Live Free, Play Hard: Flaming skulls are a valuable part of this forest’s ecosystem

By Porpentine on June 16th, 2013 at 12:59 pm.


THIS WEEK: Hypertext therapy. Street harassment. Inside every cop is a beautiful crystal.

 

 

Player 2 by Lydia Neon

Player 2 is a game with a therapeutic purpose, and to that end it is conscientious. With a content warning, suicide resources, and references to self-help, it introduces something seldom seen in games: an awareness of trauma.

The purpose is to explore unresolved conflict with another person, the second player, invisible and present only in your own mind (in the way we’re always carrying other people with us, and when those people are the wrong people, it’s like poison).

I found this surprisingly personal and thought-provoking from the start. Being forced to actually consider all the slights and injuries and abuse done to me instead of repressing them (as we often do in order to go about our daily lives without shutting down) was uncomfortable, and so was the act of connecting those pains to another person.

Once you begin, the choices are nuanced (I count more than 20 variables) enough to describe lots of conflicts, ranging from petty arguments to abuse. You can also type your feelings out in response to prompts. I knew I was typing into the void where no one would ever see, but making my thoughts visible was still hard.

So what we have is browser-based therapy. The idea of automated therapy might seem dystopian at first, but when it’s lovingly designed by a human being, I call it a mature experiment that utilizes the private, often powerful connection we have with games.

 

Escape From The Fishing Community Island by Nenad

Fight to survive on a randomly-generated island taken over by evil fish (reminds me of Gyo, the manga about horrible sea creatures obscenely permitted to walk on land).

To escape, you’ll need to scavenge through buildings, avoiding or killing your fishy foes along the way. When you search, you have a chance of finding key items like fuel (one of the items required to use the boat), upgrades, or health.

Before the game begins, you choose two of three weapons: harpoon, net, and/or hook, customizing your fish-murdering approach (I like the harpoon!). As for settings, Hard Mode was most satisfying for me. Larger islands combined with lower difficulties seemed to defuse tension a bit, at least in my playthroughs.

 

I Cheated On You by Richard Cowley

This does a smart thing with hypertext. It uses the unflinching hyperlink to represent guilt, the words that stick in our throat.

John Brindle mentioned how it was “opposite to normal Twine link aesthetic (link as glowing point o agency, text as flavour)”. Instead, the text is where everything happens, and the link is what should happen, if only you could say it.

 

GUNNER by Jake Clover

Kill cops get crystals.

I’m noticing how Clover loves those big loud gun sounds in his games. So satisfying. He’s good at guns.

 

Two Blocks by Lesley Kinzel

Two Blocks is about street harassment and fat-shaming. We start out calm in our place of safety, ready for the day. Then we go outside and everything falls apart as our self-image grinds against society’s views on what certain kinds of people are like, and what they deserve to have happen to them.

For some of us, our relationship with the world is constant friction. It was not designed for us, and so it is like crawling, naked and fleshy, through a machine built to process metal. Two Blocks is about that friction.

 

walking home by spinach

Another short text game about fear experienced on the street, but from another angle: the visibility of being a black male (Half of all homicide victims in America are black, yet they compose only 1/8th of the population).

Now that I think about it, this is a hypertext poem written with great attention to the sound of words and the shape of sentences, delivered one line at a time (Spinach says, “the text is broken up more or less where i would take a breath were i reciting it”), winding tighter and tighter, tension sharp enough to cut.

 

FISHJN’ by Bronson Zgeb, Gruau Pomme Lackey, Ramsey Kharroubi

Mesmerizing rhythm-based fishing game that “gets funkier the closer you get to capturing your fish.” Wonderful neon electric music bubbling from a wire-frame void lake.

 

Fear Less! by Anna Oliver, Greg Lane

I distrust upgrade games. The kind you see on flash portals like Newgrounds where the focus isn’t so much on skill as on reaching a certain point, dying, upgrade, repeat. Gradually you work toward some nebulous, unspecified win condition. Work to overcome your obstacles. No think. Work.

The reason, of course, is to keep eyeballs on the page of an ad-driven site–game design deformed around monetary pressures.

