Live Free Play Hard: Sublime Nightmare Wish-Fulfillment

By RPS on June 29th, 2014 at 2:00 pm.

By Porpentine

Hi! I was on hiatus for health reasons, and Nobody graciously agreed to cover in my absence. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to share these wonderful vidgames, but I’ve made the decision to end the column. Here are some thoughts on my departure.

1. Curation takes a lot of time and energy and love.

2. I’ve stuck at it this long because as a game designer myself, I’m intimately acquainted with the flaws in coverage–when the coverage apparatus doesn’t support marginalized or experimental artists, it discourages people from creating. Additionally, I feel like it’s easy to settle into a landscape of tokenism instead of the plurality we need.

3. I’m grateful to everyone who seeks to address these imbalances and I hope to see more growth in that area. All too often marginalized artists are expected to cover each other, to be both creator and curator. It’s a form of double work done by the people with the least time and energy.

4. Games culture is an abusive place to be, especially for trans women, or any femininely identified people who don’t conform on some axis. Over the years I’ve experienced a lot of aggressive and deeply inappropriate behavior (to name a few: shouting at me, phone harassment, comments about my body, pressuring me to cover or not cover games for this column), and trying to talk about it only leads to ostracism. I don’t have the stomach for it, and I want to participate in and foster spaces where marginalized artists have respect, dignity, and support.

5. I recognize that internal critique is harder than outward critique, but without that constant work, these spaces will continue to remain unsafe, for me and for many others. If you look around, the people you don’t see are the people who were too intimidated to show up.

6. My health has gotten pretty bad as a result. I’m going to keep doing all the porpy things I do but this is a necessary sacrifice to have the time I need to take care of myself and focus on my art.

7. I’ve written this column for over a year, covering an average of 7 games a week, sifting through many more. Factoring in my previous curation work, I can’t even count the number of games and the hours I spent searching for them. Some of my favorites were hidden away in little corners of the net or not even classified as games. I don’t see them as “alternative” or “diverse” or “outsider”–to me, they are the center.

8. RPS has always been very sweet to me and shown me great support.

9. To stay up to date on my future projects, you can find me at aliendovecote.com, follow me on twitter/tumblr, or fund my games on Patreon.

10. Thanks for reading and good luck ^____________________^

[The rest of the column was written this week by Nobody, who has been filling in these past two months. -Ed]

This week: three gravity fields, two broken computers, a herd of cats, an alien intelligence, a perfect ritual, two or three farewells.

Bottle Rockets by James Earl Cox III

Bottle Rockets is a small, melancholy masterpiece.

What you glean from the start is that you’re an astronaut making your way through a tumbling space station. You might or might not notice the earth growing larger through that huge porthole window. And you might or might not notice how gravity decreases the longer you wait around. I think you’re on the verge of entering freefall.

A big part of what makes this game special is its sparse sense of storytelling, single lines of dialogue between each platforming segment that end up transfiguring your familiar video game actions into something more wistful. By the end you’ll have pieced together the story, but even then there’s this productive ambiguity about the whole thing. An unanswerable question: are you an astronaut in danger and dreaming of home, or are you a child looking to the stars and imagining what your mom is doing up there? Or has been doing. Or was doing.

Daymare #1: Ritual by Kitty Horrorshow

There are two ways to create a ritual. One is through repetition: you all get together to tell stories, the next week you do the same, and pretty soon you’re all praying to Sunday itself. Don’t tell me that’s not how religion works. But you can also ritualize an act the first time through, imbuing it with the weight of a phantom future repetition by giving each gesture, each object, enough thoughtful deliberation.

The ritual this lush, fervent hypertext performs falls somewhere in the middle. There’s a history to it, a heritage, but I’m pretty sure nobody’s enacted it quite this way.

The ritual objects you’ll choose here each have a story attached. These all touch on the miseries of adolescence, especially queer adolescence, but our narrator is aware of the usual teenage clichés, sidestepping what in less deft hands might slip into the maudlin. I was already taken in, but it’s the ending that won me over so completely, the way it passes briefly through bliss and from there into an utterly incredible sublime nightmare wish-fulfillment.

(Kitty Horrorshow was also one of more than 17 collaborators on a new ambitious hypertext project, You Were Made for Loneliness, which was also released this week.)

