Part Tooie” – Medium, 6/24/18

“If Tooie’s beginning evokes the Dada, the series of twist endings found within Cloud Cuckooland are a full-on Surrealist masterpiece, not only in the bizarre, abstracted architecture but in its tendency to psychoanalyze its own existence. Cloud Cuckooland, as a game level and concept, is Banjo-Tooie’s grand thesis and antithesis all at once. It re-writes the rulebook for how a 3D platformer is supposed to operate and then proceeds to throw those rules out the window.”

Gita Jackson:
“Why Black Men Love Dragon Ball Z – Kotaku, 7/5/18

Dragon Ball Z is a show about fights, super powers and overpowering your enemies through brute force. It’s also a show where you watch Goku fall in love and raise a family, or where friends will fall out with each and have to repair their relationships. Those emotional challenges are in the forefront as much as the punching is.”

Austin Jones:
“Mocking Succession” – Into The Spine, 11/17/20

“Shion wants to weaponize her modern sensibilities to, as Clover calls it, “dismember” the lawless frontier of Hinamizawa. In doing so, however, she reverts to her inner demon. Her disregard for the law, as well as her giddiness to kill even Satoko, is as Clover calls it “perverse[ly] simple,” branding her as one and the same as the villagers. In her sadness, she abandoned her humanity and used vengeance as an excuse to fill the void left by her rampant rejection.”

“Nier Replicant Still Portrays Queer Bodies with Brutal Honesty” – Paste, 4/13/21

“Queer people are often told that their bodies are unworthy, ugly, or loathsome unless they are somehow useful. Because of this, young queers often fear rejection unless they present some sort of functionality—are they entertaining? Do they ascribe to popular beauty standards? Do they have some kind of talent that contrasts their otherwise repulsive selves? A queer person fitting into mainstream society is possible, but requires a level of submission and assimilation. Being used for the purposes of conventional society is dehumanizing and to be as frightfully messy as Kainé is a death sentence—her unyielding honesty is synonymous with chaos.”

Vrai Kaiser:
“Dressed to Kill la Kill: The overlooked power of fashion’s rebellious history” – AniFem, 3/5/21

Both Satsuki and Ryoko wear the garments of past generations from beginning to end rather than, say, creating their own (again, the series touches this idea with Senketsu-as-scarf, only to once again discard the idea when that arc is finished). Again and again, Kill la Kill’s clever instincts are undermined by its determination to play first-and-foremost as titillation.

Dia Lacina:
“It Takes More Than a ‘Tolerance’ Mechanic to Make an Anti-Colonial RPG” – Vice Games, 11/13/17

“We’re all taught the lies of colonial powers from day one. “The Indians lost because whites are superior.” Indigenous people at best are seen as wards (in many cases, we legally are). We’re to be protected, but corralled. Only given what little our invaders deem okay, we’re expected to smile when our stories are told for us by outsiders.”

Wyeth Leslie:
“Intricate Rituals and the Ties that Bind: Emotive Masculinity in Death Stranding” – Haywire, 2/4/21

“Whenever violence is used as a cornerstone of male relationships, it brings to mind the words of American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, “You construct intricate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men.” As video game budgets have ballooned, we’ve seen fewer risks taken. There are an increasing number of large budget games that play it safe with both mechanics and characters and let’s be honest, violent men sell games.”

Sophie Lewis:
“A Portrait of Cis-Trans Solidarity” – The Nation, 5/20/21

“In short, nihilism and insurgent love, conservatism, and queerness ebb and flow and swirl continuously within the bosom of a single vampire. It can take generations to heal fully from depression and trauma, and that’s if one is lucky, alas—perhaps, without revolution, it isn’t even possible. At any rate, the vengeful defensive violence of vampires is structurally produced, much like the violence of Frankenstein’s monster, who goes on a rampage because his mother, the doctor, disowns him.”

Carmilla Morrell:
“Why Banjo-Tooie is a True Adventure” – Fanbyte, 7/23/19

“‘Immersion’ gets thrown around a lot in video games criticism, and I think it’s important to distinguish it from ‘verisimilitude,’ which is the impression of something being real, and ‘realism,’ which is an artistic emulation of reality. Banjo-Tooie is neither versimilitudinous nor realistic but it is entirely and amazingly immersive. It’s immersive because the game world, for all of its googly-eyed objects and anthropomorphic animals and contrived collectibles, is immaculately interactable.”

Julie Muncy:
“The Erotic Death Drive of Nier: Automata” – Bullet Points, 7/5/20 (Reprinted)

“In this context, Automata‘s death drive takes on an odd metaphorical resonance. It becomes, in essence, a sort of queerness—a means of rejecting the values of heterosexual reproduction, principle among them the emphasis it places on the future. For Adam, 2B, 9S, and the whole of artificial life that wars over the earth, there is no future. In the absence of that hope, new possibilities emerge.”

Esther Rosenfield:
“Because I Chose To” – @mise-en-scene Instagram, 4/27/19

“Seeing trans characters is nice, but what speaks to me so much more powerfully is seeing my own experience through genre allegory. That experience isn’t best relayed literally, because my trans feelings are so abstract.”

“OTH: How Bloodborne Transforms the Myth” – YouTube, 1/12/17

Joan Summers:
“Writer Torrey Peters Wants a Punk Utopia for Trans Girls and a Cuisinart Mixer” – Jezebel, 3/8/21

“Fiction for me is a place to talk about the nuances over arguments about bodily autonomy, or trans rights. These concepts are sloganized as if it’s always easy: women should always have autonomy over their body, whether they’re trans or whether they’re cis. But what if there’s a situation that puts those two ideas at odds with each other, and how do we navigate that?”

Adesh Thapliyal:
“How ‘Raji: An Ancient Epic’ Falls into the Indian Far-Right’s Trap” – Vice Games, 10/27/20

“Rather than produce a new, authentic image of India’s storied past, Raji is only able to refract and multiply the familiar ones, deepening the already large rift between the truth and a politically expedient fiction, and revealing how far conservatism has penetrated the nation’s sense of itself.”

Autumn Wright:
“Degendering the Dress” – Bullet Points, 5/27/20

“What follows Cloud’s Jonathan Van Ness magical girl transformation is the worst of it all. Beauty doesn’t discriminate by gender, the game says, as it dresses you up like a girl. Andrea’s words are blatantly contradictory. It isn’t transgressive to degender what is inextricably tied up to gender in fiction and reality. But as a genderfluid person, I kinda like gender. Even if we could get beyond the systemic oppression that shapes our gender-filled lives, I feel like gender would still exist (at least in me).”

“Weird Autumn” – Unwinnable, 9/22/20

“Mae’s disorientation is what reminds me of this autumn. If orientation is “how it is that we come to find our way in a world that acquires ‘new shapes,’” then the alienation of late capitalism is experienced as a dissociative episode where the familiar landmarks and faces around Mae become “just shapes.” Her dissociation prevents her from finding meaning in her surroundings and in the present until she resolves by the end of the game to hold onto anything

Last Updated: 11/17/20

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