Altgames & Introspection

Altgames & Introspection: Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year, folks. We made it.

2015 has been a difficult year, which makes it fairly similar to a lot of other years we’ve seen. I’ve been fighting a mental illness which is getting more and more debilitating by the day, and despite that I’ve put out a lot of what I consider to be great work. That said, I’m tired, and need to make a lot of personal changes if I’m going to make it through 2016 without keeling over from exhaustion.

One of those changes is going to be to the writing that I put out. Games Criticism isn’t a sustainable sphere, and honestly my heart isn’t in it. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and want to keep doing it, but I don’t think it can be The Primary Thing anymore. I want to write stories, I want to create things, and I want to write more about films as well. 2015 made it clear to me that the only way for me to grow satisfactorily as a person (and as a Games Critic) is to de-emphasize Games in my life, have an even wider spectrum of experience, and to free myself of the need to produce work.

Which isn’t to say that I’m going away, only that I’m going to try to refocus somewhat in 2016. I want to free myself of the need to write, so that when I do write it’s because I want to. I want all my articles, podcasts and (hopefully, soon!) eBook to be produced out of enthusiasm and not obligation. I’d love to keep a high pace of work up this year, but I don’t want to do so at the expense of my self-care any longer.

I don’t know what this means for what 2016 will bring, and I’m not going to predict. Here’s to another year of getting through.

-Jackson

Games Featured:

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Visiting Jackson’s Homeland

I don’t travel. Partially that’s me being a stubborn, introverted butt, but partially it’s just a function of being poor and working on too many things all the time. One of the things I’ve always liked about video games is their possibility to take us to places we wouldn’t otherwise see, and allow us to explore spaces that we either can’t afford to go to or that simply don’t exist at all. Blame a childhood with CD-ROM Encyclopedia’s with Myst-like slideshows of famous locations. Blame the interactive Star Trek: TNG encyclopedia, which allowed you to slooooowly see every floor even if they only had four set photos of corridors to show.

It’s why I like ‘walking simulators’—not because I’m especially into them as a subversion of games, but because I think walking around a space is one of the coolest things games can do.

So when Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture came out, I relished its spaces. I don’t want to talk about what those spaces meant, but I did appreciate the six hours I spent crawling through them, happily stopping to watch smoke rise from an ashtray or rain pool on pavement. It’s a great game, even before you get to the story it’s telling. And I got to take a bunch of pictures! Jackson did this too, but I followed in his footsteps in order to explore a land he claims is pretty accurate to Real Life Britain, which is supposedly a place you can visit? It sounds like magic.

I guess there are spoilers here, if you count locations as spoilers? Nothing narratively is given away, though. Just how pretty houses and plants and lighting can be. So please enjoy. (more…)

A&I: Keeping Going

A&ISo, my computer broke.

It didn’t break all at once, and it didn’t break catastrophically, but break it most definitely did. I rummaged around inside, replaced a power supply unit, and did the best that I could to bring it to a functional level. Yet whilst I can turn it off and on now, making it a marked improvement on before, it is still very much a broken machine.

I think about that often, the fact that we invest so much into this medium which relies on our broken machines. The economic investment to even afford the technology required to interact with videogames is staggering by any reasonable standards for artistic engagement. That even the tiny games I play for this article cause my computer to overheat and strain demonstrates a clear lack of focus on sustainability and ease of access. Unity is a fantastic tool, and does much to make game making more accessible, but as an engine, it’s so often poorly optimised for any less than ideal hardware situation. There is so much fantastic work being done by individual game makers as a means of combating games culture’s techno fetishistic obsession with forward progress, but when even the tools they build with spring from that harmful cultural well, can we ever really fight against the tide? (more…)

A&I: Balance

Direction2Originally, 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.

(more…)

A&I: A Moment To Breathe

Planet

It’s been a while.

February has been somewhat of a rollercoaster month for me, and I’ve been almost entirely unable to find the time to play games, let alone write about them. And in those moments where my plate was empty, it was difficult to focus on any kind of relaxation. I often come back to this one Lana Polansky article (I think it’s the most mentioned article on this entire website at this point, which should tell you a lot about Matt and I) about Wasting Time, to attempt to overcome my own insecurities about productivity. It’s difficult for my brain to reach a place where I can centre whatever is in front of me, rather than retreating in panic into my to do list.

It’s good to be back into the swing of things, but I know my head’s barely above water. So it is for all of us who are poor and struggling, every iota of energy that doesn’t keep us moving forward could be the one we needed to stop us from drowning, as we look at those sailing past us and wonder why we have to swim at all. When I am seemingly unable to work, to earn, then what is the purpose of play? (more…)

A&I: Healing, and Dreaming

DreamSim 2

I can’t sleep.

At night, I lie in bed, eyes staring at the blinking red of the microphone I always forget to unplug. Despite this ache that spreads through every part of my being, despite this yearning for unconsciousness, I hold on to whatever it is that keeps the wheels of my brain turning. I wish I could apply such a strength to other areas of my life.

When I do drift away, the moments of peace are fleeting. After ninety minutes, I may wake up shaking, in the middle of a panic attack with some long forgotten cause. Memories and dreams become blurred, as I fight to keep aware of where I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going. I exist moment to moment: I can keep up with my writing, I can go to the gym, I can get to all my appointments on time. But these days, I can’t afford to stop and just think. The true loss of insomnia is stability. (more…)

A&I: Uncertain Futures

Condor

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?

(more…)

A&I: On Intimacy (And Video Games)

Problems And Solutions

Last week, I wrote a post that was half introspection and half criticism, a way for me to air my thoughts in a conversational and immediate manner, something that let me keep a record of where my head is at and talk about the games on my mind without needing to craft long, analytical essays. In an ancient and forgotten time, I believe this was known as “blogging.”

The upshot of which is: it was a success, so I’m going to keep doing that. Every so often (I’d like to say every week, but writing is too much hard work to force yourself to do it when you’re not being paid), I’ll be posting an update of sorts, a collection of short reactions to interesting games, accompanied by my (extremely) informal rumination on whatever topic’s been floating around the top of my mind. That’s this bit at the start, so I should probably get into it. (more…)

A&I: Small Writings on Small Games

FrailShells2

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. (more…)