Dream Warrior by Palgal and YlangYlang

A dreamy, glitchy, trippy exploration game, hiding out somewhere between the second dimension and the third. The E key sends you diving into the screen, past one layer and into the next. W, A, S, and D make your character swim around along the flat surface of the screen. The game loops back to the starting area after just a few small sections, but even after five trips around I keep discovering new surprises.

(via Warpdoor.)

Eden by Gaming Pixie

A complex hypertext adventure game about meeting, rescuing, and possibly making out with an alien intelligence. There are so many permutations here, some based on what you tell the game about yourself (female, male, neither?), some based on your actions (make out session? run or hide?), and some — I’m pretty sure — re-rolled at random.

Promesst 2 by Sean Barrett

This is a superb exploration puzzle game. Like its predecessor, it’s explicitly inspired by Michael Brough’s groundbreaking Corrypt, all three starting off as tricky, inventive enough puzzle systems, but expanding at the halfway point to introduce a new, almost scary sense of freedom, new modes of interaction that threaten to rip these games off their hinges.

The basic setup is already compelling: you’ll quickly discover various beams of colored light, and you’ll quickly realize that each color grants you a different sort of navigational ability, but only as long as you’re standing within that beam. Orange, for example, sends you leaping two tiles with each move, and yellow lets you crush boulders blocking your path. Beams are activated (or deactivated) by collecting gems and placing them into power receptacles, and an activated beam will shine in a straight line across the entire map if there’s nothing impeding it, flowing from room to room, even combining with other colors where their paths cross. The goal in the game’s first half is signaled by a beam in the basement that requires an unprecedented nine gems, and once you manage to power that up the game takes a big turn, granting you a new world-changing ability.

Sean recommends starting with the original, since this new one is considerably trickier. In addition to Corrypt, you should also check out Michael Brough’s earlier, excellent Game Title, another inspiration for this series.

Jackie’s House, Marlow’s House, Vincent’s House, and Eggplant’s House by thecatamites

Four new web-playable set-pieces by the inestimable thecatamites. They’re charming and adorable and one might not even be interactive!

Cloud Chap by Amazingcookie

A brief high-difficulty action platformer with infinite air jumping. The difficulty comes from an array of colored spikes that appear or disappear based on how many times you’ve jumped since last touching the ground. Complete each level by leaping up past the top of the screen. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it rewards your perseverance.

Cat Sokoban by sylvie

Cat Sokoban takes the classic crate-pushing puzzle and replaces each of the crates with a living, breathing cat. It’s maddening, of course. Kittens aren’t really known for doing what they’re told.

(via Sergio Cornaga

FlippinArt by Cycle

In 1961, the New York MoMa hung Henri Matisse’s Le Bateau upside down. It took 47 days before a museum-goer caught the error and notified a guard. This game asks if you’d do any better, giving you 10 abstract artworks and asking you to orient each one.

50 years ago a quiz like this would’ve come off as a sarcastic complaint about then-contemporary art, but this feels like it’s presented in a spirit of good fun.

(via Glorious Trainwrecks)

Gravity Series by Niall Moody

This is a collection of seven competitive local multiplayer games, all of them focused around a common attract/repel mechanic. The movement feels great, full of the sort of graceful, swooping arcs that result from speeding objects meeting gravitational forces.

Some of the games have you applying these forces to sports balls, launching them into goals or keeping them away from targets. And a couple have you flinging yourself around by pulling and pushing against static objects. But my favorites are Gravity Fight and Gravity Sumo, probably because in these you’re attracting and repelling the other player(s) directly.

Four people can compete at once with game controllers, but it also works with two sitting at a single keyboard. (Look to the readme.txt for the keyboard controls.)

Passing Fancy by Michael Molinari and Chelsea Howe

This is also a gravity-themed multiplayer game, but a cooperative one. Two players are meant to sit at the same keyboard, but you can also pull it off alone.

There’s something poetic to its ruleset. Each player needs to make her way to a target spot while avoiding dangerous obstacles, but if the players get within a certain range of each other — and the level objectives often make this unavoidable — both players get repelled, the more strongly the closer they are.

Touching is absolutely impossible. The screen will fade white before you even get close, as though the repulsive forces are releasing enough energy to blind you. If either player ends up pushed into an obstacle you both get sent back one level. Reach your two target spots and you’ll advance to the next.

System Error by Alec Thomson

Alec claims this a “generic roguelike” but I, uh, had trouble getting it to run? Sticking to it despite its protestations is the challenge this puzzle presents. It’s hard to play a game that so very much wants you to stop.

