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.
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.
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.
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.)