Fear Less! is probably the best we’re going to get from that genre. It has a lot of personality.

You’re running through a forest chased by a nightmare being. You control two things: your jumps and your sword. Enemies like bears or foxes can be slashed through, other obstacles (like bunnies! and gravestones!) have to be leapt over. With more coins, you unlock double and triple jumps, earning the right to enjoy your movements.

You beat it, not by reaching a certain point, but by getting all the medals. Jumping over 100 mushrooms is a medal. Taking damage only from mushrooms is a medal. Etc.

Deeper in the forest, when the flaming skulls and satanic traps appear and constant dodging is required to survive, is where my reflexes were actually tested. Which means every time I start the game I’m biding time to get to the exciting part. The excellent production values are sugar enough to make it go down, mostly. When Fear Less! isn’t reminding me of the dubious pacing of the upgrade system, I like it, and I’d like to see more from the same people.

The song is perfect for this game, alternating between high-energy drums/guitar and jaunty synths so we don’t get tired out. There’s a third part I really like, the rewinding sound, which is the synth section of the song in reverse, evoking the cyclical nature of the game, always back in my bed, still trapped in this nightmare.

 

Love the girl skulls, finally some strong female representation in games.

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73 Comments »

  1. v_ware says:

    Who is Porpentine?

      • tossrStu says:

        Well thank fuck you’re NOT then, eh.

      • DrScuttles says:

        May I ask why?

        edit: (it’s true what they say. when comments are deleted, you really do look like a mad ‘un)

      • pipman3000 says:

        that’s funny and all but i dont see why it would justify going all mccarthyist here

      • The Random One says:

        I agree, how can RPS live with itself knowing it employs someone who would wear that hat. I THOUGHT WE HAD STANDARDS HERE

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        “conduct depicted on this website as grounds for termination of cooperation with that individual.”

        Oh sweetie. You’re adorable. Like a puppy afraid of the wind.

    • Anthile says:

      No, v_ware. The question is, when is Porpentine?

      • RedViv says:

        If you want to be even friendlier, ask “How is Porpentine?”

        • mr.black says:

          Who porpentines the Porpentine?

          No wait, that reference doesn’t make any sense here..

    • JackShandy says:

      A miserable little pile of game recommendations. But enough talk – have at you!

    • LionsPhil says:

      An annoying individual who writes in an arty-farty and “deep” fashion about edgy twine games.

      But if you ignore most of the words, and Google the titles rather than following the links through to their intermediate site, sometimes they dig up an interesting Sunday-afternoon game or two.

      • blind_boy_grunt says:

        oh wow. I think i know whose name you wrote in player2

      • Bhazor says:

        I have to say I just click the links and ignore the rest of the words. Either they’re hopelessly “first year art student” or they just straight up spoil the game.

      • Terragot says:

        >Reading an RPS article
        >Not going straight to the comments to bitch and flame about the article author, misogyny, non-games, Peter Molynoux and my grammar.

        I sure-higgidy-doooraddy-loop-de-scoop-a-dong-a-thong-thong hope you don’t do this…

    • sinister agent says:

      Porpentine is a strange woman who draws sounds on an electronic box.

    • psepho says:

      As far as I know, ‘Porpentine’ is the identity used by Shodan’s avatar in meatspace.

      Oops, spoilers!

    • nemryn says:

      IIRC, the Porpentine is a McGuffin in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic series. Not really sure what it’s doing writing about video games here, but I guess even ancient magical crystals have hobbies.

  2. Viroso says:

    I prefer when a game has no unlockables but I think you’re going too hard on “upgrade games”. Unlockable upgrades is a way to keep the game fresh as you play more of it, to balance the game, to introduce players to new mechanics without overwhelming them, to give players their own goals, to give them progress. It isn’t the devil’s doing.

    I can’t understand how it influences or is influenced by ads. Maybe I’m naive but I think people do it because other people did it, because they like it, because they think people like it, as is the case for a lot of games. Besides it is not like making money from you work is a sin. I mean your columns are on an ad driven page.

