Vextro Reading List Vol. 7

THAT FEEL WHEN

VIDEOGAMES

ARE ART

and inspired community and respect instead of entitlement and egoism. if only, right!? I’m just venting, yeah.

I love the games and I love what the culture could be. I think it’s self-explanatory, self-justifying. just gotta hope others will see it too.

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My Wrath, of Me?

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.

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A Hundred Poem

I don’t really like game jams with strict time limits, like, there is rarely a compelling reason for self-imposed crunch (it seems this trend is reversing so I won’t belabor this), but The 100-in-1 Klik and Play Pirate Kart is an exception. A hundred games made in forty-eight hours, the stipulations of the game jam feed into its output, the whole event is geared to make a certain kind of game. Fathoming, again, a hundred games in two days, by less than two dozen people, they have a texture and attitude unlike games made by conventional means or reasons.

Some are flat out horrible, but many are genuinely great. They’re sketches, unconventional takes, reimagining of games based on the Klik and Play toolset. Playing them all at once creates a tumult, each new game a bizarre shift in values, presentation, rules, needs, wants. A reprocessing occurs which each new piece, a commonality established by forced association, my brain attempting to find patterns where there are none.

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How it Feels to be Something On

My experience with anxiety is often a great apprehension, fear, stress, over things I’ve done before and will continue doing. I might even really enjoy the activity, like recording a podcast, but the night before I’ll be in survival mode. Tense and in knots, a part-rational part-irrational fear that this time I will screw up beyond belief, that somehow everything will go wrong, that I don’t even deserve the position or my friends. Fear of failure. At this point I know, like statistically, coldy, my feelings are unfounded. I have metacognition to know it’s just an anxiety attack. It still happens—though the intensity may much less than the first time—it still happens. While immersed in whatever activity my anxiety will finally dissipate, driven back without anything to hang on to.

I got sucked into Loop for deftly establishing that relationship. It’s not trying to represent anxiety or anything (my games do that, shameless plug), but a juxtaposition of horror and comedy instills a coping range of anxiety. In Loop the actor is an agent, their corps undefined, sent to investigate a haunted house. They’re told if they drain out the cellar, no more hauntings. Residents of this mansion are crudely drawn, goofy, nonthreatening, oddly comforting. Of hauntings they seem unconcerned, focused on sedentary tasks. Being haunted is an inconvenience, people still have to live.

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Why bother?

It’s ironic that art feels precarious and scarce because of cultural factors, when we live in an age where it’s freeing and easier than ever to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. When so much art is being made. It might be a confusion, the flood causing us to dig in, reinforcing the way it has been. Keeping order and sensibility, while adapting to thoughts humans never had to hear, never had to care about, never had to see. It’s too much but someday it won’t be, I think someday it will be a new normal, and it might be too late (or was never our ball) to define what that normal is.

To answer, in essence, why bother? Change is incremental, imperceptible, the amount of blood and sweat and risk put in doesn’t match the gains. Why bother?

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Unknown Portraits

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Dear is naïve art (hey look it up). It digs into a deep understanding of minimalism without really knowing or caring what minimalism is for. Little sketches of pixelart, that are intricate and communicative, are strewn about unevenly in the work. Sometimes the vast negative space is used to great effect. Usually it isn’t. At first I wasn’t even sure what I experienced at all, having no paratext blindsided me. There was no useful explanation of the game, no thumbnail, no theme; such an affecting work somehow existed without any statement of intent, or any acknowledgement that it could do anything at all. Such a brisk intensity of experience was hard to conceptualize without a stated framework by the developer. It’s ludically similar to Jake Clover’s sidescrollers like duck turnip, in that play is to facilitate a showcase of screens, aesthetic moments. Basically, a 2D walking sim.

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It starts in stark white, oddly cutting across a player’s monitor. Dear is rendered in a panoramic window, short and wide, a presentation I haven’t encountered before. In this way it rests into a gap of the computer, slotting in, distributing its existence, instead of being centered and demanding attention like the squares we’re used to. A deer, so a pun yeah, the titular deer, automatically walks across the screen. Space toggles its gait to a sprint, the only concrete interaction a player has, a transference that makes it not quite a simple animation. Pressing enter makes the deer leap into a run, autorunning until the end of a screen. An observing player can choose to inject panic or not into their viewing experience.

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Options, a Monolith

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It says everything and nothing. It says as much as the way we park our cars or wash our dishes. Just think of the sexual subtext of parking; rear-to-rear, slip-in-along-side, ‘I can squeeze in there’. Or look at dish washing in respect to ecology; make a machine to do the job, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, I’ve done my part you do yours. All things can be interpreted metaphorical for something else. All such juxtapositions create a meaning. All are equally useful and a complete waste of time. Just look at surrealist art for any number of examples. A melting clock, a lobster on a telephone. So what? The exchange is there, it can be made.

Beeswing

Between people there’s a felt suggestion to share understanding, usually an invitation to teach or be taught in some way. To neither educate or be educated is to suspend a concept. I very much enjoy that. What understanding is perfect? Every confidence is a hierarchy of trust, absolute truth is a consequence of belief and honesty that’s as fragile as the time it takes to process. Time spent learning, communicating, gives an illusion of the indefatigable, but without understanding one’s time spent is just one’s time spent.

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Vextro Reading List Vol. 3

Vextro is uh, there’s uh, patreon. I’m tired but hey I guess let’s also be tireless. Conflict, conflict, conflict, I see dark skies and dead horizons. Let art unite and recharge us at the very least. Support your friends, give grace to your rivals, and no mercy (no patience, no credibility) to those that’ll bring harm. I’m not a fan of optimism, I fill my dark pits with action and recourse. Whatever works though. Stay alive friends and readers. I’ll keep supporting the small, ignored, and downtrodden, in a medium notorious for those states.

Games still listed in order of how long they take to finish. I’ll say support underground games, but I’ll add: make some games! There is nothing holding you back from fighting entropy. Everyone can make games.

continue to volume 4

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Chalk, Post-Shmup

A videogame in motion is an object that can be felt but not touched. Videogames exist, curiously, but their physicality is tempered by mostly universal conduits, you know, controllers and other apparatus. Their materiality is just outside standard perception. Play is abstracted; visuals which communicate effect are symbolically distanced from their aesthetic inspiration. This is a concept of phenomenology: a game’s aesthetic is felt through play and is different from nonplay observation. I’d argue this spacious relationship, this psychic distance, is a fundamental power of videogames. It feels radical to state as much as tech tries to close this duality, where acting and action are indiscernible from the other. Though it isn’t necessarily negative to strive for accurate models, I would argue it limits avenues of artistic expression. Doing and seeing can be two different-but-entwined expressions.

Game art exists in action, it’s a response to stimulus. It’s a material that exists because of play, while in play. Though in some cases there’s an inverse: there are play aesthetics that exist as material. This is a convoluted definition to pin down found aesthetics like the crayon graphics of Kirby’s Dreamland 3, the watercolor of Beeswing, and the chalk graphics of, uh, Chalk. These are approximations of materialsor sometimes, scanned, literal captures of these materialsthey lack their nondigital physicality. Videogames interpret these found and created materials with tactile sensations. Aesthetics which have a basis in how things look in actual life, instead of being a representation or stylization of a living sphere, contain a weak but ever present dissociation. They could be rendered 1:1 outside of software, yet they feel and exist in ways in software they never could outside it.

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