Because gaming is critical.

The_Critical_Is is an experiment in how we talk about games, media, and culture. We bring you essays, videos, and news on the most urgent questions in gaming today.

18 Reasons Why Ambiguously Brown is the New Black

Every once in a while, the internet offers up a new and never-before-seen gemstone. My default position when it comes to the internet is that of a pur(sur)veyor. Purveyor because I engage with the internet as an interface through which I can spread and promotes ideas, while also (metaphorically and literally) buy into the “goods” that others are selling. Surveyor… Read more →


Exciting news from down in the bunker: The_Critical_Is has been invited to present a poster at this year’s HASTAC conference at Michigan State University! We’ll be presenting four, short interlocking videos and papers on race, gender, representation, and history in games — particularly in our long-standing obsession, the Assassin’s Creed series. Watch this space for future updates, including the videos themselves, a collection of our essays, and online-only content. And, if you’re in East Lansing, Michigan from May 27th to May 30th, drop by and say hi!


Diversity through Systems?

“But, an unpopular question lingers, one that Maxis’s closure calls to mind. Why must we have characters in games at all? Or, more gently put, why have we assumed that the only or primary path to video-game diversity and sophistication lies in its representation of individuals as opposed to systems and circumstances? In truth, we’ve all but abandoned the work… Read more →



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Yes, they’ve done it. The creators of the ever famous, ever loved Cards Against Humanity have gone ahead and released an in-browser version that can be played with your friends. Titled Cards Against Originality, you can now play the game digitally. Friday nights will never be the same again.


January-Term Course: A Recap

This past January, I taught a week-long January term course entitled “Winners Don’t Smash Buttons: A Video Game Practicum.” This blog post is a summary of what happened over the course of the week; if you’re interested in reading a digital essay on the experience, the course website ( explores issues of death, reincarnation, play, and so much more. Course syllabus… Read more →

concept map of criteria for historical fiction game

Carving Out A Space (With Hidden Blades)

What does it mean to understand the Assassin’s Creed video games as works of historical fiction? To what extent can other forms of historical adaptation shape our perception of these games? How does the medium of the video game complicate our notions of what history and historical adaptation are? What’s at stake in engaging with the particular historical settings and… Read more →


Passing, Passing, Gone: LIM and Boundaries

 (Credit goes to Edmond Chang, who was the one to point me towards LIM in his lecture “(Un)Loving Mechanics: Queerness + Straightwashing  in Digital Games”. )   The other day, I tried search for a synonym for “going by.”   Which got me thinking:     And games that do a good job of representing the struggles that come from inhabiting a liminal… Read more →

The End of the Rainbow

Interactive fiction’s revival (if it was ever dead) gives us a new way to think about seeing and being seen in video games. Have you ever played Zork? If you’ve only played one text-based adventure game, it was probably Zork. The 1979 game, built on a PDP–10 mainframe computer by a gaggle of nerds at MIT (he writes, with love)… Read more →

The_Critical_Is Roundup

At The_Critical_Is_ Simulation, Death vs. Desynchronization, and Historical Trauma “But even within this repetition, the game does not let us forget that nothing we are experiencing is “real”–the human player is not only one step removed from the “real event”, the step constituted by the television and game console, but is about four steps removed from what the game considers… Read more →

Simulation, Death vs. Desynchronization, and Historical Trauma

Assassin’s Creed easily has the most confusing multiple level narrative I’ve ever encountered, whether in a game, a television show, a movie or a book. Picking up where my last post left off, the game hinges on the fact that this entire adventure is a simulation. We, the player, are about three steps removed from any sort of “real” gameplay–we are… Read more →