On Minimalism and Breakout

I remember my grandma’s desk being shuffled out to rest strangely in the corner of her basement, watching her play some Arkanoid rip off. I wanted to play it. The games are so interchangeable I’d never be able to know which one. Face against the glass of their back door I cycled through the levels as far as I could get. Never was that far. I think what was nice about it was that it made so much sense. Neatly arrayed patterns, colors; challenging but materially abstract, representational, therefore unstressful.

Gradually the blocks will disappear. For a bit the game is something changing, living. And when I return to it I’m in a trancelike dissolution and remembrance of what else I’ve felt, how my handling of the game’s intensity has changed. As the blocks dissolve so too does whatever old parts of myself I’ve negotiated away or forward, that I’m reminded of because of things like it. I chip away at the charming flatness until it gives way to a void.  

And it would later appear on browsers to be played in class, to be rediscovered on my DS, in game collections, and plug-in-plays. It’s there, I play it, and I forget about it. Like a kind charm, imbued with good and bad, safety and tumult. A constant that has absorbed and redirected simple expectations for videogames. Something unconsciously accepted among childish notions of what is correct, not to be articulated, not needing to be justified.

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How to Learn Stuff

I grew up playing loads of edutainment games. I know why. Though my household was scraping by, my dad saw something new in a computer. He wanted to be part of whatever that was. Which would never be convincing enough for my mom, on its own. The way to grift any parent is through their kids. That was the beating heart of the edutainment industry: getting parents on board to market videogames directly to children.

Edutainment, like any good tech venture, didn’t bother to interrogate if what they were doing worked better, just whether it was a convincing replacement. In a retrospective it feels kind of gross. Every parent wants their kid to learn stuff! So like cure-alls and star registries, the desire to give, to do, outweighs the fact that these things don’t do very much.

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