    • Porpentine says:

      read this column 50 times to unlock punctuation
      100 times: line breaks
      200 times: images
      300 times: hyperlinks
      400 times: comments
      500 times: column spins around at a 360 degree angle as rainbows shoot out your screen

      • flyz says:

        Porpentine – Your point is invalid. You read an article to get as much of the juicy information on a subject as possible in a short amount of time. That’s why a writer did the research to save the reader time and to possibly entertain them briefly.

        You play a game to enjoy yourself, and hopefully for its ability to be played many times over. There are so many instances where people complain about a lack of replay value in a specific game. I don’t usually hear people complaining about that when it comes to magazine or web articles. — This is why these features are put into games. (of course who isn’t happy to see an a new and innovative way of granting the luxury of “replayability”)

        • MarcP says:

          No, no. Don’t you get it? Upgrades are bad, because they’re manipulative and make you waste your time.

          Now, witty article titles to get you to click and read, or text-only games riding whatever catchy theme happens to be flavor of the week… Those are entirely fine, and the mark of a sophisticated mind.

          • MarcP says:

            Besides, games should be about stories. Enjoying a game for its gameplay is a ludicrous idea.

        • The Random One says:

          But there are many situations in which a game tricks you into thinking it’s enjoyable, when in fact it just gives you the promise it’ll become enjoyable once certain upgrades are unlocked. So you are in fact grinding while thinking that you’re enjoying yourself. It’s like plot twists: the cheaper way to make a work seem different when approached a second time.

          Plus, “replayability” is a phantom created by poor marketing decisions following the big games. A free game should make you want to play it until you don’t want to play it any more.

          • Viroso says:

            If the game tricks you into thinking it is enjoyable, then it is enjoyable. Replayability means the game wants to make you play it more, just that. It is just that for some games, playing it more means playing through what is defined as a main story that has an end, so we call it a replay.

            No big deal about these things, no evil tricks.

          • Lanfranc says:

            So how, in practical terms, do you distinguish between when you are actually enjoying yourself and you just think you’re enjoying yourself? Because it seems like that could be a problem.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            viroso,
            those games are like fast food, manufactured to be enjoyable. The makers know what make you tick and then they… tickle it. In the end for me it is a question of heart, how much heart went into making the game. With most of those upgrade games there is no heart behind it, no one wanted to make this exact game, noone thought “i’ve got this great idea i need to make”. But maybe i’m just angry at them for stealing so much of my goddamn time.

          • JackShandy says:

            Viroso, these games are superstimuli.

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/h3/superstimuli_and_the_collapse_of_western/

            A basic example: Our bodies are made to feel pleasure when we eat sugar. A can of coke is jam-packed with more sugar than we were ever made to eat in one go. So, coke jams so hard on the pleasure button that it becomes really hard to stop drinking, even when we know it’s bad for us.

            Likewise, we’re made to feel good when we accomplish something. A lot of games try to whack that pleasure button as hard as they can by pumping us with fake “Achievements” constantly. It’s trashy, and it keeps you playing well past the point when you’re actually having fun. If you’re a gamer, I’m sure you can remember a point where you weren’t actually having fun playing a game – but you had to keep going, to unlock X piece of loot. It’s not the same as real enjoyment, because it keeps you playing even when the fun fades.

          • Viroso says:

            @blind_boy_grunt

            I don’t like judging things based on something like “has heart in it”. For one because we can’t know, we can only guess, and second because that’s too abstract. Games have different goals and I don’t think every game has to have the same goal. I’m perfectly fine with a game existing simply to entertain me in the shallowest of ways. Some of the best games ever created are like this. Tetris, Superhexagon.

            @JackShandy

            I don’t think I can dismiss something for being superstimuli, I’m not even sure I can agree with the idea. But agreeing it with for the sake of argument, I’m not one to look back solely at how we behaved in times past to judge whether something is good or bad today. If we’re going to say a game is bad, it isn’t just because it stimulates us more than what we assume our species faced during our evolution. If being a superstimulus is a bad thing, then we can give up a lot of fantastic art that has been made. And I’m not talking about video games.

