Des Rêves Élastiques Avec Mille Insectes Nommés Georges (DREAMING, or french for “elastic dreams with a thousand insects named george”) was created in 2008, using crowdsourced art. Each scene has a vastly different art style, strung together by cartoon Dietrich (Squinky) Squinkifer themself wondering between them. The game opens with Squinky voicing their disillusionment with dreaming, disappointment that they dream of falling instead of flying. They rationalize that it’s because they’re a pessimist – or perhaps a realist. Scenes in the game are short and succinct, varying from heartwarming encounters with old friends, a breakup, the surreal, and even discomforting attacks on work, individual appearance, and videogames. At the end of our short journey Squinky’s voice returns and tells us their dreams aren’t normally this interesting, asking why they can’t be – what’s wrong with them. Then it flashes to Fin, and the game closes itself.
Conversations We Have In My Head (2015) has Quarky reconnecting with Lex, an ex from high school. As Lex we can interject at any moment to comment, add, or disagree with what Quarky is saying; otherwise they will continue to the end. Branching paths lead the conversation in vastly different directions. Sometimes it’s a completely positive experience of Quarky sharing their gender queerness, and the positive track of their life. Other times it’s fights about how they acted 13-14 years ago, and how it all ended. Or it’s bitter self-loathing about how Quarky squandered their chance by being so dismissive and ashamed of their queer relationship. When positive, Quarky questions why they’re even having this conversation, they’ve long since forgiven each other. Then Lex fades away, revealing that Quarky was simply holding this conversation in their head. They continue walking alone. When negative, Quarky admits it’s their fault they don’t still talk, they were too shitty back then and can never mend that. As Lex fades away Quarky quips at how they’re so pathetic they can’t even talk to Lex outside of their own head.
Every choice and bit of dialogue is a real conversation that could happen, and a fake conversation played out in Quarky’s head. While many choices rise tension, very few lead to defeatist negativity. Most still conclude that both parties must’ve forgiven and forgotten, and moved positively with their life. In reality, we can usually find forgiveness from people we’ve wronged 13 years ago; people change and grow. But we can never know, and their continued scorn would truly be justified. I’m hopeful that the people I’ve wronged have found it in themself to forgive me, but sometimes I don’t give myself the benefit. We’ll never know.
I’m Really Sorry About That Thing I Said When I Was Tired and/or Hungry (2014) is a mostly autobiographical twine covering a wide array of topics. It’s written in a nonchalant tone, with most hyperlinks being questions or comments spoken directly to the narrator. Squinky guides us through pieces of their childhood, seamlessly connecting with their adult life and imagination. The prose is often dreamlike, constructing scenarios on layers of abstraction. North takes us up a footpath to see a snowy field, East takes us to the Philippines, and West takes us to the beach across the country.
The game proceeds to find Squinky in a fantastic position with a busy social life, and projects they love. But everyone’s more talented than them, their friends don’t care as much about them as they do each other, they don’t assimilate to academia well, people keep messing up their pronouns, they miss playing music with other people, they don’t know what to do with their life after graduation, and they don’t know how to explain who they are to their family. But then, it’s dinner time. They conclude they should feel better about everything after eating.
The game shares its memories and quips with no conclusions to come to, or singular idea to build towards. They simply contribute to a portfolio of emotions that span the piece. Paradoxically, the bare presentation is just as evocative, holding a silent power. The experiences are the author’s, but the response and emotions are the player’s. The bitter bullying and exclusion Squinky described was heart wrenching for me. I remember having similar awkward and humiliating experiences, though not as bad (and really I think we all can). I coped by being a jerk; my empathy and self-awareness didn’t really develop until later. It sucks to remember those weird moments of receiving cruelty, and dishing it out.
Queer themes are deeply ingrained in these games. DREAMING was created in 2008, seemingly before Squinky’s coming out/realization of their gender queerness. However, the underlying feelings can be seen in their nondescript appearance of a puffy black sweatshirt and tan pants. They’re exaggeratingly criticized for this ‘bland’ appearance, expressing discomfort in not having full control to be themself without judgment. I’m Really Sorry discusses the challenges of connecting with your family and fitting in among others as a queer person. Conversations We Have In My Head is plainly a story about queer people, especially dealing with self loathing for past intolerances, but also how it really does get better.
These games dance on whimsical then dive into serious themes without hesitation. Why do we hold onto ghosts of our past? What’s wrong with our dreams – is our world view broken? We find no answers, because there are none. We can only reflect and move forward with our lives. Despite their asking, the games don’t dwell on these introspective topics. Conversations has a lot of positive moments, often with a genuinely positive narrative. DREAMING has many heartwarming and thoughtful vignettes. I’m Really Sorry’s ending is most representative of this tone. It essentially states “My life is in a great state. But everything is terribly imperfect. But I think I’m okay.” I find the bittersweetness that results absolutely intoxicating. It’s a concoction I’ve only rarely found in other games, and why I’ve played so many of Squinky’s. The happiness is unencumbered by sadness, and the sadness unphased by the happiness.
This is only three of twenty-four games that Squinky has created across their career. They have a myriad of games that explore these and other themes from different angles and approaches. Check them out at http://squinky.me/my-games/.