Originally, I’d written a long and detailed post for the ‘introspection’ part of this article, diving into what’s been going on in my head the last few weeks, but at the last minute, I deleted everything! There are some things even I don’t feel comfortable sharing, at least not without someone to read them first and let me know that everything’s a-okay.
It’s weirdly exhausting being as open, publically. I’m not going to change, I don’t want to change, being closed off is equally draining for me, but I’d be hard pressed to say my writing isn’t a temporary solution. I want to find a more emotionally stable centre of being eventually, though that’s going to take a long time, and lots of hard work.
In the meantime, I’ve been playing some games in the cracks between my overwhelming moments, and for the most part they’ve been incredibly calming. Spoilers for the list ahead, but one of them is Softelevision, a game which has an infectious optimism that I can’t help but wish for within myself.
So, enjoy another tour through some altgames I’ve been playing, I think all of them are at least worth your time. I hope they help you, too.
Prowl (House Of Wire)
The doors will never open. The rain will never stop. The ride will never end.
To play Prowl is to sink in foreboding. The music, fuzzy and distant, sounds as if it is playing your final song. This drive you’re on leads nowhere good, and you’re torn between the desire to reach your terrible destination or make a daring escape into the night. But neither is possible, you may only turn off and on the light, or open and close the window, each interaction a flat refusal to satisfy the desperate need for closure.
And when the end comes, it comes because there is no other choice. The tension has deflated, the foreboding has begun to shift into a sort of comfort, the rain and music your only company, not even a driver at the wheel. And you leave because there is nothing more to feel.
Direction (Kristian Kronstrad)
The one thing more surprising than how abstract Direction is, is how literal it is. It tells a story, it’s filled with fairly realistic character models, and characters that you’re able to get a sense of as you progress. But these recognizable elements only serve to put greater emphasis on the surreal and disjointed nature of the game. I didn’t have a single clue what was going on, and this is part of the point. The game’s itch.io page is headed with the quote:“If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”
While it may fail to connect as a story, it works as a tone piece, clearly communicating the fear and uncertainty that comes with a break up. Sometimes you can progress yourself, sometimes you have to wait. Sometimes you have direct control, sometimes you make abstracted choices. There is no certainty, no permanence, nothing but unease until the credits roll.
Jack And Jill (Matt Bee)
This game lasts about twenty seconds and is easily the silliest thing I have played in at least a week and a half. But it being a joke didn’t prevent the joke resonating with me something fierce, an expression of self-hatred in self-love, where the punchline is one of honesty and realization.
Look, it’s a twenty second game about wanking, it’s good, what do you want?
Softelevision (James Shasha)
You’re just one person, trying to make your way across the ocean, finding your way by glow of billboard, under great big Pepsi logo in the sky. Softelevision presents a world that could be a nightmare, a scathing critique of consumer culture where the stars themselves are made up not of hydrogen and helium, but Marlborough Cigarettes.
Except it isn’t a scathing critique at all. Because on your journey, you’re able to find music, films, art that resonates, and suddenly the world isn’t so limiting anymore. It’s a game that knows that with enough empathy and openness you can find the beauty in any culture and start to built cultivate your own space where you feel at home.
Music blaring that almost broke my speakers with visuals that escape the boundaries of the game’s window, ThunderZIRE is a fantastic glitch art cacophony.
Hold down the W key and watch the windows logo become a hellish beast in front of your eyes.
Grab Them By The Eyes (Terry Cavanagh)
The world is grey and lifeless, lit by the signs which call others in, so they might spend a buck or two. The consuming masses are as grey and empty as the concrete on the road, they don’t seem to care which burgers taste better or which server treats them well. This battle of street corner capitalism boils down to no more than a contest to see who has the shiniest light.
Such is the resigned cynicism of Grab Them By The Eyes. It’s resigned for a reason, a concise systemic expression of advertising’s race to the bottom. Where Softelevision gives you a world where you can carve out your own space among the signs, Grab Them By The Eyes shows what it’s like to be invested in them, to have your livelihood tied to their own.