A&I: Small Writings On Small Games

This post is a little of an experiment, something more casual than I tend to write, as you can tell by the fact I’m talking to you all conversational right now. Hey, hi, I’m Jackson, this is me writing some of the ol’ words about video games, come in and take a seat on the carpet.

We here at Abnormal Mapping are having a bout of intense video game apathy at the moment, Matt’s getting way into reading, I’m getting way into music. This is actually great because having wide interests is key in life; the insularity of games writing and culture (even the alternative and queer cultures that we tend to frequent, away from mainstream space), is often their achilles heel. With this apathy in mind, I’ve been a thinking about what to put on the site, because whilst I want to follow my whims and my heart in terms of where I place my time and energy, I also want to build upon the work of the last year or so, and write more here on Abnormal Mapping Dot Com.

Long term, who knows what that means, maybe I’ll be posting short-stories and experiments on other websites, hell, maybe I’ll still be posting them here. We’ve deliberately avoided having a considered editorial voice, because we’re close friends and chat about our opinions regarding the site regularly. It’s grown in interesting ways that we’d have never pursued had we set up some kind of agreed upon mandate as a duo upon starting. The future is vast and fascinating, and interest sets widening and evolving, however uncertain they make the foundations you create for yourself, should never be seen as a bad thing.

Short term, it means I want my games writing to reflect my game playing, which has shifted far more towards small art games you can find on itch.io or Game Jolt, works that I feel are not best supported by 1000-or-so word essays, a form of games writing that comes out of both old guard review style, as well as the current wave of academically influenced criticism. The latter of which is something a great many friends of mine on twitter are part of, their conversations attempting to build critical foundations in games that haven’t yet been formed. The work these folks do is important and thankless (go to our Reading List to take a look at a few of them!), but ultimately something I don’t think I’m a good fit for. When I write long form, I want to be personal, confessional, with an emotional rather than critical focus.

All of which is to say that I’m playing lots of these smaller games, these pointed works that convey a tone, or an emotion with honesty and simplicity, and wanted this week’s writing to reflect that. The entries on this list share no connection other they fulfil that exact criteria, and I’ve played them recently, and think they’re worthy of your time.


An exercise in mundane melancholy, Frail Shells is one of the most simple, pointed, and most effective of the ever popular genre of games-about-games. To some, it reads as a heart wrenching snapshot of PTSD, but to me it’s a portrait of dissaffection, a scathing critique of emotional arrested development, and the folly of chasing bombastic escape at the expense of intimacy.

.error404

Sex is a form of play in and of itself, and games which embrace this and invite the player to explore their sexuality have been increasingly important to me. I haven’t had sex since 2012, while I was just coming off my teenage years at an all boys high school, when I still thought I was straight. Games like .error404 allow the honest exploration of sexuality and self, and have been personally vital in my maturation out of toxic teenage approaches to sexuality. I would be a far more repressed and far less empathetic person without them.

I loved it, Matt did not. He said, “this is the difference between bottoms and tops.”

Photobomb

An exploration of the relationship between time and space, Photobomb offers you the contemplative interaction of observation, and then slaps on a harsh time limit, turning your space into an antagonist. Its details become foes to be bested, your singular goal ruling out any possibility of exploration, and the reward for completion changing from satisfaction to relief.

Naut

Presented in a widescreen aspect ratio as beautiful as it is impractical, Naut punctuates moments of peaceful joy with moments of infurating reality. The obstacles that appear in the way of your mars ridden convertible flip you into the sky, turn you upside down and are often impossible to avoid. Yet, not only do the sights and sounds you discover at your destinations make up for the bumpy ride, there are moments along the way where you wrestle control into your own hands, and looking at the beautiful horizon approaching, feel like you could be flying.

The Bends

Beautiful trees with paper leaves reflect the neon walls, as monuments around the environment build a song, each one bringing a new musical element, until all are activated and the music completes. The Bends is entirely a mood piece, one in which song and space are inexorably linked, and as you walk through the trees and each element grows and fades, you come to understand the value each part plays in the whole.

Cooking, for lovers

It is very difficult to create a sense of absence in a short space of time, such an emotion relies on the intimate knowledge of what is missing, yet Cooking, for lovers is able to create a feeling of loss and unease well before its final reveal. It focuses on the rote, the mechanical and the empty, the mundane actions that without others to give context to, may as well have no meaning at all.

Nobody should have to live on alone.


And there you have it, that’s a little look into what I’ve been playing recently, all of them are worth your time, and I could have listed at least ten more, so spend a little time rummaging around itch.io or looking through Warp Door or follow cool people on twitter for more links to interesting small games.

Maybe I’ll be back next week with more writing, maybe I won’t, we’ll see how the year develops. These are uncertain times in my personal life, and I’m not going to be making calls either way until I need to. But as we progress onwards, I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing so far, and let’s all hope for a not garbage 2015, hey? That’ll be the life.