“Things that aren’t Real” Review
Froge note: today’s article is brought to you by that kind benefactor on my Ko – Fi page, who I am now obligated to shout – out because they actually donated to this trash, the madman, who is called “you fucking follow my fucking twitter”. They have also left some blistering insight, saying “money laundering takes time”. Indeed it does, “you fucking follow my fucking twitter”. Indeed it does.
Also, thanks for helping me reach my $8 a month stretch goal: “For $8 a month I will stop”. This was naïve of you. I will never stop. I will now use your money to buy such wonderful products as “eggs”, “oatmeal”, “Animal Crossing® for the Nintendo™ GameCube™”, and the super – secret dark magic guide to writing actual comedy: “The Simpsons: Season 6”. But NOT coffee, because I based my entire Internet Welfare platform on a dirty lie.
I must apologise to this dubiously legal donator that I have to saddle this donation with such a short and overall inconsequential video game, if one may even call it that as opposed to the more rational name “environmental sim”. No, I’m not shilling it because I invented the term, unlike everything else that I invented. But the definition of walking around and not doing much at all, taking the “game” out of “video game”, fits the theme of this work nicely, if one can even call it work as opposed to some disconnected visuals and music and whatnot.
Oh, yes, it’s an art game. Why do art games get such a bad rap? Is it because it’s pretentious to imply that the rest of us gamers, in our plebeian, peasant, and pedestrian forms of entertainment are not, in actuality, partaking in art? Is it classist to imply that our enjoyment in genres such as the humble FPS and RPG are not valid compared to those which cannot be classified so easily? Or is it because art games aren’t very fun? The answers, of course, are yes.
So will this buck the trend — no, it won’t. Pretty much every bad stereotype you hear about art games — their lack of stuff to do, their incomprehensibility, their bad art, their pretentiousness, their immunity to traditional forms of criticism in favour of more lofty forms of criticism such as… bullshit? Well, I’m not a bullshit critic, and I don’t rate bullshit based on a bullshit scale that speaks to me in bullshit ways. I rate bullshit as a regular old human would rate it: pretty darn low. Yes, in the game of stars, only those of some quality make it to the highest heavens, the ultimate cosmos, the seemingly – unreachable heights that is… a four out of five. Well, this game is almost there, if you have a generous definition of “almost”.
We are immune to this “discourse”
The same as I have no idea why I’m using so many quotation marks in this review, I have no idea just what the developers are trying to say here, aside from some malformed vaguely – reminiscent themes about depression and disassociation. If that is indeed the theme, how it’s presented is so vague and nascent it provides an easy avenue to suddenly say the theme is actually about something else entirely, bamboozling you and making you a putz for thinking that this title that doesn’t say anything in particular is actually saying not saying anything about a different thing in particular! Haha, you are a fool, for thinking that one interpretation about a game with multiple interpretations is equally as valid as a different interpretation!
So in the absence of talking about what the game is about, because “messages” and “concreteness” are only for amateur artists who have yet to find the secret to critical acclaim that is standing around with your dick in your hand, I’ll instead talk about what it appears to me, may Chaos forbid I misinterpret my own opinion. The first thing you think, or rather I think (wouldn’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth), is “yeesh!”. Yep, the stereotype of bad art games having a bad art style is true: the spritework is all amateur, the animations are all choppy, the movement is all linear, and the colour palette just isn’t that interesting to look it. The first bite is with the eyes, and this is poison. Not to say that a deliberately blocky and stripped – down art style wouldn’t work in the hands of someone who knew how to make them work their little minimalist muscles, but it would require a far more talented art director than what we have in front of us.
Then there’s the gameplay, although being a game would imply there is some sort of challenge, or that you lose if you don’t do anything. Really, let’s not kid ourselves, this is just a showcase for some premade scenes that you have the luxury of moving around in. I wouldn’t mind that so much if they were interesting to look at, interesting to think about, or had anything of any interest attached to them at all, but instead this title just has stuff happen in it for no real reason, set to some indie rock tunes with lyrics that aren’t really about anything either. Oh, sure, they talk about how the singer hates himself and wants to get over some long – gone relationship, but that’s just all pap for less practical critics to fawn over, trying to discover the deep and insightful lyrics about what some guy thinks about himself. One would think a fine piece of art would not need any explanation, as if hip – hop is a lesser art form for having its opinions straight – up instead of dancing around them with melodic vagaries.
How bad me be?
You know, this game — or this sim, call it whatever you want — is so short and inconsequential and has so little to experience in it that I wonder if there’s any point in reviewing this work at all. Not to be an asshole about things (perish the thought), but I’m wondering if I spent more time thinking about and writing this review than the developers did thinking about their game. If I go into detail and try to talk about the end where everyone speaks gibberish as the art style gets worse, or the interpretation of that SHMUP section, it would just be spouting nonsense, because there is so little of consequential content in this experience that I’m grasping at straws thinking of things to talk about. The only reason I reviewed this game at all is as a warning to the rest of you of what the end result will be if you make work like this: light and fluffy air puffs of nothingness that you can’t even explain what’s so bad about it because there is so little to discuss about the work.
