My Brief Death and Return to Real Life
Well fellas, before we call the funeral home…
As many men have as much trouble starting articles as they do ending them. The chaos we call the middle comes naturally to them. What doesn’t come naturally is the idea that, instead of having a start, to make a middle, and have that be the start. And, instead of making an ending, to flesh out the middle, and then end it from there. These ideas seem obvious, simple though practical, though like the Egg of Columbus, they are only obvious once they have been stated.
This is not an article, and there is no real start or end. There is no drama or dialogue. Just what I need to tell you, told in the only way I know how: writing it down, hoping you read it, and hoping you enjoy it all the while you read. And yet, despite this, I still treat something so simple with so much pomp and circumstance, trying to find the right words to express myself, trying to write with so much flair, and trying to add some poetry to my prose, despite it being so presumptuous, so prudish, of me to even offer such prat. So I will be as direct as I can.
The past two months, I have been cursed with a social life. Every few months comes a new obsession, and the flavour of this season has been traditional tabletop games. I’ve spent a significant portion of time at my local games shop enjoying the company, for the first time in ages, those who can relate to me in some small way. I’ve discovered new forms of gaming and new forms of socialising, both of which come with the growing pains natural to learning anything, and have not yet found it wanting. The enjoyment I once felt out of offering opinions several months ago has been replaced by the enjoyment I feel by offering my company.
I’ve played a significant amount of Magic: The Gathering. As a game, I find it irreducibly complex, not very well – designed, a shameless example of gambling and addiction mechanisms in action, and overall just a bloody mess. Despite these, I still find it somewhat fun, in the same way a casino can be fun, so long as you throw away all presumptions of being skillful. It’s fun to read the cards, fun to look at the pretty art, fun to read the flavour text, and fun to engage in this obscure bit of nerd culture that revolves around a 60 – card deck and 60 ways to be screwed over by topdeck luck.
After three months, I have started to give every new player this bit of advice: “This game sucks, and you’ll like it more when you suck.” The greatest trick Wizards ever pulled was convincing the world deckbuilding exists; I’ve pilfered about a thousand Common cards from my game shop junk boxes, and despite how pretty they look in my $12 binders, they will never, ever see play. My foil Sparring Construct is worth nothing for neither investments nor gameplay. I like Sparring Construct! And yet the fellas say it’s shit. The game is a cruel master, you see, and I must obey him.
Do I like the game, or do I just like the fluff? I’ll outsource my game design complaints to this BoardGameGeek review, ignoring the opinions of now – significantly – older twelve – year – olds. I’d add my own opinions to the fire, but it’s a big fire! Money can be sidestepped, but the fellas don’t play Pauper Magic, and even if they did, they’d still suffer the 200 – page gorilla that is The Rules. Richard Garfield invented this game, and he invented many others. Whenever I see his name on those others, I want to run away. He is the man, after all, who patented a whole genre for his own, cynical exploitation.
And for the fluff, I will say there are moments of brilliance in there. The Unhinged set in particular, although their corporate – owned parody is sinister when they censored a legitimate parody out of the market. Whoever Wizards have been commissioning as of late deserve to have their art showcased to thousands, and then go unappreciated because the card isn’t a Rare. But it is, allegedly, a game first and foremost. And I cannot devote myself to a game that presents me with the illusion of skill and refuses to reveal the Ultra Rares behind the curtain.
I debated picking up a History of Benalia for $25, or whatever the heck it sells for now, for about a month. On the one hand, it fits nicely into my Knights deck. On the other hand, I’d rather buy food. When I checked in last week, somebody else bought it. “Thank Christ,” I thought. “Some other idiot spent their money instead of me!”. Not a good look for a card game, eh?
So, faced with the conundrum of hating the game but liking the theme, what does any self – respecting player do with their free time? Bitch and moan on their blog, of course! I had never seriously considered doing so until about an hour ago, after four weeks of designing and playtesting a game similar to, but not entirely unlike Magic: The Gathering, in that all the shitty parts are gone, the rules make sense, and you don’t need 200 pages of bullshit just to play a card game with a bunch of 20 – somethings who may or may not be shitfaced off discount Coronas.
Long story short, I made my own card game. I’ll soon be heading off to the Big City to pitch it to prospecting victims, much like that episode of Friendship is Magic where Background Horse lives with the Bourgeois and discovers the joy of seizing her own means of production, represented by having more apples on her ass than the entirety of Soviet Russia. If you see my name on any suspicious cigarette – shaped tuck boxes littering the streets of Vancouver, you’ll know. I don’t know what you’ll know, but you’ll know.
