Category Archives: game

hugpunx

In CounterStrike the only way to deal with terrorists is to kill them, because their ideology is inherently evil and wrong, right? Bioshock and Call of Duty: The Line tried in vain to tell us violence and obedience are a choice while only allowing the player to kill to reach the end….In Anita Sarkeesian’s latest video, Tropes Vs Women: Damsels in Distress pt 2, she takes aim at the way developers box themselves into a corner by making combat the core mechanic: keep swinging that hammer because this level is just full of nails.

quote is from lydia neon on the impetus for the creative conflict resolution jam, which incidentally starts on friday. if we take it as a foregone conclusion that the way our players will interact with our games is through violence, how do we possibly explore the kinds of interpersonal conflicts that aren’t solved by shooting the other party? often, the answer is “in a cutscene,” an exorcism of the player from the game so that the protagonist can do what the player, whose vocabulary is limited to “shoot, shoot, shoot,” is unable to tell her to. we do not allow the player to be present for the negotiation of these conflicts.

merritt kopas’ hugpunx is a queering of zak ayles’ punksnotdead, a game about punching strangers before they can shoot you. merritt’s game is about hugging friends when they recognize you. i’m interested in hearing what games can say to us once they have a wider vocabulary.

apartment building

for someone who spent her teenage years on the internet of the 90s, “virtual reality” isn’t the oculus rift or even the kitschy flat-color worlds whose aesthetic is retro-vogue with some contemporary artists. for me, virtual reality is those websites designed to mimic someone’s home, sites like mansions full of room-pages to explore, each page a unique place with its own mood and identity, places to get lost in, with secret passages and hidden fetish dungeons. virtual spaces as spaces, places that feel inhabited. or haunted. peewee’s playhouses or virtual sex clubs, they feel personal.

my relationship to the sites i make is often different now: i type these words and i click “publish,” and then something called wordpress takes what i’ve written, hangs it up on my website, makes a link and a neat little carbon-copy website to contain it. i don’t build a new page, pick a tiling background image, play with the size and color of the text (flashing text!), edit the main page (or the subsection of the site that it’s categorized under, possibly one of many) and insert a link to it – put in a new door. if you’re reading this post at the address dedicated to it, you’re looking at a page, maybe, but you haven’t stepped into another room.

there are sites that still feel to me like spaces, like weird virtual manors. thecatemites’ harmony zone. lilith’s pyramid.

in fact, lilith’s apartment building is really just another wing of her larger website, a collection of links to different rooms that each contain something wholly different: a weird adventure game, a cluttered three-dee space to explore, a rigged tamogatchi game. each related by proximity but not much more, like a house full of people who are related, but barely speak. haunted places.

apocalypse world

d. vincent baker’s apocalypse world is a role-playing game of the sit in a circle with your friends with some paper and pencils kind. it is in fact one of the games of that type that has most resonated with me.

i’ve played in two campaigns, both emceed by porpentine (who was basically vat-bred for the role), both with different tones. the first was a violence-heavy campaign where i played a gunlugger named hellen killer (gunluggers are good at violence). the second centered a brothel and its attempt to avoid getting mixed up in the local drug trade (“surge” being the drug in question). in that campaign i played a battlebabe named murder slutfuck who was really good at getting herself and the business into trouble.

here are some reasons i like apocalypse world: first, obviously, is the setting. as a queer person, i feel more at home in the future than the past, making my campfire in the hollowed-out ruins of the institutions that oppress me in the here and now. but more important than the setting is how the game uses it: it’s pulp. in a conversation with my friend andrew recently, i explained one of the reasons i so often reach for pulp settings for my games & writing: because exposition is unnecessary, a hole in the plot can be filled with a hasty invention, snags can be smoothed over with tone and style. you can tell a story without getting hung up on the numbers. a lot of role-playing games get hung up on numbers. why do we have to go after the jackabacka cult? what’s on the other side of the pleasure labyrinth? just make it up.

in fact, as andrew wrote in his own post on apocalypse world, every action, successful or not, moves the story forward. mattie brice’s character, “always” (a psychic sex cult leader) was trying to reach into the psychic maelstrom and touch one person, the surge kingpin, and plant an impulse in her mind. opening yourself to the psychic maelstrom requires a die roll against your “weird” rating – mattie failed (the number on the die was higher than her weird rating). instead of touching this one person, she accidentally planted an impulse in all of her cult members: the impulse to immediately storm the kingpin’s brothel-fortress in a mob.

apocalypse world is always asking questions – the emcee (the master of ceremonies, the overseer, the dream operator) as much as anyone else. what does the psychic maelstrom look like to you? what have you heard about that part of town? what’s the shop owner’s name?  the players are as involved in world-building as the emcee is. that kind of rapport wouldn’t be possible in a game where every new character has to come with a stack of numbers a mile high, but in apocalypse world’s pulp setting a few words is all it needs. it all sticks, adds to the mess on the wall, fits into the frankenstein patchwork that is the post-apocalypse.

