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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Reduction Critique

Typical shmups ask a player to (albeit in simplified form) pilot an aircraft. They present wars of impossible odds, in which a skilled individual defends, well, something. This kind of really obvious framing is something I might take for granted, though because it’s a strong tradition, it has an especially clear expressive goal. I hesitate to call it a power fantasy because most shmups really do have impossible odds. This framing may be alarmist and reactionary, but they are, at least, coherent within their expressed intent, by expressing near impossibility with extreme difficulty.

rRootage doesn’t have any sort of straightforward thematic framing device while remaining clear and communicative. You pilot a pixel surrounded by wireframes that fires a giant laser at a shape-like assemblence that emits a collage of shapes. It’s quite beautiful actually, makes me want to be writing about that instead (maybe in the coming weeks…). Without representative graphics drawing connections to real life counterparts, I feel a hyperfocus on the play loop. I think about what the gliding movement feels like to me, I think about the lines I have access to, I’m focused on the peaks & valleys of stress and emotion a shmup incites in me.

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Unknown Portraits

support vextro

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.


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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A Letter to Steven Harmon

I found Awkward Dimensions Redux incredible in the way I find most things that are so brutally honest and forward. A lot of my favorite things are confessional. Maybe because it takes a lot to convince myself that I’m not alone. What I found so valuable in this game is just how much of it lined up to my personal situation and so I have to admit it’s a really particular game. That’s what it is though, isn’t it? A particular game about the particular time and space you were in when you made it. It’s a diary, a crystallized youth. So I was wondering how exactly to write about something clearly personal and I guess I decided the best way was to try to be personal in turn.

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tw: anxiety, death, agoraphobia

Listening to drone around friends and family has elicited reactions like, “Do you actually enjoy listening to this?” and “How is this even music?” (Which is a brief reminder that “not an [art]” isn’t necessarily a videogames problem (though in games people have a consistent indignation and a noted immaturity, blah blah etc.)) I understand the absence of immediate appeal. Drone is unmelodic and very slow. Noise music in the first place counters the purpose of pleasurable listening and drone adds a lack of momentum. It’s like a progression and smoothing of fan sounds, a molasses distortion of a motor, a pop and crease of a heater. Sounds that aren’t meant to strictly hold someone’s attention or to entertain. Drone presents a space to subsist in, to bring texture to the frame of mind alongside contexts and processes that result in listening to it. Meditative music, in other words, but especially toward existing in the present and being with machines.

This softening of futurism is of course exactly why one would listen to drone. A music which focuses on a consideration of progress, rather than common expressions of lashing out against, or celebrating, the conditions we’ve found ourselves in. Minimalistic and unharsh, it’s music that beckons in a listener, to allow one to float and feel each slight change. Feel the reverberations of our modern world. I think drone music actually avoids pressing in on our conscious boundaries, avoiding the aggression and overwhelming expression in other styles of recorded noise. Because it’s constructed to hold in slight terror, sensations of being suspended, it effectively cradles modernity. Drone is truthfully gentle music despite what it tends to evoke, allowing someone to expand their feelings with it, instead being held hostage or lectured to.

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