Coherence and Dissonance

It’s about time I addressed this as an essay.

When I mean to refer to a game’s internal consistency, logic—or lack thereof—I say “(in)coherence.” When I mean to refer to the unification of a game’s moving parts—or lack thereof—I say “(in)coherence.” Continue reading

On Genre and the Ludic Device

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I’ve been wondering about genre labels like “first-person action-adventure procedural puzzle game with platforming elements” for some time now. I’ve been wondering if they describe anything in particular anymore.

I’ve been wondering for some time now what a platform does for a videogame that’s different from what, say, parataxis, does for verse. I don’t mean this in the sense of a direct analogue; one refers to a kind of virtual architecture with an implied ludic, “mechanical” component and the other is a kind of grammatical structure referring to short, staggered lines of text. They have, at best, a metaphoric relationship to each other. But in a functional sense, they’re describing similar kinds of properties: specific formal traits which are, more often than not, deliberately applied to the work in order to evoke specific feelings, sensibilities or ideas. They are, in other words, devices. Continue reading

Notes on SURREALISTa: The Nostalgia of the Infinite

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[This piece contains heavy spoilers!]

It would feel like a categorical mistake to focus on SURREALISTa as a “puzzle platformer.” Strictly speaking, it contains both the ludic devices of puzzle-solving and platforming, and so one inclined to focus on its value as a game may be tempted to lavish attention on these qualities. Butand I suspect this is also the case with Gigoia Studio’s other release, GOLDAKthe ludic context is really just a means to an end here.  Continue reading

Against Flow

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At the beginning of Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-garde, art historian Susan Best discusses her methodology for tackling the “neglected” area of subjective experience in art criticism, writing,

“Assuming the custodianship of feeling in this fashion might seem inevitable or even retrograde given the traditional alignment of femininity with feeling and emotion as opposed to the masculine domain of thinking and reason. The stereotype that women are more emotional than men, as well as the common idea that emotion is a disruption to thinking, must surely rest upon a familiar binary logic. Why, then, perpetuate or reinforce such views?” Continue reading

Guest Post: The Fate of a Nobody: An Absurd Reading of Kingdom Hearts II

By Brian Crimmins   

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Sufficiently Human’s latest guest post comes to us from Brian Crimmins, a game critic focusing primarily on older Japanese games. You can check out more of his work at Unwinnable, Hardcore Gaming 101, and most frequently at Indie Haven. You can also read more of his reviews over at his blog, Game Exhibition. 

[TW: This piece contains some discussion of death.] 

While the Japanese game scene has always been a place for developers to experiment, the mid-2000s in particular saw an explosion of creativity. Games had been established for long enough that they could work off each other and the surrounding cultural landscape, which is exactly what they did. We can see this in Metal Gear Solid 2’s deconstruction of videogames, Wind Waker’s farewell to the Zelda formula, and Persona 3’s rebuttal against the despondent Evangelion. Perhaps no game captures that spirit better than Kingdom Hearts II. Continue reading

Notes on The Midas Project: The God Within Us

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[TW: This piece describes themes of suicidality, extreme loneliness and depression, and insensitive misuse of pronouns.]

This short story is a stylized description of a playthrough of eoeoeo344’s sci-fi Ren’Py visual novel, The Midas Project.

In this version, Midas is lonely. Midas is the sum total of all human knowledge, ingenuity and innovation. This inorganic creature, an All-Purpose Nano-Constructor—APNC for short—took over a decade to make. In the process, most of the team involved in its development quit, frightened at what they had wrought or despairing and ashamed of their failure, of the painstaking investment that was all for nothing. Continue reading

Guest Post: Coming Out From Behind My Mask

By Lulu Blue 

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Sufficiently Human’s latest guest post comes to us from game designer, critic, musician and illustrator, Lulu Blue. In this essay, Blue brings their concise yet powerful insights to bear on the surprising humanity to be found in the world of Majora’s Mask, and the lasting impact the game had on them as a kid. If you can, please consider supporting Blue’s rpg/dungeon-crawler project, Fantastic Witch Collective, here. 

[TW: This piece discusses emotional trauma.]

Listless despair was an ephemeral yet dominating emotion of my childhood as a queer kid growing up in rural California without a support network. I played videogames to distract myself and escape from my reality, and while The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has gone down in videogame history as something of a scrappy, offbeat cult classic, within it I found one of the most touching narratives of my childhood. Continue reading

A Special Radio Transmission: Asking the Right Questions

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In this, our seventh episode, Zolani and I have a late-night chat about a diverse handful of recently-released small games, ranging from the surreal and poetic to the more familiar but still pretty surreal and kind of terrifying. We discuss the intersection of games with poetry, and Zolani provides us with a rousing dramatic reading of the verse from fizzhog’s foliakatra in particular. We also discuss the importance of the unification of things like context, subtext and symbolism with visual and ludic elements like spatial perspective, movement, dimension and “mechanics”. In the second half of the episode, Zolani and I do a little Q&A with questions we were asked via Twitter. We got a nice bunch of questions that we were able to use as a springboard for a short-ish retrospective on our careers, what it is we’d like to still do and see, and how we see our own roles in the critical sphere we belong to. Also, my cat, Princess Peach, contributes some thoughts by walking into my microphone and then onto my keyboard. Continue reading

Beyond the Sea: Subtext and Environmental Storytelling in Ecco the Dolphin

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[TW: This piece discusses death, violence and fear of the sea.] 

I was convinced, the first time I fired up my Ecco the Dolphin ROM on my SEGA emulator, that the whole of the game consisted of the first screen in Home Bay. Perhaps it was my own bias toward free-form experimental games, but for a good ten minutes I splashed, swam, and breached the surface of Home Bay’s pacific blue water, gradations of navy and purple leading the eye to a robin’s-egg horizon lined with white clouds and distant, mountainous islands, and I figured that was the game. I didn’t realize what foreshadowing those remote formations and the darkening depths of the water implied, nor did I realize what it meant when I jumped into the air and all of a sudden and with a whirring screech, all the beautiful life of the Bay got vacuumed into the sky. Continue reading