misadventure

misadventure is another game that draws on the unknowable, mythical quality of the glitch. in this game, the glitch represents invaders from another world. and they look it, their spindly arms and weird asymmetries at odds with the perfect square atari world they are intruding upon. but what sells it is the frame narrative, in which the outer layer representing the player sitting in her living room, playing the game at home on her tv, is also increasingly intruded upon.

i am ambivalent about the ending, partly because i accidentally clicked one of those giant ads on the side of the game and was whisked away from it to another game entirely, where i had as much right being as the interdimensional demons visiting mike houser’s version of adventure.

dungeon lovers dx

Rooms 59-60 – These rooms comprise the interior of the temple proper. Its vast space is dominated by a stepped dais at the west end on which stands a golden statue of a two-headed serpent, the ancient god Sin.

the above is an excerpt from the computer game HELLFIRE WARRIOR. or, rather, it’s an excerpt from the book that comes with the game. if your digital avatar is standing in room 59 or 60, you might decide to look up the room’s description in the book. the “paragraph book” represents a strategy in digital game storytelling that rose out of the dungeons & dragons pen & paper role-playing tradition: when you set your playing pieces on the square on the map that represents the next room in the dungeon, the dungeon master – a live human emcee – will tell you what your characters see in that room. computers have always been good at displaying squares – when their graphic economy didn’t leave much room for visually describing the contents of one of those squares, game authors like jon freeman, joyce lane and jeff johnson – the writers of hellfire warrior’s “book of lore” – borrowed an idea from the game experiences that inspired theirs.

the book of lore went away as the graphic economy of games grew richer and mainstream games’ focus subsequently shifted toward visual representations of worlds. but i think one of the things the current proliferation of twine games proves is that the economy of text is still wickedly valuable to digital world construction. and then there’s games like lillith’s dungeon lovers dx, which supplements an intentionally flat game world with pages of descriptive text. i recommend opening the game and the guide alongside each other in seperate browser tabs. and there’s thecatemites and j. chastain’s goblet grotto, which features whole branching “choose your own adventure” stories hidden in the paragraph book.

i like the idea of this kind of lore as an additional layer of texture to a game, one that the player navigates differently. the digital space of a game reveals information incrementally – only when i enter this room do i get to see what shape it is. but the “lore” of the game represents a big collection of text that’s all immediately available to the player, though the digital output of the game is required to help the player organize it. it also reminds us that the space for interpreting and internalizing a game is much, much bigger than the digital scope of that game.

twine bundle, birthday edition

here are some twine games about feminine empowerment i have played in the past few weeks. OH MY GODDESS, let us pause and reflect on the thing i just typed. here are some VIDEOGAMES ABOUT FEMININE POWER i have played IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS. tomorrow’s my birthday, i’m turning thirty. i can think of no better birthday present than the amazing way twine is transforming the landscape of videogames.

sabbat is a game about transition: from powerless to powerful. it is one of the most euphoric games i have ever experienced. it starts by letting you choose what genitals you have, but that choice doesn’t dictate the protagonist’s gender. that alone is incredible.

all i want is for all of my friends to become insanely powerful is a game porpentine made for valentine’s day as a loveletter to all her friends, to queerness, to our ability to take back our lives and radically change ourselves and the world around us. beautiful.

positive space is an edutainment game merritt made about muffing, a sex act for trans ladies i have not had the courage to explore. it’s text intercut with excerpts from mira bellwether’s crucial “fucking trans women.” i like this format a lot, this educational collage.

at the bonfire is a game by finny, set at a party in the woods. it’s an exploration of a web of emotions, a tapestry of thoughts and feelings and meditations on an event it feels like the author was at – she calls the game “semi-fictional.” she made it for her sister.

twine bundle, february

here are some twine games i have enjoyed in the past while.

select a decision is a series – two volumes at present, more if the “about” page is being up-front with us – that captures the beautiful, contradictory, tangential style of the early choose your own adventure books really well, its own whimsical digressions occasionally approaching the sublime. doesn’t dip into the “bad translations are funny” well too much to be annoying, thankfully. i’d like to see these as actual physical books, i say as someone publishing an actual physical choose your own adventure book.

fuck that guy is pretty hot gay smut. i like the scene where you suck the dj’s cock, even though it’s the least hidden.

never have i ever is a digital game designed to be played with real alcohol. you may recall i have a relationship with those.

reset is i think my favorite game to come out of the recent twine jam. it fucks with the player’s perception in some fun ways – a layer twine authors don’t often mess with. it also contains a transhumanist kink scene, which is obviously of interest to me – although i was talking to one of my partners about this game the other day, and we agreed that the domme character in this story comes off as manipulative, despite the author’s stated intentions otherwise.

bigger than you think wasn’t actually made in twine, but is a neat hypertext game nonetheless. it’s about storytelling, about mystery and the compulsion to mystery, about games as compressed oral tradition. it also contains a few puzzles that i had to solve through haphazard try-everything-everywhere guessing, and a few that whose solutions struck me in a flash of insight.

