I Wish Videogames Was a Building We Could Live Inside

The Pear Game is immediately arresting, filled with chunky animations, deep hues, and brimming with careful personality. The player controls, well, the titular pear. They can run around, double jump, wall climb, crouch, fast fall, dash—a robust platforming system anticipating complex platforming. As I ran around the quaint little town my mind wandered to all of the time I spent in Mario hubs, gestating in each thing the game let me do, relieving stress by mindlessly rolling feelings through my hands and out of my mind. I got a handle on how to move the pear efficiently in the air and on the ground.

There’s no platforming in The Pear Game. Because the game’s physics and contextual interactions, hitboxes etc, feel very loose and unreliable, I felt this possibility unconsciously. There’s even a palpable sense of shame in how the game works and plays. Like the entire design of the game changed to accommodate an unfixable aspect.

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The Pear Game is one of many videogames where there’s nothing to do but walk around and get npc dialogue. I’d call this the walk ‘n talk. There’s not much substance to the dialogue though. All of it in lowercase, with misplaced grammar, making trite observations, stating empty platitudes. Some npcs feel aware they’re npcs, others don’t, both played off as natural. It’s irreverent, purposefully lazy, and draws attention to artifice.

Pearbaby’s objective is to go work, marked by a kind of a questlog screaming where to go in the upper right corner. It’s right next to their house though. Exploring around and talking to the bean denizens is in the opposite direction. Either Pearbaby goes straight to work, or slacks off indulging in no consequence. Nested in layers of nothing is an arcade cabinet, which Pearbaby can play.

What kind of videogame exists in a world that doesn’t care? A turn-based rpg, apparently. That might be a pointed dig. I ain’t judging (maybe). Some pear runs across a suspended bridge in a factory setting, obviously recalling Final Fantasy VII. This game-within-a-game maintains its same flippant tone, which when processing familiar game interactions, comes off as explicitly parodic and absurdist.

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A couple things: the game is cartoon racist, the protagonist says “i don’t have any moral obligations lol, this is a game,” and the game ends abruptly in their death. Normally very pointed, bland, 4th wall lampshading ends up being a pretty weak attempt at being “meta” or satirical, but the double framing retains my interest. It’s not a videogame that exists to point out how dull and pointless this activity can be, dragging the player along with it, in a way missing the point. It’s a minigame that facilitates being of a certain reputation, occurring in an average household; it very well can be a pointless game because it’s not the only game, not the only point.

When you’re finished goofing off and meditating on uselessness you continue with a not unpleasant play experience. Pearbaby goes to work and is arbitrarily promoted to astronaut pear; there’s a shmup section as Pearbaby has to ward off asteroids as the first traveler to the moon. Their ship crashes, needing repairs, and the perspective shifts to 3D. Collecting various parts in a glazed box of plain, evocative shapes, would be a game I would enjoy playing if I found it on glorious trainwrecks or somewhere similar.

Pearbaby fixes their ship, flies down, and is told to, “be ready to receive lots of praise back on earth!” And if you go around talking to every person, that’s what they do, in in a canned, flabbergasted way, even though there was no difficulty, and the game was obviously set up to perform this one task. Pearbaby gets to be mega cool without doing anything, in a world with no stakes, contrast, or struggle. With their work done they drift off to sleep.

Metafictional videogames often break into their themes with a massive reveal. Like finding Konrad long dead in Spec Ops: The Line, Sans speaking to the player in Undertale, or discovering the relationship between Davey and Coda in The Beginner’s Guide. There’s an uncommented implication that videogames are inherently vehicles for deceit; a fascination with building a relationship in a way that’s expected, only to twist and corrupt it in an instant. I think it’s also leaned on as a crutch and is self-defeating. Truly videogames as we let them rarely lie to us, so why do videogame satires, the so-called deconstructions, have to pretend to be normal, and become liars? (Quick answer, preying on shock is attractive storytelling, though puts a clear restriction on what kind of emotions can and will be invoked.)

