Sundays are for trying not to complain about how lockdown makes writing these intros much harder, because that would be ridiculously callous and self-centred. Here’s the best writing about videogames from the past week.
For his blog, designer Robert Yang distilled the good and the bad from Gears Tactics and Horizon’s Gate into succinct design lessons. There’s some sharp analysis here, even though it’s only written in note form. I hope other devs are listening.
Per-unit turn timers break chains in an unsatisfying way. Every unit has its own individual turn timer, and I don’t think it’s worth it unless you let players cheese and manipulate it a lot. It’s not fun for a game to say “sorry, you can’t do that, this thing will be too late by 1 second.” Horizon ends up holding back on time manipulation to balance the game, which is a shame. It’s impossible to make a very fast character or a very slow character, everyone’s always in a muddy sort of fast sort of slow state, with not enough differentiation. I prefer the simplicity and flexibility of XCOM style turn taking here: each team takes turns moving their units in any order.
For Polygon, Patricia Hernandez interviewed a man who hacked Animal Crossing so he could provide strangers with their favourite villagers. “PokéNinja” is a very nice man, and this is a very nice piece.
Over the course of about six hours, PokéNinja filled his island over and over again with requested villagers — Raymond was the primary target, but there were other asks, too, like Marshall, Sherb, and Judy. Folks would come over, find their requested villager in boxes, and persuade them to move to their town. Then, after the players left, PokéNinja would load the save file again for a new crop of visitors. He estimates that over the course of the day, he gave away around 30 Raymonds across the world.
For Fanbyte, Ariana DiValentino wrote a snappy celebration of queer representation in the Sims.
Considering that we still can’t get a queer romance or character in a major TV show or studio movie without much ado, and often pushback, this is pretty remarkable. Before every major bank was using NYC Pride as an advertising opportunity, The Sims franchise was treating queer romance like any other romance and queer Sims like any other Sims. Much like queer people, queer Sims have always been around in some capacity. The only thing really changing is how the public responds to them.
For Uppercut, Stacey Henley wrote about the significance of videogame beards from a transgender perspective.
Both of them are defined by their masculinity and ability to survive on their own, keep others at a distance, and both are responsible for a daughter figure and display their tender humanity through caring for her by proxy. The Last Of Us is a lighthouse away from being an offshoot reality in the BioShock universe set during a deadly outbreak.
It’s easy to just dismiss their beards as part of the ‘every game protagonist is a generic white guy’ trope, but it’s clear they represent something deeper. Their beards are an embrace of rugged masculinity, a clear signifier of their defining trait in the ways I had always most feared. In their own way, Joel and Booker are wearing denial beards. Their thick stubble is a denial of any vulnerability. It marks them out as an everyman, yet at the same time separates them from the herd, identifying them – and them alone – as the one best equipped for adversity, the only one who can get us out of this mess, whether that means killing zombies or dethroning a corrupt dictatorship.
Also for Uppercut, Jay Castello spoke to a psychologist about the strange rituals people perform when playing games of chance. I will never pass up an opportunity to share Skinner’s superstitious pigeons.
I remember learning about B. F. Skinner’s psychological experiments to determine superstition in pigeons as a kid. It’s not the one that gave us the term often applied to randomised rewards in games and gambling, the Skinner box, but it’s still instructive here. Caged birds were given food at random intervals, no matter their behavior. But he found that they began to associate the food delivery with whatever they had happened to do just before it, developing rituals they believed would lead to reward. One spun counter clockwise, another touched its head to a certain corner, and so on. The experiment has its critics, but it’s likely that the same behavior is observable in humans. For example, in gacha games.
For Ars Technica, Jennifer Ouellette interviewed director Donick Cary about his recent Netflix documentary, Have a Good Trip. Cary spent the last 11 years chatting to celebrities about their experiences with LSD, which sounds like a great way to go about dispelling myths around psychadelics. I haven’t seen the doc yet, but I’ve met many people who I bet would benefit from watching it.
Cary was just a little ahead of the curve, since this was a period where many people were still pretending that they never experimented with such substances. “That’s where pop culture was for the 1980s and 1990s, unless you were at a [Grateful] Dead show or something,” he said. Nonetheless, he started filming celebrities telling stories in his spare time—which was limited, given his work on The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation, and Silicon Valley, among other projects—fitting them in whenever everyone’s schedules lined up. And because the project took so long, public attitudes toward psychedelics began to shift, and the stigma associated with those drugs started to lift, as word about the potential therapeutic benefits began to spread beyond academic circles.
I greatly enjoyed this story about a fisherman who found 60 mysterious cubes at the bottom of a quiet river in Coventry.
Music this week is Hang Tan by Toubab Krewe.