            I also don’t like when something in a game is called “fake” There’s no such thing as a fake achievement, achivements or trophies are what they are and that’s it. Some people like it, and it is not because they’re being fooled.

            Also, games are more than just fun, and besides suffering can be part of the fun. Super Meat Boy is a game where I kept playing past the point where it was enjoyable. This is all of Super Meat Boy for me, the entire game exists past the point where it is enjoyable, and I ended up throwing 30 hours of my life at it.

            Games are more complex than a simple and constant state of having fun. Having fun was not my motivation to play The Walking Dead or Proteus.

            One thing that is pleasurable, even fun (but not constantly) to do is to pursue a goal you have set. You decide to break your past record or to acquire certain upgrade, then you play to get that. It doesn’t matter if it is a “fake goal”, what matters is that someone chose to do it because they wanted to. Let’s not be so quick to dismiss personal responsibility and treat people like victims of an evil game.

            I mean, I agree that there’s a limit to our willpower. Slots are made to be highly addictive and people get addicted to it, the nature of the game is certainly part of why an addiction occurs. But when we focus only on the nature of the game we start saying “ban slots” and in most cases I think it is better when we don’t ban something.

            There’s way more to addiction, we can’t just look at games for the bad guy, specially because doing that we won’t look at other factors that contribute to an addiction. We will ignore personal responsibility which is key to overcoming an addiction, we won’t look at environmental factors that make people vulnerable to addiction.

            I know I’m kind of derailing here talking about slots, but the point I want to illustrate is let’s not be so quick to dismiss something as “bad” just because the way it appeals to us seems so transparent, just because it seems shallow. I think it is better when we try to look at things from different angles instead of judging everything based on an ideology for what makes something good, the world and ourselves are much more diverse and complex than any ideal standard we have.

            Let’s not rely on a single term or concept to dismiss things entirely.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            while i loath to destroy a comments section with 69 posts, yes i am that immature:
            while i maybe used a bit much pathos, what i wanted to say is not to judge a game by how much heart it has, but by a lack of heart. What i meant with the fastfood comparison is the people making it don’t think about how to make their product better but how to get you to eat more of it, and often the cheap/easy thing is not to make it taste better but to put more of the addicting stuff in it, sugar, fat, salt and everything else nice, aren’t those called empty calories? the same thing with those games, the upgrades exist only as means to themselves, because they make you keep playing the game because they dangle them in front of you just a bit out of reach, empty calories.
            There is nothing evil in all of that because as you said we as people are free to choose. My choice is just different from yours.

      • Lanfranc says:

        i read this column 506 times but i didn’t seen any rainbows i want my money back >:(

  3. Michael Fogg says:

    Why no Sunday Papes? Too busy with Rez?

  4. lowprices says:

    Porpentine is the wind. You cannot “know” Porpentine, anymore than you can catch the wind.

    Also she does twine games.

    Edit: Meant as a reply to v_ware. Stupid comments system.

    • The Random One says:

      I caught the wind once. Still paying fines for the environmental agency.

  5. redd says:

    Crop that header.

  6. mouton says:

    You know, I sometimes catch myself at skipping the whole Porpentine article just to check if there is a flamewar in the comments. Heh.

    • Skabooga says:

      You skipped the article? How dare you! FLAME ON!

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      I find it amusing how some folks tend to be so easily offended by Porpentine. It’s… well, quite curious.

  7. GameCat says:

    OK, I have very wide definition of what things can be called a game, but “walking home” certainly doesn’t belong here.

    • Skabooga says:

      It may not be a game, but who cares, questions of taxonomy are banal. “walking home” belongs here.

    • Bhazor says:

      I played it like a madlib.

      “Your mom” hurt you deeply and as a result you felt “hungry”. You have never confronted this moment at the “circus” before.

      lol

      Edit: Thought this was about Player 2

    • Lanfranc says:

      What? :-O

      A non-game pretending to be a game? Oh noes! :(

      Call the Game Police at once! >:(

      • GameCat says:

        Would you say that article chopped into 3 or more different pages and clicking through them is a game?
        Did webiste with photo gallery where you can browse the photos in one way is a game?
        If so, EVERYTHING is a game.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          If it called itself a game I really wouldn’t mind.

