Sundays are for more housemate hunting. They keep escaping. Somebody stop them. Here’s the best writing about videogames from the past week.
For his latest Vice column, Cameron Kunzelman raved about betrayal in Project Winter. It’s a hidden roles game where a player or two is trying to murder their fellow survivors, and back when it came out I told everyone at RPS we had to play it for a joint diary piece. Nobody was interested, but that was pre-Nate Crowley. Watch this space.
There is no feeling quite as exalted as traveling into the far northern wastes with a trusted friend, who has been diligently helping you craft mechanical parts in dogged pursuit of rescue, and hearing them suddenly go silent once you’ve found your goal in that desolate place. Their constant chatter goes dead, and you might whisper a “no” before they equip their axe and start hacking you to death. You scream into chat, but you’re too far away, and the blizzard has driven your allies into the safety of a cabin. You die alone there, and your “friend” trudges back to tell everyone you died to a wolf attack before choosing another victim.
Over on the Verge, Lewis Gordon spoke to the creators of gardening games about the merits of meditative experiences. The relatively recent increase in the popularity of these games is an interesting phenomenon to pick up on. If you don’t care about ‘TRENDS’ or ‘SHIFTING CONSUMER HABITS AS SHAPED BY THE EVER-INCREASING PRESSURE OF LATE-STAGE CAPITALISM’, treat this as a nice list of relaxing games to check out.
Owen Bell wanted Mendel’s extraterrestrial gardening to sit outside of such pressures, and for its players to feel truly distanced from the onslaught of their working life. “Optimization is in the zeitgeist right now. We need to be the best versions of ourselves: good at our job, good as friends, good at life,” he says. “This pressure to be the best extends to games as well. That’s why I didn’t include any kind of goal, score, or tasks to accomplish in Mendel. In moderation, goals and other external motivators are powerful, but when they become the exclusive drives to do anything, it’s overwhelming. I didn’t want Mendel to be part of that.”
Also on the Verge, I’m not sure what to make of Emily Gera’s interview with the head of gaming at Monstercat. Partly because I regard the music I listen to and the games I play as extremely different pseudo-trivial parts of the wibbly thing we laughably call identity, and partly because I know the streaming services I and everyone else use make it harder than ever for musicians to earn a living. My worry is that Monstercat offers a bad deal that’s still better than elsewhere.
Monstercat’s solution is to twist the standard model of music distribution, creating a strange new form of music label that doubles as a tool for fans to discover music and a platform for artists to get their music heard. “We have what in the music space is rare: the master rights, and the publishing side of the record, which a lot of record labels don’t hold. So it provides us the ability to work creatively with video games and collaborate in new ways,” says Monstercat director of A&R Jonathan Winter.
For Wired, Julie Muncy wrote about Destiny and seasonal depression. Her conclusion is the opposite of what I expected: I’ve played and enjoyed Destiny 2, but the endgame grind sounded more like a trap than a balm. Different strokes float different spaceships, I guess.
As some of you may have guessed, I’m playing Destiny 2. But this isn’t really about that; it’s about the process. It’s about what videogame players call “grinding”—the act of repetitiously getting resources, experience points, or anything else you might need in a game to achieve your goals. It’s known as laborious, and generally frowned upon in most forms of modern game design. But those of us who play games still do it. We do it all the time. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, sure. But we do it. One thing after another, and then another.
On Eurogamer, I found Julia Hardy’s take on escape room games interesting because it runs so contrary to my own experience. I did one last weekend and absolutely sucked. We needed constant hints and still wound up being eaten by an alien. Hey, people who play videogames who have also done escape rooms! Is this a thing or naw?
Then again, as a gamer, applying over-confidence to escape rooms is perhaps not too wild a jump. I mean, they design them just like video games. I remember playing the Crystal Maze (the original escape room) and there was a dead guy at the poker table. Everyone I was with just stood there in total shock, looking at the room as if it was the lyrics of Rihanna’s Work handwritten on the back of a table mat. On a roller coaster. By a drunk person.
I saw a baffled, wide-eyed silence the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Mark Brown broke down why talking your way past videogame fights is often dull, and came up with some ideas for how to make it better.
Music this week is Bird In Space by Screaming Females.