“And when we tell ourselves we have reached the paroxysm of horror, blood and flouted laws, of poetry which consecrates revolt, we are obliged to advance still further into an endless vertigo.” – The Theater and its Double (Antonin Artaud, 1958).

I wish to swiftly dispose of the formalities, preferably via the edge of the knife, if not the tip of the pen, and thus we begin.

Much has been said of video games and art, are they art, aren’t they art, how can one deny they are so, when do we get our Citizen Kane, when will the medium finally be reified through this endless endeavor to replicate the extrapolative force of The Good Piece of Art that we have decided is all that lends credence to a medium’s creative practices? But let us present an alternative, to eschew the respectability of The Good Piece of Art and instead pursue The Art That Which is Art, to hear the cries for the Citizen Kane and rebuff them with a cry for The Holy Mountain and the Pink Flamingos.

Pictured: Art (Pink Flamingos, 1972)

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From the developers at Analgesic Productions, Sean Han Tani and Marina Ayano Kittaka, comes a sequel to 2013’s Anodyne, titled Anodyne 2: Return to Dust. I had a chance to pour over a preview beta build of the game, and I’m head over heels.

Presented in a lo-fi, late 90’s aesthetic, you play as Nova, a Nano Cleaner tasked with the seemingly overwhelming goal of tackling a malaise plaguing the world of New Theland. Nano Dust has spread far and wide over this place, infecting anyone unfortunate enough to become host to this particulate assassin. Once inside, it spreads rapidly and exacerbates all the worst things one can imagine: rage, sickness, gluttony, pain, and so on. By shrinking to microscopic size, Nova is able to enter the minds and bodies of those afflicted and take on the infestation with her trusty vacuum.

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Woke up on the wrong side of the track, flip the record and put it straight.

The story goes like this; any old bad trip up the strip leaves your head dizzy, wobbling to and fro like a ball on a wire stuck to an old tennis racket. Neon signs fly by, bad hangovers, and regret filled nights flash in your mind as you’re trying to sweat the liquor out of your veins; one more bad trip down the rabbit hole. Here comes a pop, and not the top of the pops, but a bang- The big one, the biggest bang, the shot heard ’round the universe.

This little number is Genesis Noir– It’s a doozy of a love story with legs like you wouldn’t believe, and you better put em to use on this gumshoe walkabout, searching in a vivid whiskey haze of questions until you find some answers.

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Made for Isolation Jam 2019 in Iceland, Svartkolla from Joon Van Hove & Marín Björt Valtýsdóttir is a very small, modest game about returning your lost sheep to their pasture. By interacting with specific items wherever you find yourself — in your house, your shed, your boat — you manufacture a way to get the poor sheep, Svartkolla, back where they belong. It’s very straightforward in its design, not necessarily a head-scratcher in terms of figuring out puzzle solutions, but more so an exercise in form.

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I have Very Complicated feelings on this.

I want to like you, Hedon, I really do. Your self-professed *squints* “Boomercore” label got a real chuckle out of me. I thought with that sort of confident self-assured swagger, you’d be the kind of fast-paced shoot’em’up experience I was looking for when other games seemed far too eager to steep themselves in opaque approaches beyond my ken. Your clean visuals, enjoyable soundtrack, and extensive lore revealed so quickly how brimming you were with creative vision and intuitive gameplay, and yet… the maps. I can’t get past the maps. It’s not you… I think it’s me. Too many secrets, too little verticality, and I’m afraid that maps from the Thief school of level design don’t always play quite the same in the Doom engine and it shows.

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A Different Kind Of Rapture

Be it East or West, the American South holds an extremely complicated cultural context, far beyond the scope of this article to explain. However, games like Sagebrush give us an empathetic glimpse into the rationale of lost people who wander towards a misguided flock in search of meaning, be it amongst the harsh sandy dunes of New Mexico or deep within the wetlands of the Gulf Coast.

With the bustling metropolises like Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Raleigh or all the way to Austin and Miami, an outsider’s perspective would understandably perceive the Southern states as a widespread, populous area entrenched with heavy emotional scars and prolific social struggles. However, outside of the busy suburbs and traffic-clogged highways, down empty unpaved country roads, are often ruins: the remainder of forgotten hopeful dreams and unspoken trauma. Through viewing the southern states as a holistic cultural entity and sociopolitical bloc, most fail to grasp the fractured nature of the South’s human element, the individuals who reside within the subtropic bayous, pine forests and dusty deserts.

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In the early 1960s, a movement began to stir beneath the streets of France, led by Guy Debord. A resistance against the growing tendrils of capitalism permeating an ever more concealed reality, the ideals of the Situationist International were far-reaching, covering significant ground over its 15 years of existence. One facet the SI confronted was the perception of time. We are forced to live in circular time, or the time of the proletariat: you wake, you work, you get paid, you pay your rent, repeat until death. In contrast, the bourgeois live in linear time, shackled to no cycle, free to move forward through this world unburdened by society, free do to as one wishes.

For Debord, there also existed play: moments outside of both linear and circular time. One praxis for manifesting this was what he termed dérive, French for “drift,” where one detaches from the material world and its bindings, searching out the psycho-geographical pushes and pulls of an environment, to “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”. We see this exemplified in Even in Arcadia, a game that serves as an immersive play, in which the player finds themselves somewhat aimlessly meandering from room to room, scenes flittering between each in real time, the player’s movements drawn by nothing more than curiosity.

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Past the Douglas Firs and golden grass untouched for years is a place of peaceful meditation, a quiet space to lose one’s self amongst strange machinery that can change the weather with the flip of a switch. ROM by Bincurl Games is a delightful experiment in audio, visuals, and conceptualization of what makes an environment natural. Evocative of the sullen atmosphere found in the works of Simon Stålenhag, ROM finds itself squarely between the artificial and the natural, the material and the spiritual, expressed only through soft tones and the howling of the coastal wind.

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