          • tormos says:

            +1. Really don’t see the purpose in protecting the label of “game” so zealously. And it’s my birthday and i say it’s a game so there

        • Lanfranc says:

          Is everything a game? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But certainly many things are games that do not appear so at first.

          “walking home” is a poem, so it is at the very least the result of a game, because writing poetry – using language in a structured manner to overcome a challenge (i.e. writing poetry that is not good) – is certainly a game.

          And while you click through the chopped bits and read them, do you not try to live yourself into the thoughts of the protagonist, to think as he thinks? And is that not also a sort of game? I would think so.

          • GameCat says:

            It was just like flipping pages in book.
            If there was at least one choice in “walking home” THEN it would be a game.
            And no, “closing browser is like choosing your own ending” doesn’t count as a choice.

            And about “poetry as a result of the game” – all “let’s play” videos are results of playing a game, but are not game per se.

          • Lanfranc says:

            Okay! So you are arguing that the presence of choice is a necessary part of the definition of a game?

            But then imagine the simplest possible dice “game”: Two people throw two six-sided dice each, and whoever gets closest to 12 wins. There is no choice involved other than to throw the dice or not. Is that not a game?

          • Bhazor says:

            @Lanfranc

            Two people rolling dice leads to different outcomes.

          • GameCat says:

            Exactly.
            There must be at least 2 different outcomes/choices to call something a game.
            Tossing a coin and guessing if it gonna be heads or tails is probably an “atomic” version of game when you can’t really remove any features or rules, because it wouldn’t be a game anymore.

            Also most of games contains various choices – will you ask for another card in blackjack or swap them in poker? Will you shoot that zombie with pistol or shotgun?
            Will you look closer at this rock, or you will just run after rabbit?

          • The Random One says:

            So would you say that the fact that there is only one outcome possible at the end of Bioshock Infinite means it’s not a game?

          • Lanfranc says:

            And Monkey Island is even less a game, because Bioshock at least has a fail state, in that you can die and thus be unable to complete it. But whilst you can get stuck in Monkey Island, you cannot reach a fail state in it, and assuming you try out enough different combinations, you will eventually reach the end – the only possible end. So Monkey Island may seem to have more choices than “walking home”, but is essentially the same thing – although you can choose between dozens of different things, there is e.g. only one correct choice that will get you across the troll bridge. And is Monkey Island a game? Most people would probably say so, though some might not.

            But that is really at the heart of the issue: That (following Wittgenstein) we are talking about a concept (“game”), which does not have one single, clear definition, but rather is characterised by a set of “family relationships”: Some, but not all, involve multiplicity of choices. Some, but not all, involve chance. Some, but not all, have different outcomes. And so forth. And can we say that programs like “walking home” does not have at least some family relationship to other games? I think it certainly does.

            Another thing is that it doesn’t really matter, because even though we literally cannot form a clear definition of what a “game” is, we are still perfectly able to discuss “games” because we have a pragmatic understanding of those family relationships. And we can do that because (and this is a little secret) language is also a sort of game, you see.

          • DrScuttles says:

            Aha! But The Secret Of Monkey Island does have one fail state. Though admittedly it’s paired / hidden with perhaps the easiest puzzle in the entire game; I didn’t know about it for years.
            I do apologise for being pernickety, it’s just my nature. Some other smart arse was bound to chime in with this but your point still stands.

          • Lanfranc says:

            Hah! That’s right, the drowning thing. I completely forgot about that one. Theoretically, you could also run out of the pieces o’ eight you need for the storekeeper, by spending them all in the grog machine, although that would take ages. But still. ;-)

          • The Random One says:

            Conversely, Bioshock Infinite doesn’t have a fail state, since you are uncerimoniously dumped back into the world when you die.

            Except for the final part in the ship… dammit, Ken Levine put that in precisely to ruin my otherwise foolproof argument. Damn him! Damn his eyes!