The Pear Game is maybe the most honest incarnation of this deceit. When Pearbaby goes to sleep, the protagonist awakes in their room, commenting that they dreamed about the “stupid game they made again.” The Pear Game (non-italicized) is a videogame made by the protagonist of The Pear Game; playing as Pearbaby is only one moving aspect of the work known as The Pear Game. Yet it was known while playing as Pearbaby that this was a game made by the developer, so while it’s discovered the developer is fictional (to some degree), it goes through little to no state change. That is to say, either way, it’s a dorky little game.

Now the game shifts from music that’s grating, nostalgic homages to dreary classical; from bright colors to sunken, evocative tones; from buoyant movement to something more stilted and mechanical; from the classical connotations of a side-scroller to the assumed prestige of first person 3D. They claim their side-scrolling game is stupid—and, well, it is kind of stupid—but it’s so vibrant compared to the life they’re leading. Like the only time they can touch feelings like that is from stupid games. Goddamn is that a relatable rush of tragedy.

A Hotline Miami clone with a pear protagonist can be found up the stairs in their apartment complex. After finishing it they wake up in their room, in a manner identical to when the other pear game is finished. Down the hall, a pear person is suspended in the center square a staircase creates. They feel like they’re falling to their death, constantly, though as observed they’re not hurtling anywhere. It is that modern rush of life: unprepared, uncertain, constantly braced for the worst.

The falling pear asks for some kind of comfort, something to hold on to, as they hurtle toward their death. In paraphrase, a feeling that they shared something intimate and special with another before they perished. Though they’re in no apparent danger. Our protagonist describes a jar they’d place marbles in after something good happened. The jar is symbolic to goodness, something stable to look forward to. Even on rough days they’d find themselves dropping a marble in. Eventually it was filled and they couldn’t recall every good thing that happened. When the sun hit just right, they’d light up, filling their room with good memories. Sometimes there wasn’t sun for a long while.

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It’s the same casual tone seen before in the “stupid games,” inconsistent with grammar and phrasing, riddled with typos. This undermining of prose in this context constitutes a kind of stream-of-conscious, an inferred unreliable narrator, maybe a mindful simplification of confrontation. It’s very much the opposite intention of the gleeful carelessness seen before. The Pear-in-descent responds reticently, confessing they didn’t really like or want to hear something like that.

Obviously this isn’t real life. It seems to be a projection of the developers insecurities, a landscape of the mind. These pear reflections are spoken to, offering poignant, barbing dialogue, that ends in denigrating the viewing character. Implying intimate things, fallouts, focusing on the viewer-character’s inability to be healthy. It seems to be an unspoken failure that they’re less than glamorously dealing with their life, though they’re not outright unsympathetic.

Lots of rude and sad exchanges can be had, as they walk around the city outside their apartment. There doesn’t seem to be a goal in mind. The stretch of city beckons unto a forest at its edge, where the game ends. A white pear, or a silhouette of one, wants to see the lake inside. They’ve wanted to see it for awhile. Just not alone.

Devpear and Lightpear sit on a log and gaze out, their gaze not communicated, the camera panning briefly over the lake, only to uncomfortably situate in front of them, under them. They’re fixated on some picturesque sight; the player is denied that backdrop, stuck instead on their focusing. The prose is clumsy, stumbling over words, like these two struggle to talk, at all and to each other. It reads like an embarrassing chat log, a window into something never meant to be presentable.

They talk about times they nearly drowned. Something that might come to mind looking out into a dark pool of water. Devpear wonders if anyone has drowned in the lake, confesses that they fear and hate drowning. Who wouldn’t, they say, the panic, and the confusion, and the pain? Lightpear offers a hug, offers their comfort.  