It’s the perfect critic – proof experience, because it’s all subjective. If you’re one of those pedantic sorts that would counter with “everything is subjective”, then I invite you to play Sonic ’06 and see if you can enjoy one of the “subjectively” worst games of all time. As Zero Punctuation puts it: “Nobody likes Sonic 2006. If you think you did, you’re wrong! It’s like saying you enjoy listening to someone singing completely out of tune or reading a book whose pages are covered in brown sauce; I know it’s your opinion, but your opinion is just wrong”. That’s pretty much how I feel when it comes to art games which, instead of providing us anything substantial to chew on, forces us to come up with our own interpretation of this non – substance and then rate it on terms that we personally invented. Because it is impossible to falsify these interpretations by comparing them to games that focus on objective qualities and tangible themes, it is impossible to call them true, because true can only be true if true can be proven false. This game is the dragon in Carl Sagan’s garage: you cannot prove that any interpretation of this game is false, even by the most lenient definition of “proof” that passes in art circles, and so it is impossible to have any discussion based on those interpretations because there is no objective substance to base those discussions around.
If you assert to me that this game is about depression and self – harm, or that it’s “reflecting on what we do in games & having no comfortable place outside them”, you’re able to point towards some evidence to assert your point of view, but the evidence is so weak and easily – mouldable that one cannot defend against such a assertion, and it would be impossible to change someone’s mind about the work because they are the ones who invented those assertions and are too proud to reconsider their opinions. It is thought – provoking in the same way that staring into a kaleidoscope is thought – provoking: it’s a bunch of chaotic nonsense that one can form an opinion around, but that opinion is meaningless because there’s no rational structure to it. Things happen, and you can make of it whatever you want, and so invariably you do. But for someone who is no longer entertained by this content – devoid experience in space in time, I need something that I can actually look back on and be glad to have experienced it. Not something that invites me to assert things about it and then be self – assured that I was right about those things. That’s not art; that’s just manipulative.
Of course I don’t believe the developers of this game are a bunch of con artist masterminds who used their mastery over human psychology in order to make the perfect experience for the proles to feast on; that would be Undertale. In fact, I believe the type of people to even make an experience like this are the type of people who lack such structure in their lives that it’s spilling into their work, when what they should be doing is trying to sort through how they can improve their lives. Maybe the developers actually do have depression and this is their way of coping through their mental illness. But if that’s the case, it doesn’t look good on depressed people that this type of work is the best they can do to express their hellish condition that nobody knows anything about and causes lives to grind to a screeching halt, and this is the only type of work they’re mentally capable of providing. It’s the difference between a game like this and a Stephen Foster Wallace short story, and it’s insulting to make work that’s so fundamentally closed – off to those who haven’t experienced depression, especially when they’re the ones in need of understanding your condition the most.
I think fetishising depression to be this completely incomprehensible series of nonsense experiences and chaotic happenings is a very dangerous mindset, because it trivialises the actual struggles that depressed people have to go through every day of their lives, fostering a backwards train of thought that it’s so beyond us neurotypicals to assist those with depression that there’s nothing we can do about it, and so we just wait in silence for them to either magically get better or eventually kill themselves. It doesn’t help any party to make this very real condition into an artistic experience that flies over the head of everybody who doesn’t have depression, and is only relatable to those who have depression because it is so relatable to everybody who has ever experienced anything bad at all just because of how vague it is. And I’m sure the developers don’t see it like this at all, but when you’re trying to express things about yourself to the outside world, you can’t just put random stuff out there and expect us to “get” what you’re talking about. We are incapable of putting ourselves in your mind in order to understand your thought processes; that’s why making well – constructed art is so important. It’s the closest approximation we have to understanding your struggles and you as a person, and it helps out a hell of a lot more than the pseudo – artistic bullshit you’re such a fan of putting out.
I don’t think this game is bad in the traditional sense, in that it can be objectively compared to other good and bad games and weighed on those merits. I think this game is bad because it’s so hard to categorise, being impossible to really discuss anything about. It’s that special type of bad that isn’t offensive, amateurish, or makes you wish you had spent your time doing something else entirely after having played it. It’s the type of bad that’s dangerous to those who play it, and those who make it: it’s dangerous to think it’s acceptable to put work that only you can understand and encourage people to try to apply as loose of an interpretation as possible as they can, it’s dangerous to trivialise real – world experiences as something that can only be understood through a veneer of nothingness and content – free happenings, and it’s dangerous to other artists who will look at this work and think it’s acceptable to go out and make the same type of work. I’m giving this game my lowest score, I will be thinking about it for a very long time, and I hope we can all read this review and come out of it as better human beings for having read this example of what you shouldn’t be doing with the medium of games.