66 – Dysthymia

Capture

Writing Zest is a little bit of a struggle, so to kind of recharge the batteries, I wrote a new game. It’s called Dysthymia. Using a computer is recommended–it does not play at all well with mobile browsers.

Dysthymia is intended to be a continuous, uninterrupted artistic experience. It contains no save state. Please set aside 40 seconds to play through the game, as well as an hour for quiet contemplation afterwards. Turning the lights off and wearing earplugs are also recommended, as is having a degree in comparative literature.

45

Listen, I need a very specific combination of escitalopram and tetrohydrocannibinol in my system in order to be able to face the day, and I’m, you know, in the Twine scene or whatever, so I’m very aware of Depression QuestI don’t particularly like the game–which quite likely is  because I don’t exactly care to go through the exercise of simulating a condition I’ve spent years learning how to manage, but that doesn’t matter: The simple fact that Zoe Quinn is campaigning to get the a Twine game on Steam is huge. As a fellow game writer, although a much less established one, I have kind of a vested interest in that particular door opening. It would be a very strong statement about Twine’s commercial potential, and that’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Unfortunately, Quinn has been having an unnaturally busy week, and it seems to be one of those 4/chan or whatever based attacks that’s premised on Quinn being a woman with a game on the internet. If there’s anything resembling a light to the end of this tunnel, it’s that Quinn is making damn sure that everyone has an idea of what’s going on, and good for her: Already, a lot of prominent supporters have spoken out against how she’s been treated, and while this won’t necessarily stop or mitigate the effects of the harassment, here’s hoping that at least the attention given to the game gives it the signal boost it deserves. Given that it has been fairly well-received since its released, it’s a little more likely this story might have a happy ending.

But I look at this and I see–like Foreskin Correspondent Jim Sterling wondering where this attitude of harassment comes from–and, gee, Jimmieboy, I don’t know any prominent figures who put this kinda feeling into the world. We’ve all forgiven him for his ne’er-do-well past–perhaps there’s even hope for Holkins and Krahulik!–but this is a culture that has been encouraged. In other words, Sterling and his ilk kinda opened a Pandora’s box.

I mention Anna Anthropy in the article I linked above, and I’m reminded of an incident a couple months ago, when she answered some questions about game designer Jonas Kyratzes and his politics. Anthropy privileges sexuality and gender, so she didn’t seem to feel bad about throwing terms like “manarchist” around (a term along with “brocialist” that Kyratzes has repeatedly stated bothers him very much, as he considers his politics to be a very intimate part of his identity and “manarchist” a misandrist mocking of them) or talking about his political stances in a way which completely misinterprets and discredits them, but perhaps he ought to stop being so sensitive.  I mean, isn’t that where this is going to go, there’ll be some weighing of privilege and whoever comes out as more oppressed earns the right to feel bad? I can already see scores of tweets saying at dismissive “NOPE” at the thought. It’s not even up for discussion. Banish that thought from your mind. It is an Untouchable Subject. Forbidden to question.

At least Anthropy gives him the respect of using his full name. Kyratzes and I became friendly after I wrote “A Man Obeys“, which was spurred by some of the discussion surrounding a Mattie Brice article. One of the points I made was that an article by Kim Moss did not refer to Kyratzes by name even once: It only referred to him as “some dude” or “some guy”–an attempt to essentially “unperson” Kyratzes.

I saw that “some dude” this week during an incident involving an admittedly lame joke between Alan Williamson and Leigh Alexander (who is, herself, no stranger to slurs against Kyratzes) that Courtney Stanton decided was misogynistic. I would be extremely surprised if anyone reading this blog has not heard of either Williamson or at the very least his magazine Five out of Ten. Whether or not her ignorance of Williamson was a pose, it kind of paints her as a little clueless about her own scene, especially considering that some of Alexander’s writing has appeared in Williamson’s publication. It was a fairly big Thing in any case: Many people jumped to Williamson’s defense, and Williamson himself seemed fairly put out by the whole incident; either way, it was an attempt at–

–I’m about to say “bullying”, that’s the word on everyone’s lips these days, it’s one I’ve felt important in my life, I mean, I can tell you stories about my freshman year of high school that would make your hair curl. I mean I sometimes don’t think it’s bullying after all: I think it’s just good old fashioned nastiness. It’s so hard to love or even like videogames or the videogame scene or whatever you want to call it, because I’ve had so few days in my life where I’ve felt it was anything but a bunch of horrible people. Maybe it’s one of those cycles of abuse things, that we were treated wrong and so we’re lashing out at others. Maybe it’s a sense of finally feeling vindicated, like we all want that moment where we beat the shit out of Billy Zabka and we end in a dance party. We all really just want to beat someone up.

I mean I’m supposed to probably go into a plea for tolerance and empathy. Let’s all get along. But, you know, I never liked putting out fires, and I never was really good at starting them. But I don’t think I need to anymore: Everything’s just kind of rioting nicely on its own. All I want to do is grab some beers and a couple sandwiches, find a hill overlooking the city, and watch that motherfucker burn.

To vote for Depression Quest on Greenlight, please visit here.

To vote for The Sea Will Claim Everything, please visit here.

3

The liner notes to Treasure Adventure Game state, simply, that it’s a love letter to the games that developer Stephen Orlando played as a kid and “the countless hours of joy” that they brought him.

Holy shit. Joy, eh? That’s a word we rarely see. Right!, we say. This shit used to be fun! A comment left by Aaron Jean on Electron Dance says it well: 

I’ve been struck lately by just how dark gaming is at the moment….Why can’t we have more genuinely pleasant worlds in our games?..I do wish there were more worlds I felt like saving.

This is Blue Sky In Games stuff, and it’s true: Indie games can be depressing as shit. The existence of Depression Quest–released on Valentine’s Day, for fuck’s sake, and we say the scene doesn’t romanticize depression!–seems like it’s almost satirical, like the sad indie hipster equivalent of a sitcom kid pining for Super Murder Death Kill 3000 IV.

I’d extend this a little further to not just be videogames–there’s a general view out there that sad shit is deeper than happy shit. Let’s face it: When I was 17 I was listening to Nirvana and Alice in Chains while classmates were listening to Britney Spears and N’Sync. The associations of depression with introspection and intelligence, and bliss as a condition of ignorance–they’ve been associations I’ve never been able to quite slough off. Most of us can’t.

Things are somewhat different now than when Blue Sky was written–the rise of pixel games had yet to occur, and gaming was in a funny spot where it desperately wanted to avoid any perception that it was “kiddie” in any way. What can I say: I guess we all wanted to appear more mature so we made everything brown and violent.

Games are uncomfortable with themselves: Whether we’re deconstructing mechanics by calling them stupid while at the same time making a game about them a la Bioshock or The Line, or adding interaction to self-excoriating prose poems in order to attempt to say something profound, I feel we’re very reticent to let games be Games.

Look at Mass Effect 2: It’s one of my favorite games because it does not see anything shameful in telling a blockbuster starship captain story. You have a group of characters, all with their own shady pasts; an evil enemy, with a dark secret; some great pew pew shootemup action–Mass Effect 2 does not think that a videogame is a bad thing to be, and so instead of trying–and failing–to be Art (and by the way, one thing we all seem to miss about Games As Art is that “Art” is an expression of intent, rather than of quality…), Mass Effect 2 succeeds in being a Great Videogame.

Treasure Adventure Game sees nothing wrong with being a fun challenging platformer; the couple hours I’ve spent with it are demonstrating that by attempting to be a great version of something simple, it almost transcends its genre.

It’s really nice to play a game made in a state of joy.