          • GameCat says:

            Of course Monkey Island and Biohock are games.
            In Bioshock: Infinite you have only one fixed outcome (and that’s great, because it fits in one of the themes of game), but before you get there you’re stumbling upon infinite (hehehe) microchoices (it’s also metagame, as every player will have slightly different experience – constants and variables) like as I wrote earlier. Do you prefer guns or vigors? Do you wanna kill that guy by shooting him or you gonna use vigor to turn him into ashes? If you have these dillema, poof! You’re playing a game!

            It can be applied to all so called “not/non/whathever games” – do you want explore whole island in Proteus or just stand on the mountain and watch sun as it goes down? Or maybe you will chase that frog things to hear additional music? Endless possibilities.

            Monkey Island – I didn’t played it (please don’t kill me!), but there’s one thing. You probably didn’t get all puzzles right, but you were using wrong items in wrong places etc.
            Also some items can probably be obtained in different sequence, I mean you can grab item X before item Y, or item Y before X. Or maybe you will use all options like “look”, “push”, “pull” etc. on every objects and characters?

            But if Monkey Island’s mechanics were always “press x to advance” (or click hyperlink to advance) without a fail state or choices or different outcomes – it wouldn’t be a game anymore.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            edited because of too much hyperbole and douchebaggery, must have been late

          • starforce_5 says:

            sort of a poorly written twine response to all of this decision and games talk????? http://play.textadventures.co.uk/games/1z-5vU3zs0GwwzNtop5Org/coin%20toss.html i made it myself i’m not a spambot or at least i don’t think i am

        • JackShandy says:

          It’s a piece of interactive entertainment.

    • spinach says:

      it’s mimicry — as you read, and as you click, you are me. the tactile experience of clicking is your only agency, because i control the pacing, the rhythm. for those two facts, it is different from static words on a page, though perhaps not different from listening to a recited presentation. it’s very rigid — so much so, in fact, there is only one way to progress. as far as possible from paidia, or playful roleplaying (or therapeutic roleplaying), it is fixed at the other end of the spectrum, ludus, or structured play. you have one verb (“click”) and i, a series of reactions in fixed order. as interactive as eating a bowl of cereal, except there is no win state — we come to our conclusions and it is done. that’s not to say i did a particularly good job (note: i did, go me), i just want you to know that you can do this, too, and even feel good about it knowing you didn’t waste five minutes of someone’s time with a pretentious story that isn’t even a videogame. now, if you can’t be bothered to see things this way, then please replace all of that with the sentence “i am glad, unrepentant and downright deliciously foul to have conned you into reading my story by making you think it would be a videogame.” i hope your day treats you well.

  8. Bing says:

    Gonna go play Room of 1000 Snakes again! That game is fucking amazing, bye!

    • Harlander says:

      I can’t help but picture this sentence echoing through the cloud of dust left by Bing in their mad rush to play some more Room of 1000 Snakes.

      For some reason, I find this deeply heartening.

  9. mr.black says:

    Damn. I really tried to get into the Player 2 groove and then bad grammar crashed it. No, it’s not “them”, it’s “she”!

  10. Bluerps says:

    Effin’ bunnies.

  11. The Random One says:

    Damn, now ground for termination person got modded and all of us look insane.

    On topic, Escape From The Fishing Community Island is a piece of wonder. They really managed to refine a survival horror to its barest elements, and it works a lot better than pretty much any flashy game you’d care to mention.

  12. Atalanta says:

    1. Thanks for posting Player 2. There were some things that happened to me a while ago that I have a hard time talking to people about because either they try to help and sympathize in ways that make me feel worse, or they are surprised and upset and then I feel like I have to take care of their sad feelings instead of my own. Venting to a feelings-less computer programmed to say supportive things was surprisingly cathartic.

    2. Thanks for posting LFPH — this is consistently one of the columns I enjoy the most on RPS.

    3. I’m curious, have you ever considered just linking “Is This A Game?” every single week?

    • Porpentine says:

      thanks, glad you enjoy both :>

      if i were to link any game weekly it would be room of 1000 snakes, it should honestly just replace this column