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Priceless Play - 2 May 2020

Game jams for indoor-types

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When you’re cooped up inside all day long (for forty-five days and counting), making a game can make for a good distraction. There have been more than a few quarantine-related game jams, each with their own themes and concepts. Isolation, social-solidarity, and “stay home” are common, and when the historians look back at the prolific game dev output of 2020 it won’t be too hard to sniff out the symbolism. Here, I’ve taken a quick look at games from two month(ish)-long Coronavirus 2020 jams. Some are from the Portland Indie Games Scene jam (do I mostly just love that the acronym is PIGS? Who is to say. Not me.) and the others are from the House and Home Jam.

We’ve got some games about forts, some games about thinking too much, and a call to break out your craft supplies. Jam on.

Froggy Family Fort from Marlowe Dobbe

It is hard to quarantine when you are a frog stuck at home with your family — but you have got to make the most of it. Froggy Family Fort is about what it says right there on the tin. You are one of a family of froggies, and you have been tasked with setting up a blanket fort for movie night. The game is sweet without being saccharine; a charming twenty-minute, GBA-lookin’, item shop-and-swap quest throughout your suburban home for fort supplies. If you give a dog a tennis ball, he’ll make sure you find a sweater. That sort of thing.

If the spirit of the game feels familiar, you might recognise Dobb’s work from Dicey Dungeons. I, for one, am glad to see the pivot from dungeons to forts. I might just go ahead and make one for myself tonight when I hunker down for me nightly dose of existential dread Netflix and Animal Crossing.

VERTIGO from Magma Subterraneo

VERTIGO is a Bitsy game which follows its main character up through their apartment and onto the roof — where they continue climbing up into the far reaches of space. I am still — and always will be — a sucker for being told a narrative via the items in a space. So sue me, Ken Levine, I love environmental narrative. And so it goes in VERTIGO, where you pick up books and photographs as you wander upward and outward until you get to the little glimpses of starlight and starstuff. I think that if there is any time where we can be a little self-indulgent about overthinking and enjoy being swept away by an overwrought line from Moby Dick, it’s now. Go ahead. Live in your head a little.

And, si usted prefiere, you can play the game in Spanish here.

Rhythms from Nyssa Oru

Rhythms is a beautiful little adaptation of the childhood paper fortune tellers which seemed to be ubiquitous in all school classrooms across all walks of life (though I’d love to hear from anyone who came to these late in life, or if you called them “cootie catchers,” like we did in my elementary school for some reason). Here, the mystical childhood object gets a new treatment — to soothe an anxious mind when the demands of the world are weighing heavy. Oru writes on the game’s itch page, “I have struggled to create a rhythm to trying to manage the loneliness and anxiety. It has been a process of continuously re-apply large amounts of cats, house plants, and attempts at self care.” The provided PDF has instructions to make Oru’s own fortune teller, reminding the player to take a walk, or to pet a plant. There is a page to make your own, too. I went ahead and made one to help me get chores done while I’m stuck at home, struggling to focus on my to-do list:

If you’re having a tough time keeping everything right-side-up right about now, maybe try folding it all up into a piece of paper.

Quarantine Cooking from Daniela Morales

I don’t know if it’s because of the circles I run in, but does it seem like everyone has pivoted to baking in an attempt to soothe their COVID worries? I’ve been stress baking for years, and I heartily recommend this avenue of stress-management to you. Baking in quarantine, however, has its own limitations — my local grocery has been out of yeast for weeks, flour was rarely (if ever) on the shelves, and I bought some plant-based milk off a local ice cream place more than once over the last month. If you’ve been baking — or, indeed, kept from baking due to inventory shortages — you might find a kindred spirit in Quarantine Cooking.

Lo-Fi Vibe Simulator from Drewstooroo

Sometimes it’s good just to listen to the radio and while away the hours.

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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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