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?
cw: depression stuff
writing in lowercase again because it’s more comfortable to tackle personal topics like this. i think of it like minimizing space, a kind of tepid and forced humility. it’s a natural impulse for me when i don’t want to feel seen and i don’t want to feel like an authority, but i’m not sure if that’s how other people see it or read it. i don’t mean to impose anything either. it’s just easier for me to apply a specific direction and style of writing for certain topics.
i’ve decided to also start writing about japanese freeware games because, i uh, can, and i think it’ll further my commitment to talking up small games by tying big ideas and lifestyles to them. or in other words, same as any other writing on here. lightly, consider lightly, that gamewriting’s american and english-centrism is a clear and present weakness.
but already, engaging with stuff i’m not fluent in has presented challenges. peripheral information is laborious to unparseable; i didn’t really know what i was getting into when i started playing 少女 (shōjo, which just translates to girl). having to suddenly and unexpectedly devote my attention (reading while learning a language is indistinguishable from close reading) to traumatic events that i have personal stake in… is less than pleasant.
max edits all the essays i write. everybody say hi to max, big round of applause to max, give lots of thanks to max. THANK YOU MAX
he put in a request though to do a little exposition on a common idea vextro treads on and around. we bring up like, games not being quite coherent and games not living up to an expressed potential. the best shorthand for addressing all of this is a statement starts to become a mantra. developers (or just as often inverse, gamers in interpretation) lacked the proper videogame literacy, and that’s why a game is. this a lot of assumed knowledge for my audience, and a lot of universalizing a concept that has no center, no core, no place of education. or I mean, you can’t go learn videogame literacy, so what we’re actually saying is that they “don’t understand videogames as well as we do” and that is pompous as shit. i don’t want to create hierarchies. i want this to be easily understood, i want it to be hopefully an accessible concept. i’m not the best at clarity, but i’ll put in an effort to explaining on my terms.
a lot of this is just paying forward ideas lana polanksy wrote in a response to ludonarrative dissonance as a concept making the rounds again. it hasn’t made the rounds much since. coherence versus incoherence is a really clear and direct model for a critic to adopt, though it’s usefulness is tied up with a critic’s desire to ascribe meaning or value to a work. which I mean fuck it, that’s what most gameswriters do anyway, so it’s a good model. my friend becky applied the framework what is a most comprehensive way, it flat out works, and it’d be nice to see a lot more people shifting away from the nebulous “the videogame is good because it makes me feel good” and “the videogame is good because it’s appealing to the market” toward “this videogame is meaningful because of precedents in art and history, and I can prove it”
I’m not an expert on horror games or anything, so I can only guess the origin of persistent horror is from Slender: The Eight Pages (or maybe, arguably, Ao Oni?). I can’t actually handle persistent antagonists either, especially in first person. I’ve never finished Slender, but I’ve played it a bit, sorta just to face my fears. I gotta force myself to play most horror games. Maybe I just feel a lot, maybe I’m gullible; I just get really invested and really scared. The point is to get scared, but I don’t know. It’s not exactly pleasant.
A persistent antagonist (usually randomly) spawns in and chases the player. It may chase permanently, or it may despawn after a certain point. Commonality here is how it fosters an intense vulnerability. Control and tempo of play isn’t dictated by what the player necessarily wants, it’s a matter of being in constant avoidance. Rhythm is determined by whatever chases; a player must cede control over the space, in a way that other genres or styles rarely, if ever, require someone to do.
From the description of Agent Escape:
This is a serious game that explores the motivations of a paranoid and depressive schizophrenic. Auditory and visual hallucinations are common in these patients … Lack of motivation and drug abuse are very common in schizophrenic patients … I hope that through playing this game the player gains a better understanding of the motivations and mental state of paranoid delusional schizophrenics, and will exhibit empathy and understanding.
I really don’t like this game. There are a lot of problems considering its short runtime. An intrinsic motivator to create conflict is that the player-character has complete amnesia after going through electroconvulsive therapy. Chances of this actually happening are astronomically low. It has happened, but this outcome happening, and somehow also the hospital staff are not aware that it has happened, is flatout impossible. It only happens to create tension, to preserve a false start framing. Continue reading