(via Bennett Foddy)

(Hey, it looks this is my last week here. Thanks to RPS for having me these past couple months, and thanks to Porpentine for trusting me with her column. Not sure where I’m heading next, but you can find me over here in the meantime.)

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77 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Best of luck Porpentine! Will very much miss this great column.

    A little sad nobody can’t keep it going either! Will be a big space on Sunday’s with this, maybe Graham can fill it with some Crates and Crowbars or something.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Peptidix says:

    Thanks very much for all the posts in the past, they have always shown me parts of the game-landscape I don’t readily encounter elsewhere. Best of luck in the future.

  3. wiper says:

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ll be stopping these, as they were a great source of interesting games I’d probably never have otherwise heard of, but I can completely understand your reasons. I hope that the time freed up helps you. (I also hope that society, and gaming society with it, becomes a less unpleasant space to be for the non-white, non-male, non-heteronormative).

    • Premium User Badge

      tigerfort says:

      I would like to add my support for everything Wiper says here. All the best, Porpentine.

  4. boxfish says:

    Good luck with everything in the future Porpentine, I’ve really enjoyed your posts here, and I’m sorry that the hatefulness that is part of gaming culture has taken its toll on you and your health. Sending good thoughts your way.

    Also sorry to hear that nobody isn’t carrying on with the column – I’ve really enjoyed your posts too.

  5. Dwarph says:

    loved this column, good luck in the future

  6. Premium User Badge

    JB says:

    Good luck and best wishes, Porpy!

    Same to you (and thanks for filling in), Nobody!

  7. Premium User Badge

    Flit says:

    One week cowboy poetry, another week mashing barbies together. I’m gonna miss LFPH. Thank you forever, and best of luck out there!

  8. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    This column was a fixed part of my Sundays pretty much since it existed. On the few Sundays on which I had too many other things to do, I saved the link and looked at it later, when I had the time. It showed me a lot of amazing games and I will miss it when it’s gone.

    I’m sad that this will be the last Live Free Play Hard, but I understand your reasons, Porpentine, and I wish you good luck for the future! To you too, nobody – you did a good job filling in.

  9. trout says:

    i’d also like to wish you well in your future endevours porpentine! you’ve introduced me (and numerous others i’m sure) to many games i would otherwise have never heard about, and that’s pretty special! thank you!

  10. faelnor says:

    Be well & all the best for the future.
    I enjoyed your column a lot. I am not one to think that our point of view on art & media (and basically anything) is independent from our gender and I thought that, in part because you’re a transgender and intelligent person, you brought an interesting and much needed vision caracterized by a selection of games that I would never have heard of without you.
    Thanks a lot.

  11. PopeRatzo says:

    Gaming culture has not been worthy of you, Porpentine. Goodbye Cruel World. I will miss your posts.

  12. a_console_pheasant says:

    I have lurked here since the run-up to the New Vegas release. All this time I have managed to go without commenting on an article here – I even managed to keep my opinions to myself on the WIT wot shall not be named. Couldn’t hold this one in tho.
    Loved the column. It consistently challenged me – Both in terms of what is a game and what can games do, but also on a more personal level (how offended I was at first to have my attention drawn to my “penetration fetish” – that was great).
    Anyway, thank you, Porps. Sunday is going to be a lot less interesting.

    • Twoflower55 says:

      What was the “WIT wot shall not be named”?

      • Damn Rookie says:

        Possibly the ‘Wot I think’ for Fallout New Vegas? It’s certainly the most notorious one I can think of (let’s just say that not everyone agreed with the verdict…), and a_console_pheasant did mention lurking here since the run up to that game’s release.

        Just a guess mind you.

  13. Metalfish says:

    People were mean to you, but I always thought you were cool.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    All the best, Porps, and thanks.

    (and a high-five to nobody for keeping things running at the end).

  15. Fenix says:

    So sad :(

    I want to personally thank you Porpentine for this column, it really helped me ~2 years ago when I was stuck in a pretty depressing situation and playing through the games you suggested each week was one of my highlights from that time. So many AMAZING little gems! I wish I had commented more and supported Live Free, Play Hard more vocally, but alas.

    Best of luck!!

  16. Premium User Badge

    Serrit says:

    Thanks Porpentine, I’ve enjoyed this column a lot. It’s been good to read about (and occasionally even decide to play) games that I’d otherwise likely not be aware of. Your own thoughts on each game were interesting to take in as well. (And thanks Nobody for standing in doing a good job these past few weeks too!)