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Maybe it’s obvious, or cliched, but I can appreciate a direct metaphor. Devpear’s fear of drowning is not just literal. It’s like the falling pear in their apartment. They fear that gradual, sinking feeling, of their life being out of control, of their life not turning out how they imagined. They keep swimming but they aren’t happy. I can’t tell if their encounter with Lightpear is the end of a pleasant, awkward, failed relationship, or a picturesque encounter with a stranger. They say, too bad it can’t stay like this, and Devpear shows no signs of resurfacing.

A blunt denouement follows. Lowpoly, chunky mountain-scape looms, and I look down like I’m flying from above. There’s a tv filter, bubble shaped, fitted with faux scanlines. A distended, mock lo-fi, “retro” style, prevalent lately in indie games. Clean text arpeggios outward, in a molasses-like forward pan, literally the developer’s critical voice:

What are you trying to accomplish? Are you doing this for validation? Or is it just a distraction? A way to bury yourself in code for hours on end? So in the end you won’t feel anything at all. You’ll be lulled into monotony. You won’t have to face your feelings. You fucking coward. Fuck you. Go ahead. Throw genres at this piece of shit until it becomes meaningless. At least it’s something to do.

You’re accomplishing your goals.

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There’s not much in The Pear Game left for interpretation, so I’m just going to go off in about the same direction. The fake intro game, the various “stupid games”, it’s not cut and dry if they’re vapid on purpose. Their denigration may be an expression of shame. For me this is a more relevant critique of what developers are pressured to make; what I’ve been cultured to enjoy despite how infuriatingly sycophantic or tonedeaf more mainstream games end up being. Enjoying spiritual resentment because, well, it feels good.

I feel existential fear contrasting the framing game and the actual game. The first person part of The Pear Game is nearly just as impotent as the “stupid games” until its climax. And I think the drive to make “important” art is a trap that promises fulfillment, or purpose, and will never cleanly deliver. Sometimes I just feel helpless, wired, to inevitably pursue these unappealing ideals. I’m running away from something, probably.

Perfecting “my art” is a false idol. That person-erasing dedication doesn’t lend to a healthy lifestyle. I think, though, that on some level, everyone who makes the choice to prioritize whatever kind of work over grounding themselves, over taking care of themselves, over strengthening relationships, knows this won’t help out crucial aspects of their life. It’s just easier, it makes more sense, to stick with what can be done. I think, I’ll work really hard on this, and then come back and catch up on the rest of my life. Get one thing sorted, feel good about who I need to be, so to not spoil my hopes, dreams, my teenage ideals, and transition into a happy person after doing what I want.

I got tricked. There’s a voice in my head saying not to write about this, don’t confess how deeply naive and stupid I was just a few years ago. Anyone who knew me would remember what kind of bundle of nerves, fear, yet overwhelming hope that made my being. On some level I thought if I did things my way, if I made quality work and stood out from my contemporaries, I would generate a following on merit. I did not. At least in whatever scope of things counts as an internet following, I did not. I don’t want anything like that, mind. I enjoy writing about and making games. My reasons to try to succeed are as uncomplicated as that. Not everyone succeeds. It’s a hard thing to let go.

I admit to my immaturity, my naive actions, my grasping outside being boxed in by my parents, my avoiding gendered expectations I don’t feel capable to meet. I’m jumping into a real talk because that’s central to The Pear Game. Its intimacy is fluttering on circular tragedy: the reasons, the problems, the positive drive to give back, things that compel people to become artists, won’t be finished by making art. Not by art alone, because being a person is greater and more complex than occupations or hobbies.

Somehow, I’ve made friends doing this, something I’ve struggled with forever. I might seem distant and gloomy (because I am!) but I deeply appreciate the people I’ve met. And I mean, I don’t wake up 100% every day, but I’m not a reactionary, bitter, hateful person. I feel like I was, or was on the path, ran the same circles, but it’s distant now. Videogame criticism was a major part in broadening my horizons and introducing me to socialism and compassionate politics.

