Welcome to Pushing Buttons, the newest gaming newsletter from The Guardian. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox weekly, just insert your email below – and check your inbox (and spam) for the confirmation email.
I want to take advantage of this first issue to tell you what to expect from this newsletter. The world of gaming is changing rapidly and it can be difficult to keep pace while living a busy life. I want to be a friendly guide to what’s interesting and relevant, and which games deserve your valuable time and attention.
But it won’t just be a summary of the news. Video games do not exist in a cultural vacuum, and they are not just products that appear and are quickly forgotten. For anyone who plays it – which, increasingly, is pretty much everyone – games are part of life, not something separate from it. I want to talk about them in a way that reflects that.
Ask any anthropologist and they’ll tell you that we can learn a lot about people by watching how we play. I find that the games that become popular often reflect an interesting facet of our culture and the world we live in: whether it’s the potent blend of ultra-capitalist fantasy and calming control of human affairs of The Sims, or the pandemic success of space skulls among us. ‘ undercurrent of anxiety, instability and mistrust. Even a game that seemingly has nothing to say – Fortnite, for example – can tell us a lot when we look at how people play it. Teenagers use it as a meeting place; their generation’s equivalent of needlessly strolling around the local park with your friends, but perhaps without the secret cans of cider.
And gaming culture — because it’s young, because it’s cutting edge — can give us a glimpse of what’s at stake for the world as a whole. There is the sad example of Gamergate, the 2014 harassment campaign that foreshadowed the Trump campaign and the seduction tactics of the alt-right; but gamers were also the first exponents of the internet’s ability to connect and empower people, with our online discussion groups and lobbies. People were creating and organizing new selves and friendship circles in video game worlds long before they did the same on Instagram.
I say all this to reinforce the idea that games question. These are not guilty pleasures, pointless wastes of time. Like all art and culture, they have power. Games connect and entertain and sometimes cause change. The people who make them and play them can be fascinating. I love video games in all their forms, from the sublime to the very, very ridiculous, and that’s exactly why I take them seriously. The right game at the right time can change your life. Or it can give you something fun and escapist to do between long days at work, raising your kids, or navigating life’s daily sorrows. It is good too.
I’ve been a games journalist for 16 years, and I still find them infinitely fascinating. I’m excited to share the games and stories that make my brain happy with you all.
what to play
This week’s game recommendation is The gate of death, an extraordinary little game that’s flown somewhat under the radar this year – rightly so, as it stars a working crow as Grim Reaper. It’s an invitingly beautiful Zelda-like adventure game, with sleek, snappy combat and a world made up of enjoyable dioramas full of interesting secrets to find, but it’s also gently melancholic in a way that inspires me. really touched over time. There’s something almost Spirited Away about it, with moments of touching levity among the dungeon digs.
Available on: PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X/S, PC, Nintendo Switch Approximate playing time: 10 hours
What to read
At the end of a year full of shocking stories of harassment and toxic work culture at studios from Ubisoft to Activision Blizzard and more, Reporting by IGN’s Rebekah Valentine over claims of a troubling work environment at former Halo and current Destiny Bungie developers, which would be at odds with the company’s virtuous self-image. Valentine’s extensive reporting doesn’t just allege endemic problems in the game’s development – sexism, boys’ club culture, overwork, lack of diversity – but addresses what it would take to try to fix them.
My heart was well and truly warmed by this feature film about Terry Pratchett’s love of 1998’s stealth game Thief: The Dark Project. video games in the late 1990s to tell the story of the great author’s favorite video game in his own words. I was also very amused by his reaction when I was introduced to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion: “Aaargh! What did you do to me?”
The Game Awards took place last Friday, a glitzy mix of celebrating the highlights of the game of the year and hours of commercials and announcements for upcoming games. The wild, creative, genre-hopping co-op family hug It Takes Two rather unexpectedly won Game of the Year, a game I had a lot of fun playing with my partner IRL earlier this year. The Rod has a full descent game announcements – an open-world Sonic game has old Sega fans cringing with excitement, and horror fans should check out Slitterhead, a new game from Silent Hill creator Keiichiro Toyama.
Block of questions
This is where we ask your questions about all things gaming and have interesting people answer them. Today we ask Dominik Diamond, host of the iconic original GamesMaster TV show and pop culture legend of legit gaming: were video gameis it better in the 90s?
“Of course, games were better in the 90s. Mainly because when you bought them, they were actually finished products. If you had told people in the 90s, “Here’s Super Mario Kart, you can play the first three songs, then it kinda bugs, but we’ll have a patch in a month”, you would have been locked in a room with Mr. Blobby and drink Sunny D until your skin changes color. Oh sure, games these days have more graphical bells and whistles, but so what? Gameplay is gameplay. In the 90s, we didn’t even have to know how to spell Nvidia.
What to click
Next week: I’ll look back at 2021, a year in which the effects of the pandemic on game development really started to be felt. Until there!