There’s one topic I’ve found myself meditating on quite often as of late: exposure. Specifically I found myself asking what the value of exposure actually is, and whether or not the returns we expect are necessarily the ones we get. Of course, one can find countless discussions of the issues with exposure-centered approaches to artistic endeavors scattered across the internet, but there’s one particular project that I believe frames this dilemma perfectly for our purposes, meditations.games.
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Be warned, we’re getting into spoiler territory here from the outset. Turn back now if you’ve yet to finish the game.
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom
To Have Done with the Judgment of God, Antonin Artaud
LUCAH: Born of a Dream, from gamedev collective melessthanthree, thrusts you head-first into a world beyond any sense of logic or understanding. Everything around you coalesces into an undulating mass of incomprehensible action; the only thing that makes sense anymore is fighting. Some of the first words that greet you in this world: ”You can’t help but feel you’ve been here before. You can’t help but feel they only want to hurt you. But you know you must move forward. You must fight.” And fight you do, pushing back against the ever encroaching Darkness that blankets the land.
This Darkness exists as an extension of the world, to a degree, leading you to press ever-forward, unable to turn back. In it, we move toward a cyclical process in which this place eventually dies, destroyed one way or another, only to return once again to its original state of being. It’s an endless feedback loop; one that seemingly betrays no signs of stopping. You find yourself trapped in this place, fighting through loop after loop, attempting to enact change to no fruition. LUCAH’s world is one destined to fall, only to rise from the ashes again and again, a dark, undying phoenix. Decay holds no permanence here.
When it comes to long-standing franchises, especially in the realm of blockbusters, it’s never much of a surprise when some fresh excitement is injected by a different franchise. The crossover is a process/marketing trick older than the medium of video games, time-honored and tried in every variety: in the history of cinema, you can’t take two steps without tripping over an Aliens v. Predators or even something more esoteric like Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo. Godzilla has endless fights with characters from other kaiju material. Even the modern zeitgeist of the Cinematic Universe is a dedicated extension of the crossover, fostering the Ultimate Crossover Experience by building up a series of one-offs to culminate in a climatic finale.
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines is an interesting game with a lot of… quirks. Something overlooked is how the game’s style rapidly pivots between the weirdly cartoonish and the plausibly realistic. One can expect to see Dishonored-style facial composition one moment; nigh-photographic portrayals of characters the next. The environments, too, are no exception. From a design perspective, the levels give some real insight on how to capture the zeitgeist and feeling of a place, weaving a visual buffet where only a few things are tactically edible. So, let’s craft some hauntology, shall we?
As I continue my first playthrough (yes, shameful, having had the game for ages yet hardly taking the time to fully sit down with it at length past the beginning Santa Monica drudge) I will be doing a few short writeups on my thoughts and experiences throughout.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
HARK! Fellow video game enthusiasts! I am here with an innovative new console, the finest handheld that boutique pop culture design firms have to offer! It comes with a crank and a black and white LCD screen, calling back to the Tiger Handhelds or Gameboys of yore.
What does the crank do, you may ask? Why, it cranks a wheel that breaks all the bones of discourse and discussion, our capacity for keen insights into the nuance of design and its capacity for good… or bad! Who knows! Let’s find out: