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 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.
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.
In TIMEframe, players catalogue a civilization’s culture before imminent meteor destruction. The last ten seconds unfold over ten real-life minutes. Landmarks stand as monuments to their influences, established ideas, and important pieces of history. After ten minutes pass, the meteor strikes and the player starts again searching for relics they haven’t found yet. Each discovery will provide a note about its importance. Here is the bare, slightly underground monument to nihilism, and its explanation. Here is a triumphant statue, and the short manifesto abandoning fear and proclaiming truth.
What makes this so effective is a mystical vocabulary which builds the people’s voice, lending them a culture deeper than their props. It makes the civilization feel materially different than our own history. As I found more messages, I was able to decrypt their ways of speech, and understand references to other notes. Just as literature doesn’t conveniently define each term as it’s used, neither does TIMEframe. Slowly, a narrative forms: the story of a civilization hyper-aware of its possible extinction from its beginning. How people fear, reflect, and build on this—and their reaction when it comes again as a meteor in the end of times. The text is dense, but the format lends understanding. Altogether, there is probably only a page or two of text throughout the game. The spaces you find these notes do much of the expression. Long stretches of sand fill up the world, leaving time for reflection, and adding a sense of anticipation to each figure you see in the distance.
The other day I tweeted “indie rock fucking sucks” and that still feels belligerent. Maybe it’s something that’s never wrong even if I’m not being honest. I was listening to early Yo La Tengo, which is alike to Modest Mouse and Dinosaur Jr., and I surely think those bands suck. I enjoy listening to them sometimes but their whole existence is obnoxious. Which I couldn’t quite articulate why for awhile and maybe I can’t really nail it because I’ve never felt intimate with rock music. Still I was listening to The Kingsmen and The Sonics and The Saints and The Stooges for, well, I really have no goddamn clue why I was listening to garage bands that begin with The. I just felt like it. The Stooges are still really fucking good. Anyway I realized the gap between rock music and the so-called hipsterism of indie rock isn’t very wide at all. The point of rock music, at least as presented by british dudes and white americans, was a stance of disaffected appropriation.
Moirai presents a simple situation: a woman is missing from a small village. Despite being a 3D game, there are no mouse controls. The arrow (or WASD) keys rotate the camera and move the player forward or backward. The unfamiliar scheme combined with the low resolution makes the game feel oddly claustrophobic. After conversing with a few denizens and poking some sheep, I grab a lamp and go searching for the woman in a cave. A character suggests I take their knife for protection, who knows what could happen. My lamp and knife hanging over the camera draw out an uncomfortable dread of what might come. My character rotates too slow to comfortably traverse the winding paths of the cave. Around a corner I’m surprised by a farmer covered in blood and holding a knife and lamp.
Videogame protagonists tend to be written as someone who stays the center of attention, an ego-avatar that allows a player to occupy the spotlight. This sort of lead character is someone who’s outgoing, impulsive, and not-entirely-kind, while assumed by those around him as charming or charismatic, even if the character has nothing really interesting about him at all. They’re principled when it counts, seen to be heroic by the fiction’s rigged customs, and good at what they do (which is usually fighting), so their emotional maturity is a nonissue. With this description a great many (mostly male) characters come to mind. This trend can be dismissed as bad writing or even videogame writing, but I think the causation is pretty natural. These are desirable traits for men, so they appear overwhelmingly in leading men.
Role playing games very often slip into these sort of heroic protagonists. It may be that these characters are perceived as neutral vehicles. Or it may simply be an uninterrogated tradition. Their frequency has resulted in subversions of their purpose, at least. Distant, jarring, and alienating in their forced bluster, quite a few modern instances take on a subversive or satirical role. Though this also means that it’s preferable to explore this one kind of personality from every facet imaginable, rather than attempting to write a more natural lead, or even diversifying things at all. By now I’ve been so blunt and obnoxious that somebody out there is starting to think of exceptions, or every exception, and yes. What I’m laboring to to say is that deviations from a heroic default are exceptional.
I’ve been reading archives of Tim Rogers’ work out of a compulsive need for comfort than a desire to feel illuminated, or get my writing chops strengthened, or whatever other goals I decide to define my compulsion by. Meaning this reading is maybe more honest than other habits, being for escape and pleasure, instead of a distant escapism of self-improvement. Rogers is more often a storyteller than a formal critic; I’m more or less reading an entertaining journal, but hey, I’m there for the videogames. Our shared annoyances and preferences are just a hook. He does legitimize his experiences with videogames by a spectrum of how they make him feel and how they fit into his life, though a lot of it is just how annoying being in this really is. This selling of a personality tied to subculture interest is what now dominates videogame discourse, as genre of content on youtube and such. Tim Rogers’ whispered influence makes his work seem more classy than the average youtube reviewer-reactor-explainer-whatever, but it’s essentially the same stuff. Just, well, youtube culture is filled with gamer nerds I won’t find myself agreeing with, while Rogers is an elitist jerk with relatively grounded perspective and yeah, I feel commonality since I’m a white dude hipster too. (I’ll deny being a hipster—what the hell even is a hipster anymore—but I’ll admit A is A in my relation to others).
Vextro is made possible with contributions to is patreon. Okay that’s not really true as of this post but it needs be. I digress, we all made it another month! Well, a month and then some. A lot is on the line here but also not much at all. That’s a weird feeling of displacement, stress in service of a void. In pride, at least, everything this site has set out to accomplish is being accomplished. I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but hell, support underground games. The meme to stand by: support underground games. Listed in order of how long each takes to finish.
continue to volume 3
In what is extremely clearly stated rhetoric, Austin C. Howe separates the player and character in what I’d simplify shorthand as the player actor relationship:
I have thought about this a lot and: the player is not the character and shouldn’t be thought of as such. Usually, there’s just Too Much Damn Text that makes the player character totally alienated from the player. Games are not immersive, they’re empathetic. They don’t make you feel like you’re “there”, they communicate what “there” is like.
An integral part of understanding videogames as metaphors, as meaningful art objects that fit into our lives, is separating a feeling of agency from actual, material agency. Establishing a divide between the virtual and the actual. During play of a shooter, I choose to make tactile responses that cause a character to commit murder. I do not commit actual murder. It sounds obvious, but I don’t think this is semantics for the sake of it, the difference is really important in both approaching game development and interpreting videogames.