I’ve been a little busy the past few months. A lot of it is slacking, or as I’ve taken to calling it, “Just Chillin’”. A lot of it is pursuing my hobbies, which is also slacking, but I can delude myself into believing I’m contributing to world culture. Given I’ve already done some contributin’, none of which will earn a Nobel but is enjoyable and insightful nonetheless, I wonder why I even bother. Perhaps you can’t keep a good artist down. Of course, that implies I’m good. Thinking face emoji…
I wanted to publish, as my final hurrah for Kratzen, a list of twenty books that changed my life, followed by an ending letter saying that, although I don’t know what the future will hold, I will continue to do my best regardless, I apologise for all the times I’ve lied to you and betrayed you, and a statement on how I felt about Kratzen and writing in general. I wrote the letter; the books are halfway done. It’s been a month since then, I think. I like them both, but one’s 9,000 words long and the other’s 3,000 words — and that’s just the halfway point. I get tired when I write so much. I deluded myself into thinking I could… but no. My workahol days are over. I hope to never return.
I like the articles. I’ll publish them when they’re done; they have some serious insight and bittersweet feelings and are overall everything I like to write. But this is what you get.
I won’t spoil the ending. I have a lot of thoughts about Kratzen, and you deserve to hear them in full, not just some three – hour piece I wrote on a whim. But I will spoil this: Kratzen is gone. I got shit to do, and this not – so – humble, not – so – reviewing blog? It’s not on the list.
In my letter, I wonder aloud what I will do with my life. I know now, but when I publish it? I’ll go back to not even knowing a damn. I still life my life by the months, you see. Going from each autistic whim seeing what piques my interests, Chaos forbid, instead of feeling obliged, arbitrarily, to publish all of them online. Before January, it was games reviewing. Now that it’s June, its games designing. Inbetween has been a half – assed combination of many different things, none of which I felt too bad about, but none of which really stuck. I thank myself, on behalf of me, for having the courage to be content with everything I dare do.
Want to know what I’ve been doing instead of Kratzen? Enjoying my life. How about you?
There will be two more articles after this one. Then that will be the end. Apologies for being abrupt. After months of bullshitting you with the false promise of updates, I think it’s time to, you know, stop bullshitting you. I did, after all, promise to be direct.
As for airing out my dirty laundry, I don’t have much. I didn’t make any enemies, and made few friends. I suffered no serious criticism nor praise, had neither honesty nor deceit levied against me, and, on the whole, I am an unknown boy in a world full of bigger, more popular boys. I am free from the corruption of fame, but at the same time, my opinions languish in obscurity — deservingly or otherwise. But I had made them for you to learn from, and for me to learn about myself just a little bit better every time I write. The more I learn, the less I know, and so on.
All the games I’ve downloaded from Itch.io? I’ll delete them. I’ve used my Itch.io press account very little for the downloading of games, I have not played any of the games I have yet to review, and I have not downloaded anything from Itch I did not intend to review. I could, as a matter of personal curiosity, delete all the for – pay press account games and play the ones that are free regardless. But there are so many games out there, and, really, I’m sick of being disappointed. I’ll just let entropy take its toll, and from there, see which games catch my eye.
So, here’s a list of games that, over the past year or so, I had downloaded in order to review on Kratzen, but I will now be purging from my mind forever, unless GOG does one of their weird holiday sales and I can get a Linux version of VA – 11 HALL – A on the sly.
Also, thank you Trisbee for your lovely and honest comment! Your game demo, Cynical7 remains one of the most memorable ones I’ve played for Kratzen. I really did mean it when I wanted more of it. I’m just happy you didn’t fall off the map like some people around here…
Animal Inspector. Two possibilities: either it would be a quaint and charming simulation of ranking dum eedot aminals based on the colour of their fur and not the content of their character, or it would be a Hilarious® sham for me to slam jam into the trash can. Seeing as they finally registered that trademark, I worried about the latter.
EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK. Yeah, for the developer’s bank account after this hit the indie scene like a… thing… that hits people… I originally though this would violate my “no shitty art games” principal on account of the vague description, in – vogue cynical humour, the “it’s not a game but we don’t know what to call it so let’s call it a game regardless” dialogue every developer has at some point in their career, and the overall page being one c r i s p y b o i. But, you know what? If the developer wants to call it a zine instead of an art game, I can respect that. At least it implies there’s some intelligent discourse involved, rather than the spineless vagaries that have always plagued the indies.
Gum. “Wait, this isn’t Itch — ” Shhshsh! This game was recommended to me as part of that contest thing I did during November. It has been stuck in the annals of my hard drive ever since then. Thank you, random citizen.
