A Living Videogame

I kinda paused at the idea of making a videogame as a gift. A short pause. I know there’s really nothing wrong with that. Surely it’s as personal as anything, and I think I’d enjoy being on either side of such a gift. That reluctance isn’t my own, it’s absorbed from being in games. A sense of what games can do and what they’re for pushes away meaningful expressions dedicated to someone else. It feels like this because videogames are always polishing, always focus testing, always trying to reach as a broad an audience as possible. Can something like that truly reflect an individual?

Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! is a stranger game than it would normally feel like, because it was made as a gift to the developer’s girlfriend. Nelly, the protagonist, was made in her likeness. A pretty clearly masculine Spoonbeaks Ahoy is not explicitly romantic, the author’s nevertheless romantic interest spends a majority of play time outsmarting portrayed-as-vain and material-obsessed women. There’s a feeling of crypto-sexism because the, male writer, accents how much more special Nelly is compared to other women and even other characters in general. His motivations are really transparent. From a mile away, it’s obvious how an expression of “you’re not like other women” is degrading, undercuts solidarity, though it’s used so frequently in fictional romantic contexts.

A character like this is not uncommon in adventure games. Our dashing protagonist, by virtue of being the de facto problem solver, conquests over people and situations as each demands. It’s no more than the ever-present double-edged sword of a Sherlock Holmes-type. They are insufferable as they are assertively admirable. It’s okay to be kind of a dick if you excel at something, or at least, that’s how fiction has been adapted to normalize this kind of behaviour. Indicative of societal bias maybe; forgive the sins of the most productive.

It’s just power fantasy. I’d say not unknown for the genre, but it’s just videogames too. I think power fantasy arguments are often simplistic in assuming there’s a one-size expression that de facto functions as cleanly as the critic asserts. They also, in turn, paint empowerment as problematic and dirty. It’s often unclear if it’s negligent empowerment that does harm by emboldening the powerful (though I think this is usually the purpose of such critique), or that accepting power-poison into ourselves is not productive, or maybe that seduction is too volatile to be used in commercial works. At some point, the seduction hits, and it feels okay to step on others. Arguably, recognizing which games appeal to who and the reasons behind, maybe it is okay to step on others because it’s virtual. I had fun playing Nelly Cootalot.

It’s only kinda weird, maybe, but to me deeply so, that a typical power fantasy is imbued into someone’s relationship. I don’t mean to say as much with judgement, only, I feel a horrible voyeurship because of how typical and clean Spoonbeaks is to feel and play. I wouldn’t call it a videogame made for another person, and yet I can’t not call it that. It feels like any videogame, from anywhere; it very much hits those expected checkboxes of polish. And a fucking actual person I don’t know and never will know inhabits it and I’m supposed to play as her.

I can’t even bring myself to describe the aesthetic intricacies of the game because it’s an inescapable impression. To be given a power fantasy is to be idealized. In a videogame like this I get to inhabit a pedestal, I get to be a very special person. If it lines up with how I feel and how I view the world, I might actually feel special. If the power fantasy was literally myself, somehow eroding that barrier, eliminating projection by consuming it, I’d only be able to laugh. It’d be funny only to stave off an inherent terror of consuming a projected image of myself.

Another abstraction off then. I imagine these people I don’t know, partaking in all of this without batting an eye. A wide release and a commercial sequel later, this commodification, gamified layers of biography and intimacy sharing is just the keenest thing, I guess. I can play Nelly Cootalot and feel fine. It’s when I think about it, I feel so entirely separated from it. A personal game should be more specific, I rapidly think, it can’t be just this commercial blob, it can’t be so sycophantic. Does it matter? I don’t know.

I can’t comprehend how this is normal. Imagine starring in a formulaic videogame. I wouldn’t feel like it represents me at all. I feel elitist or pretentious to suggest this, but it’s true. It would be a stretched, suggestion of my person, given freely. Nobody playing would take it as anything really meaningful, of course, but that admission annoys me even more. Playing this game, in the context of it being a homage to another person, exposes a critical weakness in universal approaches to gamedev. There’s no intimacy involved, no little moments of human connection. What’s supposed to be easily slipped into actually obstructs individually resonant expression.

Maybe, or literally, or of course, there’s nothing wrong. It’s a very unassuming videogame, bought in by old videogame values, and I guess many identify with those. The ultimate issue here may be my own neurosis, exposed by the normalcy of this game, exposed by a dynamic I fundamentally can’t understand. I’m trying to probe at the morality of something that’s been consented for regardless. Conception of self, perception of self, fragmentation of self, are provoked because I try to imagine reasonings behind things that aren’t complicated and that I have no business prying apart anyway.

1ZezA6H

check out the game that gave me disassociation lol 

still, uh, patreon supported…

 

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