  17. Jac says:

    Point 4 makes me extremely sad. No idea what is wrong with the some of the people in the world. Good luck and good health.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Porpentine’s website is a bit of a mindfuck I have to say!

  19. darkhog says:

    But why can’t someone else take over this column – just like Nobody filling in, but permanently? This way Porpentine can still head towards greener pastures and we’ll get this column. Everyone would be happy.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Indeed, even if they feel it would be better to rename it and leave LFPH as it was.

      Be well, Porpentine.

    • darkhog says:

      Honestly? I don’t care how it is called and who is behind it. For me it can be “ULTIMATE WEEKLY FR33 GAEM COLLECTI0N!!!1111″ or something equally stupid if general formula (pointing to bunch free and cool games) won’t change.

    • The Random One says:

      I third this notion, as harmful to my free time as it may be.

  20. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Will miss yaz, Porpy and Bods ;_;

  21. TychoCelchuuu says:

    Bye Porpentine! This was by far my favorite column on RPS and I’ve found some of my favorite games through it. I hope maybe RPS gets Nobody to pick it up again or something. Anyone who’s a fan of Porpentine and wants to see her stuff + support her now that she’s not at RPS should check out her Patreon page. Plenty of cool stuff awaits!

  22. applecup says:

    I will miss this column, and you, Porpentine, but I totally understand your reasons. Take care of yourself and I hope that things improve for you in the future. Thank you for all of your hard work bringing attention not just to games that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, but to issues and perspectives that many may have otherwise not even been aware existed. Best of luck with your own projects and everything else for the future. <3

  23. pfooti says:

    All love and respect, porpentine. I know I’m a lurker (I’ve maybe commented once or twice in total on RPS), but I can 100% say with certainty that live free play hard has been a staple of my weekend reads. I love your writing style and your voice, which will be missed on RPS. I’ll have to check out your other outlets too now. <3 again.

    • pfooti says:

      Oh also, nobody has done a pretty darn good job too filling in. I’m bummed that the feature is going away, it’d be keen to keep it around even if it isn’t the same without porpentine.

  24. James McNeill says:

    This column has been a highlight of my week. Best wishes, Porpentine, and thanks to Nobody as well.

  25. grom.5 says:

    You allowed me to discover a great bunch of games and made me smile more than one Sunday. Thank you for the time you spend to dig gold for everyone.

    I wish you well. (and hope that you will have an easier day)

  26. Premium User Badge

    SuddenSight says:

    Sad to hear this column will end, it was a highlight of every Sunday and pointed me towards some fantastic games.

    I hope your futures are bright, Porpentine and nobody!

  27. I_have_no_nose_but_I_must_sneeze says:

    Farewell, queen of strange delights. And well done, Nobody, for doing a fantastic job covering the column. I’d certainly not complain if you ended up taking it over.

    PS: Everybody play Porpentine’s http://aliendovecote.com/vampire.html while breathlessly reading every passage out loud.

  28. scoopsy says:

    It’s been years since I last commented on RPS, but I had to sign in this once to wish both of you well. I will miss this column – in RPS’ youth it was one of the first and most vocal champions of the PC indie scene. There is no shortage of such champions nowadays, but I felt Live Free, Play Hard was an important voice highlighting otherwise-unknown contributions to our community.

    Thanks for everything and good luck.

    • jonnyherbert says:

      Similarly, haven’t posted in a long time, had to say thanks! You have a unique rhetorical voice and I’ve enjoyed this column for a long time. I’m sorry to see you leave, and I hope you have the best possible fortune in your other projects.

  29. Premium User Badge

    Rizlar says:

    Live Free Play Hard was a gem, it opened my eyes to so much amazing stuff. I look forward to seeing what comes out of the alien dovecote next and wish Porp and Nobody all the best for the future!

  30. Tukuturi says:

    Thanks, Purpleteam!

  31. Neirye says:

    Registering just to say that this column was the reason I first started reading RPS last year, and it’s come to be one of my favorite internet routines on Sundays. Nobody, you kept the show going wonderfully, and Porp, your show was wonderful. This feels like the end of an era, and I enjoyed it while it lasted. Best of luck going forward!

  32. oyog says:

    This makes me sad.

    Be well Porpentine!

    Thanks for continuing the column, Nobody!

