Horror gaming has really undergone a renaissance these days thanks to the increasing ability of indie developers to create and release products. What Tobe Hooper was doing with movies in the '70s, game makers are doing now with games like Amnesia and Five Nights at Freddy's.
So I was delighted to finally get a chance to play Slender: The Arrival on PS4. Birthed from the Internet-generated Slender Man mythos, Slender: The Eight Pages and its remake/sequel took the Internet by storm starting in 2012. I was perfectly happy watching PewDiePie play it, but I'd never really gotten around to trying either game out myself.
So that's the setup, okay? I've been hearing about this game for years and am only just now playing it. I was expecting a horror gaming masterpiece, but now I'm wondering what all the fuss was about.
It's taken me nearly a week to really get over the death of fantasy author Terry Pratchett. Everyone knew it was coming ever since he was diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's, but it was still an unexpected blow that left a tremendous hole in the world.
Shortly after Pratchett was diagnosed, he announced his daughter Rhianna would be the custodian of the Discworld legacy, though what exactly that meant was somewhat vague. Rhianna is a writer in her own right, mostly for video games like Tomb Raider and Mirror's Edge, but she isn't a novelist. She recently told Digital Trends that she was not planning on writing any new Discworld books herself but was mostly involved in overseeing things like the TV series based on the Watch books and the film version of The Wee Free Men.
And while those are all well and good, what Discworld needs now is a video game. A big, big video game, and Rhianna is just the person to make that happen.
I can honestly say I've never seen anything like the Five Night's at Freddy's series of games. The horror survival games are ridiculously simple and yet murderously difficult. A minimalist approach to storytelling has left a trail of amazing theories about the mythology in its wake. That's not to mention the fact that it's the product of Scott Cawthon, a man who left a career making religious video games to redefine horror in gaming by releasing two groundbreaking, critically and popularly acclaimed titles less than a year apart, with a third on the way. It's incredible.
Honestly, I shouldn't have been surprised that my favorite craft lunatics on Etsy should also have been caught up in Freddy Fazbear's madness. So let's look at some of the ways you can celebrate the game in unofficial swag!
I recently came across this excellent article by Carolyn Petit that examined the way the over-the-top violence is used in Hotline Miami... and because I found it on Anita Sarkeesian's page I then got to watch a bunch of GamerGaters ironically denounce censorship while telling a woman she shouldn't even discuss what violence in a video game means.
There is a ton of talk about how violence is portrayed in video games. Whether it's Sarkeesian illustrating how violence against objectified sexualized women colors how we react to sexual violence in the real world or Petit remarking on how Hotline Miami makes you walk silently through your massive bloodbath back to the start so you can contemplate the carnage you unleashed people are commenting on violence in deep, wonderful ways. That's not even delving into the age-old "how does violent media affect people" argument in which gaming is just a new arena.
All good stuff but it occurred to me while reading it that no one is talking about an aspect of violence that is unique to gaming alone; the fact that gaming requires necessary consistent mechanism.
Puzzle games are in a renaissance thanks to the mobile market right now, but while things like Candy Crush and its various knockoffs remain insanely popular, there have been some amazing entries into the side-scroller puzzle genre. Not just inventive, head-scratching play but in some cases unforgettable story lines and daring, avant garde characters. If you've never gotten into one of these types of games before, here is a guide for you to get started.
Thomas Was Alone
There probably has never been a game that broke more molds than Thomas Was Alone. Its characters are represented by nothing more than differently sized and colored rectangles, and yet the narration by Danny Wallace infuses them with more nuance and depth than any Grand Theft Auto protagonist. The graphics are as simple as Pong, but still sharp enough and beautiful enough to keep holding their own into the eighth-generation systems. Are you a girl looking for the perfect equal representation of women in gaming? It has literally never been done better than with the blue box Claire and the purple box Sarah (Laura is pink and a love interest to Chris, but still definitely her own woman).
As a puzzler, Thomas Was Alone is not overly difficult. You'll probably be able to get through it without ever looking up a walk-through even if it takes more than a few tries to get to the exits. The themes of cooperation and personal relationships play out heavily in the actual gameplay, making them powerful storytelling tools. My favorite is one where Thomas and James must slowly and carefully edge themselves across a vast abyss with spikes waiting to catch them if they miss. Not only is it a neat thing to physically do, it actively feels as if it cements the two rectangles as a team. Add in the fact that the plot is basically The Matrix Trilogy if Stephen Fry had written it (and it didn't suck), and it's one of the most engaging games ever.
In 2012 images appeared online from Alex Zemke that showed what looked like it would be the be-all, end-all of Portal fan films. Coming across as something between Pixar and Star Wars Rebels, Companionship was pretty much as perfect as anyone could hope for regarding an expanded adventure of Chell and fans clamored for more.