hungry is an interactive sex dream – not about sex but flavored by sex, a tour through a subconscious landscape flavored by the bodily urges that haunt our minds like phantoms, getting a word in here or there while we’re dreaming. i like games about dreams that make me feel like they understand the logic of dreams, the changingness of them.

what’s in a name? is a game about biphobia in queer communities, about escaping one closet to find yourself landing in another. it’s a good example of how important twine has become to my experience of videogames – a couple weeks ago, i could never have said i’d played a game about internalized biphobia. now that’s changed. this is history – the history of games – and you are there.

and last, memorial is just that – a memorial to a dead brother, a record of a relationship, a collection of photos, words, memories. and what’s more, it fits this format so well. some of the transitions are heart-stoppers. i felt the ice in my veins. this is what videogames look like now.

corrypt and asciivania

so what do these two have in common? they’re both meticulously crafted little puzzle boxes, the two i’ve most enjoyed in recent memory. in both i found puzzles that felt like they yielded to several possible solutions, yet ultimately fit into an overlying order.

asciivania reminds me of childhood fantasies informed by winnie the pooh cartoons, of exploring landscapes made of words, the abstract made tangible. the old “guru” who gives you a useful tool might here be represented by the word guru, which offers you one of its letters so that you may complete the word yourself. that’s what you do, use an increasing arsenal of letters to complete words and remove them from the landscape. there’s a lot of whimsy and cleverness here.

corrypt also reminds me of a childhood fantasy, a fairytale where you ultimately get what you wish for and discover it’s not what you wanted. it’s like the story of midas, where a gift turns out to be a curse. reminds me of a game i made. my friend channing discusses the story in greater detail, though i recommend playing the game first with your expectations unburdened. it’s free for windows and mac here, a buck for the ipad here.

slave of god

for our new year’s party we blew up lots of balloons, drew on them, and then, at midnight, popped them all with our hands, our feet, with weapons, with tenderness. i watched my rainbow-colored slut disappear into a pile of bright balloons, returning – at least for a moment – to her people. we played a game that merritt had made so that she could at least be at the party in spirit. it made me miss her less and then more. and everyone watched as i played through stephen lavelle’s new game, slave of god.

it’s a game about clubbing, but it’s not about clubs so much as it’s about an experience. it’s about bacchanalia, about losing yourself, about drifting unfettered on the crest of an experience, about getting high and not just in the obvious sense. i liked the scene on the dance floor: finding a partner, connecting, getting in tune, gradually losing awareness of everyone else, and ultimately having to extract oneself with a not-insignificant amount of effort. without words, it expressed these ideas.

it’s brilliant to look at. sometimes i can’t post a screenshot of a game because a still picture could never adequately communicate anything about the game. that’s the case here. with my friends watching, i was curator as well as player. i would point the camera at things, find interesting perspectives, focus now on this object, now on that, allow things to undulate for a while. it was hypnotic. the player has no body: my friends, sometimes, couldn’t be sure if i was moving the camera or if the colors themselves were moving toward us.

twine bundle, new year’s

i realize now i’m never going to be able to keep up with all the amazing games twine is making possible. i’m not gonna try. and i’m not gonna weep, either, because i’m amazed and inspired by what so many people are accomplishing with twine. it’s like – the analogy i keep using is it’s like realizing your kid has finally become smarter than you. it’s liberating to feel unnecessary. twinehub is keeping a list of all the twine games. i’m gonna try and periodically post a bunch of my favorites, though:

mastaba snoopy is a journey through a hellscape of churning, melting charlie brown characters, a future built on semantic satiation, the kind of world spambots would build us given nanomachines and a copy of a peanuts collection. way larger than i was expecting it to be.

villainy uses player input in a neat way. i’d like to see more twine games let the player add her own words to the world. from little exercises, children’s doodles, emerges a world and a small, perfect story.

panic! is a timed twine story. the building’s on fire, you have six seconds to make any given choice. consequently, you’re often pressured to click quickly and base your decision on incomplete information. that is, TO PANIC.

one minute to apocalypse, released on the last day of the mayan calendar, also uses a timer. as the title suggests, the game lasts a single minute, then the consequences of your actions in that minute are revealed.

iron cohort uses text characters to map out a graphical approximation of a place: a fictional art installation, incomplete, or not completed as the author had intended, to explore through hypertext.

moonlight worried me at first, when i realized stephen fry would be a major character. but sticking with it, it quickly blossomed into one of the most perfect hypertext dreamscapes i’ve ever played.

cove of flies is an unreal ghost world, a cave whose compass directions map to nothing except the inside of the protagonist’s head. words tumble down the cave walls like loose gravel.

brooklyn trash king reminds me of matthew stokoe’s high life if it was about startup culture instead of hollywood, and featured more raccoons and magic. it in fact inspired me to make a song and video.