Undertale’s metafiction isn’t wholly new, but conflating metafiction with sentience is certainly, well, something. That is to say, Undertale speaks to, and judges a player for, progressing through its narrative. Not diegetically as some kind of commentary on the form, but from a point of object permanence. Stretched literary values assert Undertale as a living, real place. Therefore it treats a player as a literal infiltrator of Undertale’s peace.
Layers deep into this conceit the game comes to muster and essentially asks: why play this game, why do these things? I see this a question of taste, of aesthetics; altogether something that has more to do with my life situation. Of course, no character cares about why I literally bought, installed, and played Undertale. They just want me to leave them alone. Making this play a question of ethics, because of the asserted agency and reality of the videogame at hand, makes the metafictional implication of asking like, any possible meaning of finishing the game outside of its conceit basically subtext. Because as far as Undertale is concerned, its awareness is a natural structure.
Basically the post-undertale game is like “The Monster at the End of this Book.” Myself, the reader, share in the static reality of this book with Grover. He’s allowed to turn the page, change the contents of the book, because he exists of it and inside it. Though the “change” is relative to reading it. The page he nails shut is always nailed shut, and so on. Grover pleads in vain for the reader not to turn any pages out of fear for the monster at the end of the book. Spoilers for an iconic classic of literature: the monster is him!
DATA_DOUBLING grips me because it’s difficult to play. I mean that more literally than most, it’s difficult to perform the basic action that keeps it going. Arcade-styled games have an expectation to deliver some kind of hook. Vlambeer games are seductive kinetically. Terry Cavanagh draws a player in with careful patterns and pulsing music. Phone games employ a lot of techniques to communicate that its play is lasting from a single try (clean aesthetics, incremental rewards, Innovative-Mechanics), even if it’s just another autorunner or whatever.
I’ve given a lot of sarcasm to game jams before, but an interesting effect is enabling a space for devs to not overthink or overdesign their games, and not be judged for what would normally be seen as lazy or uninspired game design. I mean, I’m all for games made in minutes, but I get the feeling most people wouldn’t feel the same way. DATA_DOUBLING was made in an hour for onehourjam. I can’t imagine what it’s like to make a game in one hour. It takes me longer than an hour to come to a decision on, like, what I’m going to have for a meal. That one-hour-ness is undoubtedly reflected in the game’s form and function. Its why it feels so sharp and unpretentious. A game content with being a single idea.
The Castle by Franz Kafka is talked about as a deathly serious novel contemplating alienation. Or that which, at the time, explored a pressing anxiety of new kinds of ruling hierarchies holding the same kind of power nobility held without traditional orders of birthright. It was prescient, maybe. Many see the novel as a predictive model of life under repressive regimes. Others see the banalities and inefficiencies of bureaucracy.
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.
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.
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.
What impressed me about the visual novel Her Lullaby is the amount of compassion offered to different machinations and manifestations of intensely violent acts. Its horror functions in a rare way: it’s clearly and reasonably stated. No esoteria, no unknowability, no othering. This is less immediately scary than I’m used to. It’s less shocking, the way a slasher story is often framed as a natural disaster. Instead there’s a bridging of states, not a flat confrontation with fragility, but a burn up into fragility always being there.
the evolution of trust is a little web game that’s gone viral. i’m staying hands off but the dev is established already and has done other semi-viral things. i don’t know if they’re in the same style. of all things it’s a game-lecture, though these kinds of succulent rants go viral any day of the week. whatever sort of sweeping generalization, like the ones about how millennials don’t have respect or whatever. what we have here is a more exact, concrete version, of the ever marketable, endlessly viral, declaration that people these days suck.
which they do. though i cannot say the scope of that, i can only notice a shift among english speaking people, especially in america. it is important to emphasize that american culture problems cannot be translated to problems every culture has. america’s problems socializing aren’t humanity’s problems.
the evolution of trust claims through its systems and objectivity that it’s about inevitable human nature relating to how collectives function. however overwhelmingly this game is presenting extremely american values and american-founded information. but of course given that the author is a fellow american and cites paragraphs of american academic literature, we graze on this result. is it that we assume an american perspective is neutral one? so it seems unnecessary to disclose, or to clarify that angle?
I’m trying to talk about a certain kind of feeling in videogames that is just as easily shattered and that I don’t have words for. Think of those horrible sort of game logic jokes for a moment. Jokes about there being containers full of money at every corner, treasure chests with no origin, healthpacks strewn about. Every guffaw and jab about characters holding things without anyplace for them. Ostensibly humor; ultimately a humorless observation of what’s represented clashing with what is imagined to be simulated.
I’m tapping into a principle like the “magic circle” or like “suspension of disbelief”—there’s established language, symbols, shorthands for representation in videogame space. A singular jagged rock model stands in for any kind of rock material when crafting… and whatever you know where I’m going with this. There’s a certain amount of trust and understanding with regards to symbols standing in the place of complex systems and relationships, built up through representing them the best technology could allow, repeated as memes and mantras (like the concept of a health bar).
If you take a step back and stop trusting those relationships they’re plainly nonsense. They’re not nonsense because we understand metaphor and symbol. Though, metaphor is meant to hold poetic or dramatic meaning, not a physical reality. What is real, what is a concluded meaning—that is to be said what is behind a metaphor—is, indeed, not metaphorical. Yet in a videogame it is. This tension, simulacra meant to be actual, exists in most contemporary videogames.
Writing about ZZT feels perfunctory. Having only heard about the game a month ago, its importance was to me invisible. Being a ASCII-based computer game released in 1991, present in videogame’s market tested pedagogy, it’s not the kind of game that gets to be remembered. There’s undeniably an essence of iconoclasm to ZZT; I think it resembles a bunch of things, but akin to scenes and art movements, it was a time and a place. It’s not going to be reproduced. In that sense I can’t introduce ZZT, because I can’t hold it in place. I can’t capture what I never knew or saw.
Those who were imprinted by the allure of making ZZT games seem to follow and be followed by artistic pursuit. I see a self-explanatory, self-justified thing. It was a design language people could see and feel demonstrated. An immediate understanding that a videogame was made by a person. The ZZT community was, paraphrasing words that aren’t mine, mostly a bunch of frustrated teens, that through a specific and arcane practice were able to exercise control and interpret their lives. The specificity was kind of special and secret, and it was kind of lonely and isolating. In the late 90s, who was seriously into ASCII videogames, among the advent of 3D?