Hit the Motherlode. Oh, “m. tarah henry”. Will you ever finish your scaly slave labour game, or have you instead focused on everything else you do? Imagine being the type of loser to have multiple interests instead of focusing obsessively over one type of thing. Who even does that? Honestly.
Rising Dusk. I was a sucker for novel game mechanics at the time. As I no longer have to desperately scrounge up free games to review that both work technically and aren’t complete bollocks, this fit the bill nicely. But now I no longer care. La vie est drôle.
Reap. Back in the day, I thought this game looked good. Thanks to Autonauts, I now know to run, far away, very fast, away from any game with farming involved. Yeah, take that, Harvest Moon!
Rhythm Doctor. Like Rhythm Heaven, but without Nintendo! Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? You decide, Spider – Man!
Tem Dayting Sim 2. “Special thanks to Froge for his review of Tem Dayting Sym 1”.
Aw, shi —
Seriously, you’re too good for me, Sheepishgamer. I loved the frog – horse you sent me. I wish you would e – mail me more, you nerd!
Claire Chase: Love⚡Struck; Unicode support paying for it⚡elf. I’m a fan of that gay shit, I’m a fan of romance, and I’m a fan of indie visual novels. Not so much mysteries, but piss on my boots. Now with a sequel I’ll also never get to play!
Defacto. Oh, dear, it’s one of those proprietary Pico – 8 games. Don’t mind me, just sweeping this under the rug. No, disregard that Factorio buried under there! We don’t speak ill of the dead!
Depression Quest. No, I didn’t download this just to piss on its boots. I think the Internet Hate Machine has done quite enough of that, before totally fading out of relevance and relegating themselves to the most obscure corners of the most obscure Chinese cartoon forums. I thought I’d be nice to it for a change, to judge it based on its own merits, basing my own opinions on this shitty art game. In actuality, calling it a “game” is plain disingenuous; it’s basically an edgy choose – your – own – adventure book, or at best, one of those “serious games” that indie devs talk about, despite most of those games not being, you know, fun, or engaging, or anything else that characterises games.
If I may indulge in decency for a moment, regardless of the artistic merits of this book I did not play, there was no excuse for what happened to the poor woman who published Depression Quest, and for those of you who thankfully avoided the Gamergate shitshow, I should make it clear that she was the victim of an amorphous alt – right harassment campaign that eventually fizzled out into a fascist cult. It had nothing to do with Depression Quest, everything to do with a pissed – off, misogynistic boyfriend, and the anonymous hundreds of young, radicalised, ultra – conservative men who hate women, hate the idea of women expressing themselves as women, and who have convinced themselves that they are in the right to hate women. I am not sufficiently deranged to understand the mindset of anyone who would go to such lengths to ruin the lives of someone who had done absolutely nothing to them. I only know that it happened, and now that we are in more civilised times, it will happen less.
DREAM SAVIOR GAKUEN — ReDraw. Guys, I gotta confess. I just downloaded it for the name. No, I don’t know what it means. Apparently there’s yaoi in there. Hooray!
HE BEAT HER. Or did he? Or was it developer Angela He whomst’ve done the beating? I have no idea. But combining my two favourite subjects — domestic abuse and abusing the justice system — into one visual novel? Jackpot! Also, Angela, you think the “romance” tag is appropriate here? I think all the love has gone out of their lives by now.
Lieve Oma. I downloaded this walking simulator because, at some unknown point, in some unknown lore, it was recommended to me on the Itch.io blog. Why? I don’t know either; I’m a misanthrope to family and the last thing gaming needs is another sappy walking simulator. Now that I’m free, free from the sins of Itch, I can finally be my own human being, play games that relate to me and not some normie, and ignore 99.9% of them because there aren’t enough hours in the day and the bilge comes faster than you can bail.
Love, Money, Rock ’n’ Roll. Oh, Russians, how your bootleg anime appropriates the Japanese you so hate. But this is an interesting egg. More than 300,000 words planned? Fully animated sprites and backgrounds? Unity3D for that extra – creamy layer of shit? I’m a stranger to big – budget visual novels, but I believe the kind folks at Soviet Games have earned a weeb game to look out for.
Mewnbase. It’s an early – access survival – crafting world – looking base – building indie game that requires FOUR CUNTING GIGABYTES OF RAM. But look: it’s in space! Cat space!
