I’ve spent the better part of the last week playing through every Tony Hawk game in rapid succession, so I’ve been thinking a lot about time. Those games function as a window into the rise and fall of a subculture, and when you speed through nine full years in four days, you are confronted with the impermanence of everything in a way that is easier to ignore if you never leave the Zeitgeist of the day to day.
This weekend, we recorded next friday’s podcast with Lana Polanksy, and talked for no small amount of time about the lack of understanding of history within games circles. In a field where it’s possible to be considered old by the time you reach 23, what hope is there of building an understood canon of works both artistic and critical? Will anyone remember the flame if they insist on allowing it to burn out?
Any legitimate answer to that question requires structural change on a societal level, for games as a subculture is a product of its place and time, its problems and values inherited from elsewhere, it did not spawn from a vacuum. And that’s not even the answer I’m interested in finding, I’m far more concerned with how to find a workable consistency in the meanwhile.
I don’t know why I write about games, outside of it being the field in which I feel most confident in my abilities as a critic, and I’ll feel like my time is being wasted if I’m not producing something. But this emotion is one that comes from capitalistic values of product-above-all being societally ingrained, the same society that throws away work as soon as it no longer has moneymaking potential, and switches to marketing the Next Big Thing.
There’s no answers, no grand conclusion to be found here, for finding the energy and purpose to continue on any path is a constant, internal process, and there is no catharsis permanent enough to stave off doubt forever. This is more to frame the uncertain mindset I was in when I loaded up itch.io and started looking around for the games I was going to highlight this week.
Teetering on the brink of apathy, I found five games that moved me (both positively and negatively), and hit me right back into carrying on with my day.
Neon lights collide in front of you at acute angles, the buildings ahead are more evocative than real, suggesting the broad idea of a cyberpunk citiscape through mood and tone.
But as you land on each platform, and proceed on your journey to send your signal, what was a distant idea of a skyscraper becomes another obstacle to be somehow vaulted. Condor combines a impressionistic aesthetic with intricate sensations of movement in order to make the abstract tangible.
Over the winter, I lost count of the days I woke after the sun had already set. Unemployed and uncertain, I spent far too many nights in an anxious insomnia, my brain flitting from possibility to impossibility, an all too familiar modern coming of age.
2:22AM taps into the late night malleable melancholy, where every thought is beautiful and meaningless, and every tiny action full of ambiguous portent, then forgotten when the channel is changed. Why do we need choose one thought, one action, one hope to hold onto as we drift off to sleep? At 2:22 AM, the dawn is so far away, it may as well never come.
The music propels every action, jump cuts forcing the player between two scenes. The diver, who’s trapped on his journey down to the darkness of the ocean floor, and the girl, who’s completely unconstrained as she runs across the grassland under summer’s blue sky.
With every visual change, different elements of the music begin to feel emphasised, the constantly shifting tone a small exploration of the relationship between a game’s multitudes of audio, visual and play.
An ambient existential crisis simulator, A Quick Swim To Clear Your Head is a distilled expression of a singular emotion, and turns the terrifying and incomprehensible into the inevitable and okay.
There’s no point trying to control where you travel, you just have to let go, or else forever spin in circles.
I don’t know how exactly to talk about The Static Speaks My Name. For a moment or two I considered a longer piece where I’d examine the game’s baffling portrayal of suicide, it’s moments of desperate empathy brushing up against moments of dark, voyeuristic humour, leading to a final act that is part tragedy and part punchline.
But I decided against that, in part because thinking about the game makes me too uncomfortable to go deep on analysis. So I leave the link here for you to make your own mind up, because for something I ultimately find so repugnant, that tragic honesty pierces through its layers of nastiness, and I don’t know how yet to reconcile those two halves.