games

dedicated space for the games and game-makers i've loved :-)

  • analgesic productions (sephonie, even the ocean, the anodyne series)
  • if you've heard me talk about games for more than 5 minutes, you already know how deeply i love these games. and how could you not? every one of marina and melos' projects feels incredibly special, for how they ambitiously thread together so many thematic, philosophical, visual and mechanical ideas.

    if that makes their games sound complex and challenging, they are; at least, they are all filled with challenging ideas about ecology, capitalism, culture, power, identity... etcetera. but the joy of these projects is in how immediately accessible they are, as stories and as games. you don't need to engage deeply to appreciate their charming, off-beat humor, their breathtaking landscapes, their deeply human writing. few other games speak so well to the things i value as a game-maker and as a person who dreams of a better world.

  • sraeka - the oi series
  • rpgs in general are a big blindspot for me--i didn't really play them growing up, and i'm always cowed by the realization of how many 20, 30+ hour-long final fantasies, dragon quests, trails, tales, etc games there are (and how many of them my friends have actually played). i want to play more longform jrpgs, but in the meantime, i'm thankful that sraeka's OI series exists, an ongoing collection of experimental micro-rpgs that explore turn-based rpg combat at the granular level.

    playing the first entry in the series, ocean oi, you'll notice that any and every encounter can be game-ending if approached without extreme care. there's no magical strategy to trump all others, no automatic combination that will leave your party unscathed, so you need to deliberate over every move. once you've cleared a battle, you'll be thrust into a battle with new creatures, or a new combination of creatures whose treacherous synergy you'll have to find solutions for on the fly. if this all seems very concrete, i'd like to add that what i love about ocean oi is how it combines its intricacy as a combat simulator with a sense of mystery. because of how unadorned this game is, its moody atmosphere, its sparse characterization, and its suggestions of an epic but unspoken narrative carry an undeniable power.

    it's refreshing to encounter someone who looks at games through a very different lens, whose senses are attuned to frequencies you didn't know were there before. that's how i felt when i first read sraeka's analyses of games like dragon quest, and again when i actually played their work. their propensity for dissecting the formal language of rpgs, from overworld map design to the pacing of dungeons to the role of status effects, shines through in the diligently crafted systems they've created for their games. it's hard not to share in that enthusiasm.

  • wasnotwhynot - dismal anhedonia land, my bones will grow a forest
  • i gravitate toward games with a confessional bent, and by that i don’t mean they must be lurid or traumatic or interesting or truly confessional in the sense of autobiographical truth. it’s enough that they carry the weight of a confession, that you feel like you’re holding real memories, real feelings. and there’s something about how video games, being such convoluted, indirect and mysterious labyrinths of meaning, bear the directness of confession, the sudden unmitigated flow of memory.

    if i ever made a romhack, i would want it to look, walk and talk like dismal anhedonia land. not just an anticapitalist fuck-mario screed, but a series of extended musings on how our inner worlds and social worlds have been shaped by nintendo, our desires molded in the image of mario. using mario characters as mouthpieces for childhood anxieties, as excavators of personal history, as a platform both to reject mario and to act out one’s own rejection by mario, one’s ongoing defeat by the dominant forces of the games industry. all within a dreamscape that makes alien those familiar brown blocks and green pipes, whose once neat arrangements are still viewed today as the embodiment of good game design. they're not; this is.

  • cardboard computer - kentucky route zero
  • in 2020, i was working on a much longer piece about kr0, about the many thoughts and feelings that went thru me while playing it, but it was quickly becoming unwieldy and time-consuming. so, i decided i would only publish what salient “contribution" i could make to the body of writing on this game. since then i've wondered if it’s given people a false impression of my overall feelings about the game, namely that i was unmoved or unimpressed by it. i'm okay with people’s disagreement, but i still, try as i might to not care, don’t want to be misconstrued, or thought of as a contrarian for-the-sake-of… i also understand why people get precious about their arthouse games (myself included), in light of the broader context in which we feel they need to be defended & uplifted against mainstream cultural institutions & attitudes that don’t “value” and just outright discard works that are “experimental” or “anti-capitalist” or “remotely interesting.” i get it, and i also hope that my original essay was generative in some capacity, encouraged ppl to think more about how we represent history and politics in art, even & especially art that’s trying to be radical/anti-capitalist. despite the critiques i’ve expressed regarding the limitations of its political imagination, i would love if there were more games that were half as thoughtful, ambitious, and creative as this is in its best moments. 

    as a kaleidoscopic homage to postmodern thought, experimental art, and the ruins left behind by capitalism in a particular region, it's more innovative and striking than pretty much anything mainstream indie has to offer. i cried at least once. at other times, i felt that in moving from the register of interpersonal drama to myth, it could feel too cold, too allegorical. i appreciated its understatedness, but i still found myself missing a warmth or intimacy from time to time (compared to a game like norco, where a certain viscerality, messiness, and warmth is always present and grounding). nevertheless, and not that it ever needed or wanted my blessing, kr0 is a really special work, and anyone interested in games should take the time to experience it.

to write...

  • nilson - whenever you can breathe, flaming/million
  • colin - lucah: born of a dream, death of a wish (upcoming)
  • taylor mccue - he fucked the girl out of me
  • thecatamites - 10 beautiful postcards, 50 short games, space funeral
  • geography of robots - norco
  • scitydreamer - slimes
  • resnijars - sparkles & gems
  • jack king-spooner - beeswing
  • and more...

(a condensed summary of my history with games)