Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games edited by J. Robert Lennon and Carmen Maria Machado (Review)

 Thank you to the editors at Graywolf Press for gifting me an advance review copy of this book. Links to books or other products may contain affiliate links whereby I may earn a small commission.

Critical Hits is a thoroughly new take on the growing video game writing genre in that a variety of authors have come together to write individual personal essays where they relate their gaming lives with other aspects of life, literature, and individual topics of interest. When I first heard about this book I was thrilled to be able to read and review it, as the premise sounded perfect for me, but now that I have the book in my hands I must say it has far exceeded my expectations and will be added to my list of all-time favorites.

 Since Critical Hits is a collection of essays and stories, I feel that it can't necessarily be reviewed as a whole body and I will instead review a few of the stories that stood out to me individually. I do want to note on the book as a whole, however, that one thing I noticed which could be a problem for some readers is that the stories have no qualms about sharing spoilers for the video games they are discussing. To read this book the audience must either not be bothered by major spoilers, or they must have already played every game mentioned in the book. I am personally somewhere in between. Thankfully I have already played many older AAA titles that are mentioned, such as The Last of Us and Dragon Age: Inquisition. But newer games, like Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, are still on my (enormous and ever growing) backlog. As a person who does not like to have stories spoiled, this did cause some difficulty for me while reading the book. 

The first section of the book I'd like to discuss in detail is the Introduction by Carmen Maria Machado and the first story, "I Struggled a Long Time with Surviving" by Elissa Washuta. Both of these works felt intimately relatable to me. Machado's description of her family's feelings about video games -- her mother's disdain and eventual relaxation of the "no video games" policy for the little brother was directly parallel to my own experience growing up. Like Machado I was a late bloomer when it came to experiencing games, though certainly not by choice. I felt seen not only by this description of her life experience, but also by the specific experiences that Machado describes with various games -- experiences that again almost directly mirrored my own. Washuta's "I Struggled a Long Time with Surviving" was similarly relatable for me. The story begins with the statement: 

Summer is here again and I miss my friends. I don't mean the real ones I've forgotten to talk to because I have no news to share but symptoms. I do miss them. But I'm referring to my imaginary video game friends, my good influences who never produce anything but spiked bats and health kits and other things they carry to keep them alive. (3)

 In these four brief sentences Washuta has summed up the reason that I spend the vast majority of my time playing video games AND the reason I see my "real life" friends only once a year, at most: I am sick. I can't go out, and people are too bummed to come visit me. But my video game friends (like Joel and Ellie, friends I share with Washuta) are always here when I need them. Upon further reading, I discovered that Washuta actually has exactly the same condition I have, with many of the same symptoms, including a mysterious heart condition. For me, personally, it is comforting to know that another writer is out there sitting in front of the TV, suffering with the same debilitating symptoms that I have, and possibly playing the same game I'm playing (it is probably time for me to play The Last of Us Remake). Others with chronic illnesses may also find comfort in this story, and in those first few words. It feels like community, and somehow our video game friends are a part of that community. 

In the story "Mule Milk," author Keith S. Wilson links an eclectic variety of topics to Final Fantasy VI. I was completely wrapped up in Wilson's story, connecting race and nature and otherness to protagonist Terra's struggles in Final Fantasy VI. Wilson asks, "What is nature? I've been wondering, because Black poets, even those who write explicitly about nature using the word nature, are seldom considered nature poets" (38). I consider myself to be a nature writer, and I think a lot about who is considered a "Nature Writer" and who is simply a person who mentions nature in their writings and studies. Therefore I really vibed with Wilson's essay. I also appreciate that he mentions a love of pigeons, an animal that I, too, could wax poetic about to a complete stranger on the street. 

Many other stories in this anthology moved me, including an essay in comic format by MariNaomi, but as this review is already quite long I think I need to wrap it up. TLDR: I would say that from cover to cover this book is worth reading in full and I would recommend it to anyone I know personally, including my closest and dearest relatives, friends I haven't seen in decades, and even my racist uncle, who could learn a few things but may also find that he secretly enjoys some of the stories.

This review can also be read in full on Goodreads, linked here.

Southern-Fried Gaming Expo 2023: Exploring "Georgia's Largest Arcade"

Photo of two adults in colorful, 80s themed clothing playing vintage and retro arcade games.
Photo ©2022 Juan Jusino

I spent this past weekend, July 28th-30th, at Southern-Fried Gaming Expo, Atlanta's most underrated gaming convention, and wow, it did not disappoint. SFGE is:

Atlanta's homegrown fan convention focused entirely on gaming, Southern-Fried Gaming Expo (SFGE) is a family-friendly event celebrating the history and modern-day cultural impact of arcade games, pinball machines, tabletop & RPG gaming, and video games. With over 150,000 square feet of exhibit space, Attendees can enjoy over 500 arcade, pinball machines, and video game consoles on free play, which for one weekend creates "Georgia's Largest Arcade." SFGE is pleased to host additional areas of interest including celebrity guests, vendors and exhibitors, and to foster a spirit of friendly competition with a new focus on tournaments and esports. (


