RE:BIND

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We’ve covered a lot of “lost virtual world” styled vignettes, each with a unique take or theme and a particular accompanying thesis. Oleander Garden‘s PAGAN is exceptional and offers up an astounding amount of replay value. Not content to be written off as yet another trope ridden “walking sim”, PAGAN folds its byzantine gameplay mechanics into the narrative in a seamless fashion, and it’s this union that helps to elevate it amongst its peer in the sub-genre.

Set in the dying grip of a fictional MMORPG, PLAZA96, one particularly notorious for its user-antagonistic UI and hostile design principles, you wander the digital wastelands without much of an initial imperative beyond the urge to discover; a fun foreshadowing of what awaits past the game’s starting area. The intentionally clunky control scheme isn’t just a pleasant touch of authenticity hearkening to its roots, but rather a critical incentive for the player to fully engross themselves into the mindset of navigating the obtuse branching paths necessary for a complete story run.

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In the far-flung future of 2XXX, humanity uncovers the Spheres, objects that grant them massive technological advancement. From there, they discover alien lifeforms throughout the galaxy, forging interstellar alliances. Certain races that interact with the Spheres gain abilities and powers, which come in handy as a new alien race invades Earth, prompting these superpowered Guardians to leap into action and protect us all.

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Your AR overlay provides the next lines, “I have a recommendation for you.” The AI counseling partner, Eliza, tells you to suggest that the client try performing some breathing exercises and to ask their doctor about some conspicuously name brand medication. “Have a wonderful day,” the script prompts, “Goodbye.” Another successful session, granting you a boon of experience points and a few medals to add to your AR profile. Your rating isn’t great, but you snagged a $5 tip, so at least there’s that.

In this near-future snapshot of Seattle from Zachtronics’ new game, Eliza, you play as Evelyn, a worker in the ever expanding rhizomatic gig economy. Recently contracted to serve as a human proxy for the AI-power therapy system of the future (the titular Eliza), Evelyn ventures adrift into a world she helped build but that she feels deeply and troublingly disconnected from. Previously one of the leading engineers on the project, Evelyn left the company creating Eliza, Skadha, behind her, only to return to see what her project has become in her absence. What follows is a harrowing tale about the value of human connection, the troubling state of what the mental health system has become, and how we can try to better the world for one another. Writer Matthew Seiji Burns paints a picture of a world not quite dystopic, but more reflective of our own current societal state and the path that those at the top of the tech industry are leading us towards at a worrying pace.

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Part Worlds Chat, part Broken Reality, theclub.zone is an intriguing exploration of the strange wacky side of virtual worlds, but one that has been done better- kind of.

Primarily known for their comedy collaboration with Rick & Morty creator Justin Roiland, developer CrowsCrowsCrows recent entry into experimental digital media is a little more up Rebind’s alley than their usual fare.

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IV drips pulse, carrying anesthetic down the tube, through the needle, and into the bloodstream of your wife. She lies beneath lamplight, her breathing slightly irregular, but it should be okay, her vitals are stabilizing. You have to put her under, again, to get through the study. In the two beds besides hers are your other subjects and colleagues. One an archeologist, the other the neurobiologist whose research brought you here. On the monitor, the process fills progress bars as sense-data flutters along the wires, cris-crossing between workstation and subject.

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Remedy‘s Alan Wake is a bit of a tragedy- and I don’t just mean the story, it’s an exercise in reminding us just how much external circumstances can impact the reception of an otherwise obvious cult classic. After a lengthy development cycle and poor timing that placed it in the middle of an awkward period in Microsoft’s publishing strategies, Alan Wake performed adequately in sales but failed to garner the kind of critical reception it deserved. Once the Xbox exclusivity period elapsed, it was finally brought to the PC, shortly followed by its expansion, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.

It’s popular these days to riff off the famous American writer, Stephen King, or pull on influences like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, but Remedy was doing it long before it was on trend. Max Payne 1 & 2 came with a parallel narrative that played out via an in-world pulp noir show “Address Unknown” which served as an allegory for Max’s own internal struggles. Remedy is fairly open about the fact that they have a proclivity for inserting homages into the works that inspired them, and Alan Wake was no exception to this formula.

Spoilers ahead, because if you haven’t played Alan Wake yet… you really should.

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WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY!

One room, two plants, four creatures, six bullets, no way out. I stared out my window, the inevitability of the situation setting in faster than the wallpaper was rotting off the walls. I don’t know when it happened, I don’t know how it happened, all I know is that my damn tv won’t stay off, and the alarm clock won’t stop beeping. Have I slept? Did I ever sleep? Sure as hell doesn’t feel like it, certainly haven’t been able to shake this headache for as long as I can remember. But no matter how bad things are in here, I know they’re A LOT NICER OUTSIDE, IT IS A REALLY NICE DAY OUTSIDE.

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The internet is a weird place. It allows us to connect to each other over vast distances, instantaneously share information, be with our loved ones across the ocean, and, sometimes, introduces swaths of people to a bizarre VN/fighting game hybrid that is tangentially related to one of the most massive anime-media empires we’ve seen since the inception of Dragon Ball. Of course, I’m talking about the expanded universe known as the “Nasuverse”.

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Not this time, it’s pure fiction. We made it up.

Urban Legends, Myths, Scary Stories, Surreal Tales of the darkness that lurks behind the window and in the shrouded corners of our homes; these so very often form the life blood of our design ambitions, but are we truly doing them justice?

It’s been a popular trend ever since the famous found footage thriller Marble Hornets to make rapid adaptions of the often fascinating concepts and urban legends that have their genesis in the online public domain of anonymous forums and social media. However, it is this very trend which kicked off a seemingly endless assembly line of content, churning the latest viral meme of terror du jour into a cynical cash-in soon to be found in the dark alleyways of Steam recommendations and forgotten itch.io tags, with only a handful of genuine gems cropping up from time to time. This isn’t to say that interactive media is alone in this trend, television and radio have a longstanding tradition of revitalizing the most haunting stories in our collective subconscious across multiple decades, bringing us works like Sci-Fi’s Channel Zero which seek to create direct adaptations of work pulled from stories found on the notorious imageboards of the late 2000s.

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