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Live Free, Play Hard: WHAT THE FRIDA KAHLO!?

repair the mech's fingers

THIS WEEK: Markov chain visual novel. Musical therapy for the surgical mech. Quantum energy is basically about superpowers.

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

GeoGuessr by Anton Wallén

GeoGuessr shows you a random picture from Google Street View, you guess where it is, repeat. So simple, so good.

I like that success is a gradient, rewarding that “OH SO CLOSE” feeling.

The source material is...the entire world, in a departure from the distorted view we usually get.

The ubiquitous Mercator map (designed for navigation back in the 1500s) portrays Africa and Greenland as the same size (Africa is 14 times the size of Greenland), coincidentally squishing non-Western countries under the weight of those who imperialized them. We see the glorious monuments and grand vistas, rarely the suburbs or slums (unless the slums meet some Western criteria of "charming" or "exotic").

Even the actual act of travel is no guarantee against this distortion, directed as we are to the shiny, designed zones of tourism, our imaginations and bodies occupying only a tiny percentage of the actual world.

This is everything in between: the dirt roads, the strip malls, the alleys. Occasional glimpses of something gorgeous or mysterious are a special reward, honest and uncurated.

But most of all GeoGuessr is a good detective game. The lettering on road signs, the color of the soil, the shape of streets--testing and teaching and expanding our distorted viewpoint to something a little more true.



Unbreakable by Meghann O’Neill and Rebecca McKenzie

A surgical mech in rehabilitation, a musical therapist, and their music.

The decisions you make are interesting, like the way you repair the mech's fingers. But your choices do more than branch the story, they add a layer of music to the soundtrack--“dynamic, textural variations as aural backdrop." Hearing a simple loop grow into a full-fledged composition was beautiful.

I love the writing. Everything I read filled me with a sense of melancholy, or tension, or uncertainty. Unbreakable never overplays itself, just flows like you’ve been writing those case notes for years.



Your Swimsuit Jumped Over Its Own Weathercock, You Liar! by Amy Roberts

A visual novel that generates itself entirely from Markov chains every time you play.

This means choosing dialogue options is no longer about optimal choices and instead about what looks interesting--scanning for linguistic pareidolia in the textual chaos, chewing on words for their flavor, not coherence.

When we do find coherence, it was produced without agency, making those phrases all the more magical, like shapes in the clouds. Really funny shapes.





Cascata by ForthFloorGames

Cascata is about constant heroics.

Deadly lines are falling and the only way to destroy them is to grab colored dots, which only affect the line on your partner's side. Without the other person, you will die.

It gets trickier. There are points, which cunningly double as platforms--stay on the platform long enough and it turns into points, temporarily eroding the level, which is great when your partner is about to get crushed and a purple dot is all the way at the top.

Cascata is also about getting distracted and feeling like a greedy piece of shit when your partner gets squished.

In some games, coop mode means the exact same game except another person is shooting monsters with you. Here, it's everything.



welcome to the forest by Nuprahtor

A journey into the heart of a mysterious forest, haunted by memories of your dead wife. They say the forest brings people back to life, but for some reason everyone stays away.

Nuprahtor is known for dread, but this is one of his subtlest stories--if there is dread, it hangs in silence, in certain ambiguous phrases, in the chirping of birds.

And there is tenderness too. This is, after all, a love story.


Anhedonia by maddox pratt

Fragile, aching hypertext relating the author's experience with anhedonia, “the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable”--a common component in many struggles, depression and social anxiety to name a few.

Anhedonia succeeds because it successfully transmits the deadness it describes. The weight of numbness is palpable, it hangs from every sentence, drowning everything with grey. This makes the occasional bursts of light all the more bright.

It rebels against the clinical, against a system that sees disorders, not people--lists of symptoms melting into descriptions of what it actually means to suffer from those things, tired sentences dissolving into wasps, scissors, lilacs, cold water.



[placeholder] by Michael Cook

Puzzle game narrated by its source code. Smooth controls, excellent pacing.

You control a cube. This cube makes grey blocks colorful. It feels good to move around making things light up. When everything lights up, you win. Feels good on my brain.



The Old Man and The Lake by James Earl Cox III and Steven “Papi” Harvey II

Fishing game! With cool collages! And frenzied pole action!

Can the Old Man beat the Lake? Or will it leave him reel-ing when the tides turn? Do lakes even have tides? Or do they lap? Is lapping the baby form of tides? The answer to all (none) of these questions is a click away!


MOSHIMOSHI by Armel Gibson and Calum Bowen

MOSHIMOSHI is about colors. It’s about shooting things and grabbing power-ups and staying alive and outrageously fun music but most of all about colors. Each element is linked to a color in the cycling background--avatar and enemies hypnotically blending in and out of sight.



WONDER CITY by Wonder City Team

WONDER CITY is an episodic choose-your-own adventure game for younger girls about a highschool girl discovering her superpowers (in the form of Quanta, which is the cool kind of quantum energy).

Everyone has Quanta, it’s just a matter of using it. On Twitter, game designer Naomi Clark said “It was meant as an antidote to precisely that "YOU ARE THE CHOSEN ONE" thing in superhero tropes.” She and the game's writer Phoebe Elefante expressed their desire to develop the theme more strongly and move away from the exceptionalism rife in superheroics.

Character creation has three body types, not one. And truly, the goal isn’t to present any one body type as ideal but to say that your shape is fine--an important feeling to reinforce for kids.

Every so often the game tells you what badges you’ve earned (I’m Selfless Powerful Direct Collaborative!)--indications of your playstyle.

I like that all paths are valid (Openness with others is good, but safeguarding your secret identity is also good!), recognizing that life is full of grey areas (as opposed to extrapolating some arbitrary, moralistic outcome from your choices like many branching games).

The creators of the film that inspired the game write: “Our research found that half of girls ages 8 to 12 play games online. The most popular “girl games” center on themes like cooking, shopping, makeup, and dating, and the default protagonist of most other games is a white male.”

WONDER CITY is strongest in light of its intended audience--positive body messages, a diverse cast, and plenty of powerful female namedrops (“What the Frida Kahlo?!”).

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