Detail of the cover of issue 1 of "The Arcade Review," illustrated by Phil James

Detail of the cover of issue 1 of “The Arcade Review,” illustrated by Phil James (all images courtesy The Arcade Review)

There are a multitude of publications out there covering video games, from reviewing play to industry news, but a new journal is aiming to fill a void in the discussion of experimental games and art.

The Arcade Review, issue 1

The Arcade Review, issue 1

The Arcade Review was launched in January with its first issue, which covers everything from pulp modernism to the impact of looping narratives. The quarterly digital magazine is available online (for $5), and is aiming to push the dialogue on overlooked experimental games, as well giving a more critical view to more mainstream games.

As Founding Editor Zolani Stewart writes in the first issue’s introduction: “I used to be someone who wanted to work in the big games industry, as everyone does, but like many people I realized that those places didn’t support what I was looking for.” The Arcade Review was created to be “about experimental games, about interesting, radical, artistic, and weird games that challenge our understanding about art and how we assess it.”

"Space Pulp Modernism" article in "The Arcade Review"

“Space Pulp Modernism” article in “The Arcade Review”

The publication itself is a straightforward pdf, but instead of screencaps accompanying articles there are works of art, which, appropriately, veer to the digitally experimental. (You can check out Phil James’ illustration timelapse of the above cover here.) While they’re currently taking submissions for issue 2 through February 12, the initial critical essays are thorough and promising. And although they are of course aimed at gamers who have familiarity with the subject matter, there’s also a perspective that places the games within a wider cultural context.

In an article comparing the experience of looping narratives, Line Hollis examines 2000’s The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask with the film Groundhog Day as a counterpoint, where both characters have to evolve even when previous achievements are wiped out after each “reset.” This culminates with a revelation about the author’s intense time with the game linking into a very personal emotional crisis. Anyone who has been caught up in some sort of video game at a trying time can relate to how it can reflect or be cathartic for your life, but that’s rarely touched on in game reviews. Likewise, when Lana Polansky describes in another essay the way that Major Bueno games “make the player vulnerable,” or when Zolani Stewart gets beyond the “trippy” factor of Sluggish Morss to explore the way it relates to “hyper-energies and anxieties brought about by the speeds of ordinary life, as well as short-term loops that give us comfort,” the Arcade Review is getting into much different territory than other game writing that concentrates on entertainment value and difficulty level.

Video games as art isn’t a new dialogue, but it’s still something of a burgeoning focus for critical writing. And with more museums acquiring games and freeware experimental games becoming more accessible, it’s exciting to see a publication devote itself entirely to this discussion.

Issue 1 of The Arcade Review is available online for $5. Submissions are currently open for issue 2.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...