    Live Free, Play Hard has been outstanding. Every week it’s summarized everything I love about the indie scene and computer games on the internet.

  33. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    Thanks for an excellent column that opened my blinkered, fatigued gaming eyes and threw colour and imagination into my brain.

  34. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Judging by her website, Porpentine is leaving our timeline and heading back to the ’90s.

    Take care of your health, and good luck with your temporal shenanigans, Porpy! :’)

  35. 25jaws says:

    just made an account to come out of lurking to say thank you for this column. it has been my favorite part of my Sundays for this past year. you’ve introduced me to some of my absolute favorite games and changed life in important ways. sending my heartfelt thanks and well wishes your way forever.

    best.

  36. Josh W says:

    Ah that sucks. I’m not a super-consistent reader of this stream of posts, but I’ve really liked em.

    Even without the abuse this would have been a time consuming thing to do, and it makes sense for people to contribute to building community in a proportional way, not killing themselves to fill these kinds of gaps. Add the abuse Porpentine got and it’s just ridiculous. So yeah, makes sense to put the right things first.

  37. Niko says:

    Good luck, Porpentine and nobody! I will miss those Sunday posts for sure.

  38. Premium User Badge

    lowprices says:

    Sad to see the end of LFPH. Hope that everything goes better for you in the future, and thanks for bringing so many games to light that I’d have otherwise missed.

  39. LennyLeonardo says:

    God damn. Huge loss to the RPS roster. Thanks for the memories, Porpentine, you’re a gem.

  40. The Crane says:

    Thanks for the memories!

  41. Premium User Badge

    maicus says:

    thanks for Goblet Grotto! It’s my favourite thing.

  42. dethtoll says:

    Sorry Porp. You deserve better.

  43. Han says:

    This column showed me a new category of games I had never known existed and really did change the way I looked at the medium. Very sad to see this go so soon after the demise of freeindiegam.es. Thanks for everything Porp!

  44. PhilKenSebben says:

    Ive been lurking here for a year and have adored these columns. Thank you for everything and good luck.

  45. Premium User Badge

    yhancik says:

    Thanks for all the nice discoveries, Porpetine & Nobody <3

  46. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    This comment section reads incredibly sardonic and passive-aggressive if you don’t know that nobody refers to the person who filled in for Porpentine, which amuses me.

    Best of luck in the future, Porpentine and Nobody, and thanks for all the games!

  47. Premium User Badge

    cpt_freakout says:

    Best of luck, Porpentine, and thank you for so many a mind-opening post. Much love, and much fulfillment for you in everything you do.

  48. notevenbotherered says:

    Thank you Porpentine, I always enjoyed the unique spin you put on the gaming landscape. It was this column that led me to realise the diversity of games out there, and that they could be used for genuine expression as much as, or more than, other more traditional media. Keep doing what you do, wherever it is you do it. Peace. :)

  49. Premium User Badge

    psepho says:

    Hello, Porpentine. I just wanted to say thank you for you work here. This column, and the sadly concluded freeindiegam.es which I found through it, introduced me to some of the most honest, thoughtful and challenging games I have ever played. It would be true to say that the example shown by these games is the reason why I started making my own games (however small they may be). I must also say that, for me, your own games include some of the most compelling experiences I have ever had, I am sure I will be coming back to them for many years to come.

    On a separate point, RPS — from where I am standing you have been a standard bearer for inclusion and open-mindedness in gaming in recent years. Giving space to free games, amateur games, marginal games is essential to this. So one way or another LFPH has to live on.

    Since the beginning of 2014, however, I have sensed a certain drift in the RPS approach — a slow drift towards a comfortable mainstream of early access nostalgia projects, ‘establishment indies’ along with the usual AAA drip feed. All of that was there before, obviously, but these days I feel like I would be surprised to find articles like Patricia Hernandez’s Fallout II Gaming Made Me or Robert Yang’s Level With Me series, or John Walker’s vigorous calling out of bigotry in the industry. It would be a shame if RPS became nothing more than a mini-IGN but the closure of columns like LFPH makes me fear that that is what is on the cards.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gnarl says:

      I’m not sure I agree quite so strongly, but a move to the more traditional feel since Graham Smith took over, yeah.

      In any case, thank you for all the games you shone a light on Porpentine. Hope the time you gain allows your other stuff to reach new heights, and RPS gets one of those other curators.

  50. Twoflower55 says:

    I’m going to miss you, Porpentine. :(