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Live Free, Play Hard: Flaming skulls are a valuable part of this forest's ecosystem

invisible and present only

THIS WEEK: Hypertext therapy. Street harassment. Inside every cop is a beautiful crystal.

Looking for more free games? Check out our round up of the best free PC games that you can download and play right now.

Player 2 by Lydia Neon

Player 2 is a game with a therapeutic purpose, and to that end it is conscientious. With a content warning, suicide resources, and references to self-help, it introduces something seldom seen in games: an awareness of trauma.

The purpose is to explore unresolved conflict with another person, the second player, invisible and present only in your own mind (in the way we're always carrying other people with us, and when those people are the wrong people, it's like poison).

I found this surprisingly personal and thought-provoking from the start. Being forced to actually consider all the slights and injuries and abuse done to me instead of repressing them (as we often do in order to go about our daily lives without shutting down) was uncomfortable, and so was the act of connecting those pains to another person.

Once you begin, the choices are nuanced (I count more than 20 variables) enough to describe lots of conflicts, ranging from petty arguments to abuse. You can also type your feelings out in response to prompts. I knew I was typing into the void where no one would ever see, but making my thoughts visible was still hard.

So what we have is browser-based therapy. The idea of automated therapy might seem dystopian at first, but when it's lovingly designed by a human being, I call it a mature experiment that utilizes the private, often powerful connection we have with games.


Escape From The Fishing Community Island by Nenad

Fight to survive on a randomly-generated island taken over by evil fish (reminds me of Gyo, the manga about horrible sea creatures obscenely permitted to walk on land).

To escape, you’ll need to scavenge through buildings, avoiding or killing your fishy foes along the way. When you search, you have a chance of finding key items like fuel (one of the items required to use the boat), upgrades, or health.

Before the game begins, you choose two of three weapons: harpoon, net, and/or hook, customizing your fish-murdering approach (I like the harpoon!). As for settings, Hard Mode was most satisfying for me. Larger islands combined with lower difficulties seemed to defuse tension a bit, at least in my playthroughs.


I Cheated On You by Richard Cowley

This does a smart thing with hypertext. It uses the unflinching hyperlink to represent guilt, the words that stick in our throat.

John Brindle mentioned how it was “opposite to normal Twine link aesthetic (link as glowing point o agency, text as flavour)”. Instead, the text is where everything happens, and the link is what should happen, if only you could say it.


GUNNER by Jake Clover

Kill cops get crystals.

I’m noticing how Clover loves those big loud gun sounds in his games. So satisfying. He’s good at guns.


Two Blocks by Lesley Kinzel

Two Blocks is about street harassment and fat-shaming. We start out calm in our place of safety, ready for the day. Then we go outside and everything falls apart as our self-image grinds against society's views on what certain kinds of people are like, and what they deserve to have happen to them.

For some of us, our relationship with the world is constant friction. It was not designed for us, and so it is like crawling, naked and fleshy, through a machine built to process metal. Two Blocks is about that friction.


walking home by spinach

Another short text game about fear experienced on the street, but from another angle: the visibility of being a black male (Half of all homicide victims in America are black, yet they compose only 1/8th of the population).

Now that I think about it, this is a hypertext poem written with great attention to the sound of words and the shape of sentences, delivered one line at a time (Spinach says, “the text is broken up more or less where i would take a breath were i reciting it”), winding tighter and tighter, tension sharp enough to cut.


FISHJN’ by Bronson Zgeb, Gruau Pomme Lackey, Ramsey Kharroubi

Mesmerizing rhythm-based fishing game that “gets funkier the closer you get to capturing your fish.” Wonderful neon electric music bubbling from a wire-frame void lake.


Fear Less! by Anna Oliver, Greg Lane

I distrust upgrade games. The kind you see on flash portals like Newgrounds where the focus isn’t so much on skill as on reaching a certain point, dying, upgrade, repeat. Gradually you work toward some nebulous, unspecified win condition. Work to overcome your obstacles. No think. Work.

The reason, of course, is to keep eyeballs on the page of an ad-driven site--game design deformed around monetary pressures.

Fear Less! is probably the best we’re going to get from that genre. It has a lot of personality.

You’re running through a forest chased by a nightmare being. You control two things: your jumps and your sword. Enemies like bears or foxes can be slashed through, other obstacles (like bunnies! and gravestones!) have to be leapt over. With more coins, you unlock double and triple jumps, earning the right to enjoy your movements.

You beat it, not by reaching a certain point, but by getting all the medals. Jumping over 100 mushrooms is a medal. Taking damage only from mushrooms is a medal. Etc.

Deeper in the forest, when the flaming skulls and satanic traps appear and constant dodging is required to survive, is where my reflexes were actually tested. Which means every time I start the game I'm biding time to get to the exciting part. The excellent production values are sugar enough to make it go down, mostly. When Fear Less! isn't reminding me of the dubious pacing of the upgrade system, I like it, and I'd like to see more from the same people.

The song is perfect for this game, alternating between high-energy drums/guitar and jaunty synths so we don't get tired out. There’s a third part I really like, the rewinding sound, which is the synth section of the song in reverse, evoking the cyclical nature of the game, always back in my bed, still trapped in this nightmare.


Love the girl skulls, finally some strong female representation in games.

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