Mindustry. Remember when tower – defense games were popular? What was once relegated to discount Flash – powered browser games are now relegated to discount HTML – powered browser games. I must have been desperate when I tucked this one away…
One Night, Hot Springs, featuring good – old Japanese cult – like conformity and how deviating from the norm will have members of society shun you, leading to an early grave by your own hand. It features a transgender women taking one of those weird public baths and worrying that her existence has yet to be validated by the world at large. It’s been 10,000 years of civilisation, yet we can’t change human nature: we hate what we don’t understand. Perhaps the thing I most appreciate about indie games is getting particular perspectives and ideas you wouldn’t see in the mainstream, as they wouldn’t be profitable. I would be worried if the transgender experience, like the gay and bisexual experience already has been, was vultured upon by marketers to crassly exploit a vulnerable minority. But I believe Itch.io is free of that, likely because nobody gives a shit about it.
VA – 11 Hall – A. I first heard of this title several years ago on its release, thinking about how interesting it is to have a novel that changes based on the drinks you serve the characters. Having developed a game since then, I am now aware of the horrors of choice, and how it’s all just a glorified flowchart that breaks apart the illusion you do something even moderately clever. Games that offer choice to the player offer constraint to the developers, having to account for every single variable in their player’s actions, and having to build around them. There is no game that does this; all that changes is a few dialogue boxes and perhaps a few endings. Anyone who praises games based on the premise of your actions having consequences are so inexperienced with the medium that they should be barred from sharing opinions based on it. Still, though. This one might get lucky.
VA – 11 Hall – A KIDS! Wait, what? Also, “all depicted characters are over 18 years old, even if their dialog could contradict this statement.” WHAT —
I downloaded this because it appeared on the search page for “VA – 11” while the game it’s taking the piss out of doesn’t. I don’t… I don’t get it. I’m sorry. Some things are beyond the understanding of Man.
Tunnel Vision. Oh, hai Nami.
//TODO: today. Oh, hai not – Nami. You know, I was worried about this one. After seeing the dark – skinned dude with the blond dreads with purple tips and the brunette shave wearing an anime schoolgirl shirt and swimming goggles standing in front of a gamer’s racing chair with a cardboard – cutout of a bootleg robo – waifu with a sign saying “‘FINE CABLES !!! 2€ EACH” across the room, I was thinking to myself, “maybe this was a mistake.” After several months, during which I had become a Man of Culture, I now think to myself, “alright, maybe this is one of the good ones”. I was worried I would be drenched in vapid American culture with the pretty pastels and the big fashion and the Internet – oppressed hellhole that is our world. But now I know it’s vapid European culture instead!
Angels with Scaly Wings. At first, this was a meme. Then, it became a bigger meme. Somewhere along the line it was picked up by /trash/ and tried to convinced the rest of the board that human – in – scalyland self – insert fanfiction was worth reading. In the Friendship is Magic community, we called this type of writing “Human in Equestria”, and was derided for how formulaic and predictable almost every one was, much like the Sakura series today. You got to Equestria from some contrived circumstance, almost entirely through a Magic Portal, you were shocked by the pretty pastel horses, they accepted you into their society, hilarity ensues, the human goes home, and they all have a big cry. You know fellas, it’s okay to fuck dragons. But must you curse me with a meme so supreme?
And finally, Practice Run, by Floraverse! Yeah, dodged a bullet on that one.
OH SHIT LET’S NOT FORGET
Tales of Game’s Presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa BAYYYYYYYYYBEEEEEEEEEEE
Seriously though, jokes aside, I’m disappointed I never got to cover Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden. It’s one of the most funny, satirical, wildly – imaginative and emotionally – engaging RPGs I’ve ever played. Ever since I first gave it a shout – out way back in Froghand, I always kept thinking fondly of it. It’s the type of game that indie game studios should strive to make: whatever they want to, no subservience to marketing, no fear of focusing on trends, and no worries about the business side of games.
Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is unmarketable (who in their right mind would play something titled Tales of Game’s Presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa?), it violates the copyright monopoly of a thousand different parties, and it even ends on a cliffhanger for a sequel that will never come! If they tried to sell it, they would be sued for a million bucks and be laughed out of the storefronts. As a piece of business, it’s a failure. But as a piece of art? Without a word of a lie, it is one of the top ten video games I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and I am so grateful, so awestruck, that something like this can exist in our world.
I could say a lot more about games, how best to make them, and all the ways to fall in love with this stupid medium. But, well, I’ve said enough. I’m done with this reviewing thing, at least until I can learn about how best to review. And, to be honest, I’m a bit tired of writing as well. I think it’s time, in the spirit of Just Chillin’, to dabble in something else, in private, waiting for the right moment to capitalise on my newfound skills.
Thanks for waiting. I’ll see you in a little while.