But there wasn't anything more. Zemke moved on to other projects such as Puppeteer and The Last of Us: Left Behind for Sony Playastion. Companionship seemed dead in the water until just now.
Last week Zemke posted online a very rough, but still remarkable trailer for the project that finally showed Chelle in motion as she was launched to and fro among the turrets of Aperture Science. You can check it out below.
At five-years-old my daughter has three times the gaming cred I did when I was her age. She plays the original Super Mario Bros. on my Wii (she prefers the original because while it's harder it's also less complex), various adventure titles with my help ranging from Sly Cooper on PS2 to Knackon PS4, occasional rounds with my wife's 3DS (2K makes excellent educational games based on Nick Jr. properties), flash games online and she has her own dedicated portable system, the LeapPad 2. Though LeapPad games are also largely educational they still employ modern gaming mechanics like stealth levels, puzzlers, and even old-school button-mashing.
My point is that from the age of three she's been a gamer. Gaming has been the norm in her life as much as movies and books have been, and I don't really see that ever changing. Gaming has gone mainstream, and one day sooner than I'd like she's going to start sharing her love of the hobby with people in real life and, dear God, online. Having watched the progress of things like #GamerGate and the years-long harassment of Anita Sarkeesian and other women I realize that I'm going to have to prepare her for that in ways I wouldn't have to do with a son. I have to tell her...
10. There are some great heroines in games for you to engage with, though most of them like Lara Croft I won't be letting you meet until you're way older. Celebrate those girls and women, but it's going to be a long, long time before they make up an equal part of your gaming experience. Lots of times it just never even occurs to game developers someone would want to play as a girl.
Synopsis: Max Caulfield has returned to her small town to study photography with a famous artist, only to discover that she can rewind time itself to change outcomes. How she uses her powers will change the world.
It doesn't really count when your other hand is demonically possessed.
My wife is left-handed, and she also happened to go to grade school at a time and place where children writing with their left hands were seen as needing correction because everyone knows that's how Satan sneaks gay Communism into you. So for many years of her life, she suffered teachers who actively discouraged her use of her southern paw right down to sending letters home to her parents pleading with them to do something about heretical hand usage.
The result is that she is a little sensitive to how left-handed people are portrayed in media. Where most of us wouldn't notice that a villain is the only lefty in the room, she's always quick to point it out. There's even a whole TV Trope page dedicated to this nonsense. Today I thought I'd cheer her up by pointing out that some of the bravest and the best video-game heroes out there share her dominant hand.
There's got to be some spooky games in there somewhere...
Board games have been around a long time, and despite being a now older form of entertainment, there are lots of great ones that still manage to be fun. Sure, the old standbys such as "Monopoly" and "Risk" are a lot of fun, but I always liked the games with a spooky theme to them, and there have been quite a few released over the years. These are but a few I have enjoyed.
10. "Jaws" (1975)
Released around the same time the '70s blockbuster was, "Jaws" is not really a "board game," strictly speaking, but it's aimed at the same crowd who play them. The game consists of a fairly large plastic shark with an open mouth full of junk, which players attempt to fish out with hooks. One wrong move and the jaw snaps shut. A few years later, an "Alligator" version was released in conjunction with the fun "Jaws" copycat film Alligator. While "Jaws" is not the most challenging game ever made, that shark is cool-looking.
9. Ka-Bala (1967)
Billed as "The mysterious game that foretells the future," this weird oddity came out in the late '60s, and it shows. Riding the line between "fortune-telling device" and "game," Ka-Bala consisted of a glow-in-the-dark sculpted board with a scary-looking "Eye of Zohar" that would tell the player's future. It's a pretty weird system, and more akin to a Ouija board than to a typical game. Seeing as how Ka-Bala combined strange elements of Tarot cards, talking boards, astrology and even kabbalistic mysticism, this is also one that probably upset quite a few religious relatives and friends way back when.
8. Fireball Island (1986)
Fireball Island may be the most fun game on this list, and unfortunately it hasn't been manufactured for a long time, and is a collectible -- Copies on eBay often sell for hundreds of dollars. The board is a large 3D representation of an island with a volcano in the center, and players race around the board, trying to get a jewel and then make it to a waiting boat, while being pursued by others who wish to steal the ruby for themselves. There's quite a bit of strategy, and games can last awhile. On top of everything else, there's an evil-looking idol on the volcano that will shoot fireballs (red marbles) that can knock a player out temporarily. While not exactly "spooky," it's a lot of fun, and that Volcano idol guy is pretty scary.