August 14th

This week is all about those big, open spaces: the endless expanse of a procedurally-generated universe, the mysterious depths of the ocean, and the reimagined streets of a Pokemon-enriched city.

Battlefields

We start with escapism and its opposite. How do we cope when we are in a place that hurts us? What if that place is home?

“The flat, panoramic expanses of Nebraska would seem to represent openness and boundless freedom, but for Kelly, that world is a place of regression and personal oppression. That she’s confined to the cramped space of her car for the entire duration of her trip further aggravates that feeling.”

Patch the Pantheon

Next, some examinations of the institutions that we are part of, wish we could be part of, or engage with but never really understand.

“Where did games exhibit the utmost of Classical traits, the Trivium: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness? What games would I put alongside Herodotus, Milton, and the Epic of Gilgamesh? Even in their larval stage, which games, what gaming concepts, could entrench themselves confidently in the pantheon beside the Norse eddas, Homer’s poetry, and the Mathematical innovations of the Fertile Crescent? To put it in more current terms, could Martin Luther have produced the 95 Theses with a game jam?”

Toxic magic

Between feminism, fantasy and flirting, these pieces look at the ways that we actively create the worlds we inhabit, with some lessons on how we can create worlds that are more livable and loving.

“So I leaned forward and asked, “so just to be clear, you’re getting your other squad mates to help you police her behavior because of how she looks?”. The player in question agreed that was an accurate summary, so I said, “awesome. That’s super toxic. Please roll to Resist the Shadow.” The player looked surprised for a second, then nodded his agreement and rolled the move, and afterward we had a pretty cool conversation about it!”

No Man is an Island, Ocean, or Sky

(Spoilers for Debris, No Man’s Sky and Abzu)
Exploration, open worlds and vast nothingness have captured people’s imaginations more than anything else this week, with a number of games inspiring a sense of connection and wonderment

Debris

  • Debris | vextro
    leeroy lewin praises the aesthetics of the wide open and the pitch black.

Debris is a visual aid, an interactive song. A gentle music transformed into a terrifying confession, a full marriage of very conflicting and dissonant aesthetics. A nothingness that demands the attention. A terrifying experience treated as another day at work.”

Abzu

“Like space, the deep ocean is a metaphor for the unknown. We don’t know what’s down there, and unless we spend a great deal of money and time training to dive down with oxygen tanks strapped to our backs and water pressure compressing our fragile lungs and vessels, we will never get to see it up close.”

Pokemon Go

“The compass in Skyrim was meant to point us towards interesting locations. Lots of time and effort went into designing that world, and the developers wanted to help us see as much of it as we could. The PokeStops in Pokemon Go might not have been designed with that same specific intent, but the resulting feelings of exploration and discovery are the same. I’m still drawn to things that might otherwise go overlooked. It’s actually shocking how much art surrounds us at all times that we don’t notice, little works of creativity that give the world a human touch.”

No Man’s Sky

“These interactions are comparatively shallow, but they’re enough for now. The developers have struck a difficult balance, providing reasons to keep playing without overcomplicating or distracting too much from the joy of exploration.”


And with that, I will vanish into the vast expanse of the open sky until next weekend. If you want to stay connected to a bigger ecosystem of critical writing, you can send us links to material that you have discovered on your travels. Our own explorations of the bewildering universe of online writing are supported by the community through Patreon, and we are so grateful to everybody who pitches in. Thank you for your support.