 This year (actually, this week!) I'm turning 36, and the Southern-Fried Gaming Expo couldn't have revealed itself to me at a more perfect time. I went to MomoCon earlier this year and while I had a lot of fun, I also felt like I was a lot older than most of the other people there. Admittedly, I don't watch anime very much anymore and my main focus when attending conventions is gaming-related activities. Enter Southern-Fried Gaming Expo, a convention that has already been running for a decade but that I have only just discovered. This is a convention made specifically for people like me -- older and younger gamers alike who are into gaming more than anything else. At SFGE I was surrounded by thousands of games and thousands of gamers. I finally felt like I was home. 

There were so many things to do at SFGE that it was impossible for me to experience everything, but I feel like I got to do a good variety of activities. Here's a rundown of all the things I got to do while I was at Southern-Fried Gaming Expo.

The very first thing I did when I arrived, before I even picked up my badge and became an official attendee of the con, was to pass the table of Samantha Kelly, current voice actor of Princess Peach and Toad in the Super Mario franchise. When I realized that she was alone and there was no line to talk to her I did a huge double take and went back to say hi! I then proceeded to bombard her with pictures of my dog, whose name is Princess Peach, and she graciously looked at them and made the appropriate "aww" sounds. 

After picking up my badge and gaining my bearings in the tabletop gaming area, I headed over to the Cosplay Contest. I wasn't an entrant this year (click here if you do want to see one time I entered a costume contest) so it was fun to sit back and see all the incredible gaming-themed costumes. The awards were given to the following cosplayers:

  • Best Kids Costume: Benjamin as Pyro from Team Fortress
  • Judge's Choice #1: Snapdragon as Manny Calavera from Grim Fandango
  • Judge's Choice #2: Emily as Zelda from Tears of the Kingdom
  • Best Group: Kay and Bill as characters from Arcane: League of Legends
  • Best in Show: group from the Ragnarök franchise

Photo of group of cosplay contest winners onstage, with the judges on either side of the winners.
Photo ©2023 Kirsten Rodning

After the cosplay contest was over, I finally had some time to check out the vast, seemingly limitless space that held the arcade games, pinball machines, and exhibitors. I rushed straight to the Project Pinball Charity booth because I had heard that they were demoing a new disability accessible controller for pinball machines, created by Inclusive GameWerks. I got to play a Jurassic Park pinball machine without having to stand up from my wheelchair, which was really impressive! Most of the other pinball and arcade games I played required me to be standing, which of course took a toll on my chronically ill body. It was really refreshing to be able to sit down and still successfully play some pinball. Check out my Instagram posts for more on this experience.

After this point, I finally was able to just pick a few pinball and arcade games and play. Some of my favorites that I checked out included a Spaceballs homebrew machine made by John Marsh, some seriously old pinball machines from the 1930s that were provided by the people at History of Pinball (who knew such cool games existed when my grandparents were kids?!), and a Mandalorian pinball machine! I also checked out some booths that were selling games and found a few that I needed for my collection: Clue and Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? on Sega Genesis. 

If you're interested in attending Southern-Fried Gaming Expo in future years, you can follow them on Facebook or Instagram to stay up-to-date on announcements. 

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MomoCon 2023: Video Games as Literature 102

If you were unable to make it to MomoCon in Atlanta, GA over Memorial Day Weekend, the video of our Video Games as Literature 102 panel is now available on YouTube! You can watch it below or follow this link to get to the original YouTube page. Enjoy!

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MomoCon 2023 Panel Announcement

Announcement image for Video Games as Literature 102 panel at MomoCon

Announcement: for the second year in a row, Video Games as Literature will have a presence at MomoCon in Atlanta, GA! MomoCon is "an all-ages geek culture convention" taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, May 25-28, 2023. Keep reading for more information on the panel, entitled "Video Games as Literature 102," and on MomoCon in general!

Momocon logo
MomoCon is one of the largest fan conventions in Georgia (and possibly in the entire southeast?). You can read more about MomoCon here. Fun fact: I attended the very first MomoCon back in 2005 and have been going almost every year since! Click here to see the event schedule for MomoCon 2023

The Video Games as Literature 102 Panel will be at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 28th. You can click here to add the event to your Facebook calendar, or click here to add the event to your Google calendar

The panel will also be streaming on Instagram Live, so if you can't make it to Atlanta please follow the Video Games as Literature Instagram account to watch online!

Don't forget to download the MomoCon app so you can stay up-to-date on any changes or other events at MomoCon! You can download the Android/Google Play app here, or download the Apple app here

Please keep in mind that because I am high risk due to chronic illness, face masks and social distancing (when possible) are requested in the Video Games as Literature panel. MomoCon is not requiring masks this year for the general event, but masks will be appreciated by our panelists. 