I’m proud of what I have accomplished. I know it’s regular growing up stuff, but I am. Though I worry about my health and my future, I’ve felt less ashamed about myself. It’s been nearly a decade since depression has clouded my life. Recently, I’ve forgiven myself, and learned about myself, so to reach a place where I can regularly and consistently cope with bad brain bonanzas. Some of that process involved writing like this. The nonverbal nature of personal games allows me to process all kinds of experience and perspective at my own pace. Not implying a replacement, but the software-embodiment of game offers a pocket to exist, meditate, or simply hang out in another’s brainspace. However videogames manifest themselves, I think a direct impression they’re made by another is indispensable.

If I isolated myself and tried “perfecting my craft,” if I tried to turn myself into a brand and force virality, I don’t know if I would’ve came to any meaningful personal development. A way of looking is that I failed at my work, because my ability, my passion, hasn’t been recognized. Yet I think I’ve done what I wanted to do. I’ve addressed hypocrisy I see in videogames and tried in my small, ineffectual way, to strengthen trust in each other and communities. This work of living and giving is what gives me confidence.


 

What The Pear Game lacks is some kind of silver lining, any admission of saccharine truth about the journey that counts. Their journey isn’t going anywhere. I see it everyday, the slavish devotion to some kind of result. It’s encouraged to live like this, to devote everything to the art, to want it more than anything, to work yourself to death. Everyone offers lip service to the opposite, because they have to, because nobody is going to hamstring their own chances, or give up on their dreams. I don’t know how to describe the still, empty feeling, of evacuated dev accounts. The Pear Game is just one person’s situation, in context their own ennui with creation but it feels like dozens I’ve seen, it feels like a reflection of an unsupported environment.

I saw people my age thriving and I thought I could too. Now I find most of them are on some kind of college track, or knew somebody to get their foot through the door. No contempt for that, use it if you got it. My point isn’t to make it sound easy either. Independent developers are expected to participate in high profile game jams, get a lot out of being in an area with a local dev scene and being part of it to some extent (also known as living in an American tech city), they’re expected to hit as many expensive cons as they can to show off their games (and schmooze, and alright, have a little bit of the regular kind of fun, because going to more than one con a year is always fun). They need to social media the right way, on the right websites. Send succinct press kits to certain, receptive journalists, managing to somehow show off their game as being different and familiar. All of this inane hustle, while somehow making rent. If they don’t do all of this, they’ll be promptly reminded of what certainly obvious thing they didn’t do in the comment section of their Gamasutra postmortem.

Most everyone doing this is young, and they will barely scrape by, but they wanted this! So it’s okay that our community values conventions over artists, it’s just and fair that the process of making a living is an absurd lotto based on games made in 24 hours, that hinge having the right combination of appealing colors and animation in a tweet. (Advice to young devs, make sure your game is giffable! Because giffability is the first fucking step to making resonant art.) They should work about a dozen jobs to make maybe minimum wage because, well, that’s the price they have to pay for making essential art that ensures our scenes don’t stagnate.

There’s barely any cultural trends of feedback, critical appreciation, or acknowledgement for small game developers. There are so many people, much more amazing than me, with tragic, tiny followings, and deserve better. I don’t know how many more times I can write this sentiment. Whoever videogame’s Bjork is, whoever our David Lynch is, they’re making games that get sub-500 plays at best. I shouldn’t mine out my 20s for this. I shouldn’t get sick for this. I don’t want to discourage anyone from their goals or dreams. If the drive is there, for anyone who can game this system, go for it. It’s just never been there for me.

My response to the fictional Devpear, to The Pear Game, is that I give a shit. It’s enough to make games for the enjoyment of your friends, or to make them for whatever personal reasons. To explore parts of yourself that are messy and hard to communicate otherwise. There’s no shame in wanting validation or sometimes wanting to make something that you can touch and feel. I love your stupid games. The bottomline is your happiness. I’m overly glad I got to play your games, revel in your frustration, and understand a sadness similar to my own.

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