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Priceless Play - 4 May 2019

"Your life is currency," makes for some bleak games tbh

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Goodness gracious me alive, look, it’s Ludum Dare time! Ludum Dare is a biannual (as in happening twice-a-year) game jam, and probably one of the world’s largest and longest-running game jams. Who am I to say otherwise? It says so right on their website. I am always amazed by the sheer creativity and talent which comes out of each Ludum Dare, and this go around is no exception. Not only are the games looking great, but the theme for this iteration of the jam is “Your life is currency,” which delights the Marx scholar in me. Das kapital, y’all.

Here are some of my top picks from the jam lineup so far.

I’d like to start off by saying that I have a lot of complicated feelings about weekend game jams. Especially in the current crunch-conscious climate, I wonder what a weekend burst of round-the-clock development time is encouraging. Perhaps this year’s theme, “Your life is currency,” is a bit more apt, in this regard. Then again, there’s something exhilarating about focusing purely on one creative endeavour in one concentrated burst. Is it shaking things up, or setting a precedent? Take care of yourself out there, jammers. Water, rest, and breaks are just as important as crossing the finish line on time. Now. Off to the games!

Dear Substance Of Kin from deconstructeam

I’m a noted Deconstructeam fan. Their games make me feel wildly uncomfortable in really interesting ways — the best kind of discomfort, in my opinion. As soon as I extracted Dear Substance Of Kin into my games folder on my laptop, I was given a great little preview into the game’s files: “cart_corpse_children.ute” and “martry_stone.ute” and, most ominously, “crab.ute.” The game delivered on its promises. It’s a point-and-click horror game about bodies and promises. It’s good and unsettling in the way I have come to expect from Deconstructeam.

In Dear Substance Of Kin, you are the Coppersmith. Some sort of otherworldly merchant who deals in a currency far beyond that of coins. You’ve come to a small village, as you have many times before, seeking the truth. The truth, of course, comes at a price. The villagers know this. Be aware that Dear Substance of Kin has descriptions Of violence, and a bit of body horror to boot.

Gacha from Zhiming Chen and Jewell Popp

Gacha is a short and sweet little game “that takes the player through snapshots of a coming-of-age experience.” Through the magic of adorable gachapon, and the game’s even more adorable art, you can purchase little mementos of growing up and souvenirs from being alive. There’s everything from “Got my driver’s licence,” to “Saw a ghost, but no one believed me.”

Be warned: You only get a few rounds of gacha before your turns run out — and isn’t the same true of life you guys? Take the opportunities you can, and try to make the most of what you’ve got. Gacha collectible sets exist, but they take time to acquire!

The Ends from Memory of God

Memory of God is the dev behind melancholic goat-herder simulator Where the Goats Are, and its equally depressing followup, The Stillness of the Wind. They’re back with another rip-roaring good time in The Ends, a slice-of-life simulator about “just trying to make ends meet.” You get one of two options: sit at your desk and frantically type something into a laptop (ouch — a little too close to home) or you can sit in front of a Fordist factory line, flattening little orbs into straight lines.

The commentary here isn’t subtle: no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to sustainably make ends meet. But subtlety is a coward’s tool. I’m a Luddite at heart, and I’ll take any explicit critique of a worker’s relationship to machines and capitalism. Rock on.

Utsvulten from ditto

In Utsvulten, you are picking up little foodstuffs that are laying around so that you can put them in your grubby little mouth, or the grubby little mouth of your pal. You can put anything in your grubby little mouth: grapes, apples, flies, you, your pal… It’s an audiovisual experience of munching and ummmm groaning. That’s the best way I can describe it (Alice O also tried). It requires playing.

The game is better with friends. My partner, for example, has a cold right now and when they were watching me play Utsvulten they pointed to the little guy on screen and said: “That’s how I feel.” So, there you go. Fun for all involved!

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Who am I?

Kat Brewster

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Kat Brewster is a sometimes writer, sometimes game designer, and most-of-the-time academic based out of the University of California, Irvine. Kat's research focuses on play, the future of digital work, and queer archives. You can reach out on Twitter @katbamkapow.

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