I can't wait to see everyone again this year at MomoCon! 

Gaming and Environmentalism: Opposing Goals? Some Thoughts for Earth Day 2023

Screenshot from Planet Zoo, features a panda eating fruit.

    Recently I've been enjoying the heck out of 2019 PC game Planet Zoo. Planet Zoo is a simulation game by simulation masters Frontier Developments, who are known for their earlier games Roller Coaster Tycoon, Planet Coaster, and Jurassic World Evolution. I had played Jurassic World evolution a few years ago, and I've been excited to play a game about, well, modern animals. Part of the appeal of this game, for me, is its educational aspect. Planet Zoo includes a "Zoopedia" with detailed descriptions of all of the animal species you can include in your zoos, along with information boards that you can erect around your zoo that provide real information about ecological issues like poaching, the amphibian extinction crisis, climate change, and more. This is a game that I would have loved to own when I was a kid, back when my primary option for nature-based educational games was The Amazon Trail (which I have written about more than once on this blog, here and here). Now, I was a very proactive learner in my youth, and even if I hadn't had access to early video games I would still have been pouring over encyclopedias and non-fiction books, while holding mini fundraisers in my front yard (I netted a few quarters from neighbors, which then went into the donation box at the National Aquarium). But many kids don't have access to the resources that I had as a child for various reasons, and I believe that educational games are integral to raising concerned youth with active critical minds (one of my favorite examples was the time video games made me smarter than my science teacher). 

Screenshot of the animalpedia entry on Black and White Ruffed Lemurs from the game Planet Zoo
Animalpedia entry on Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs from Planet Zoo

While I love educational games and the impact they have on kids (and adults!) in this modern age, in the back of my mind I am always concerned about the environmental impact of using electricity-dependent technology for environmental education, or for leisure, work, or any other things that we do with the computers we are so dependent on. So in this post I will explore the pros and cons of gaming while staying environmentally conscious and provide some details readers can use to make their own choices about their impact on the environment. 

The first question I want to answer is: how large is the impact of gaming technology on our limited resources (namely electricity consumption)? If you're a modern console user, Eco Energy Geek has some answers for you: "The official power rating of a PlayStation 5 Disc Edition console is 350 watts, while the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition has a power rating of 340 watts. Normally the console will draw a lot less than this – expect to use around 200 watts while gaming." (Source) This is an average estimate, based on testing and on Sony's official statements about energy consumption, for how much electricity is used while the console is in active use. If you're like me, however, you're probably also concerned about how much electricity is being used while your console is in so-called "rest mode." Eco Energy Geek also answers this query: "In rest mode, the PlayStation 5 draws around 1.5 watts. Even when completely switched off, if plugged in the PlayStation 5 will draw 1.3 watts. The only way to stop it from drawing any power is to completely unplug it. You can change the settings for Rest Mode from the PS5 menu." (Source

The above information doesn't account for the energy used by your television, however. Fortunately Eco Energy Geek also accounts for TV data: "The average TV uses 57 watts of power, so combined with the PS5 when gaming they would draw around 260 watts total. Most TVs draw between 27 watts and 134 watts, while the PS5 uses between 50 and 200 watts when switched on, depending on what you’re using it for." (Source) If you want more detailed information about specific types of televisions and how they use electricity, check out the full article from Eco Energy Geek. The same article also draws comparisons between the PS5 and the other leading consoles on the market. As one might expect, the X-Box is comparable in energy consumption, but the Nintendo Switch uses a SIGNIFICANTLY smaller amount of energy. If you're really concerned about using the most energy efficient gaming console, the Nintendo Switch is the way to go.

If you're a PC gamer, the numbers are not quite as simple. Because no two PC gamers use exactly the same components (processors, hard drives, monitors, or even keyboards), energy consumption estimates can vary widely. This article entitled "How Many Watts Does A Gaming PC Use?" crunches some numbers on energy consumption from various different PC components. 

What does all of this mean, though? Let's take a look at something most of us use: air conditioning. While some homes still don't have central air conditioning, in the year 2023 the vast majority of Americans and residents of countries with similar economic standing use central heating and cooling systems. According to, "On average, a home air conditioner can use about 3,000 watts of electricity an hour. If you have it on all day, that's 72,000 watts of electricity a day! However, running it on the 'fan-only' mode will only consume about 750 watts an hour." Looking at these numbers, on a very hot day when your air conditioner is running constantly, your PS5 will use less than a tenth of the amount of electricity that your air conditioner is using. This basically shows us that the best way to cut back on electricity consumption is to play games while you suffer through the heat and keep your air conditioner on fan-only mode (and since I live in the deep south, I have a LOT of experience with suffering through the heat!). 

In the next post, I will take a look at materials used to make consoles and other gaming necessities and possible misinformation one might learn from various supposedly eco-friendly video games. I will also delve a bit deeper into why nature-based video games are so important. Stay tuned, the next post will be available to read on Arbor Day: April 28, 2023!