The Domestic Masculinity of Helltaker

The Domestic Masculinity of Helltaker

Helltaker, ostensibly little more than a very short sokoban game with some token visual novel elements, managed to explode into internet popularity in mid-2020, leading to enormous outpouring of praise, fanart, and discussion. The game—a story of a man who one morning decides to descend into Hell in order to acquire a “harem of demon girls”—has charm and wit to spare. The demon girls—the main stars of this show—have strong visual design and clear personalities making them fun to interact with, while the writing brutally and hilariously skewers cliches around harem-collecting stories. There is no seduction in this narrative (at least not directly), no swooning women awkwardly falling for the hero’s charm. “Demon harem? You poor fool…” one of the first encountered demon girls exclaims upon being invited. “They will rip you to shreds, and I have to see that!” (more…)

Do We Really Need Combat? Systems of Interaction in AAA Games

Do We Really Need Combat? Systems of Interaction in AAA Games

If you’ve been involved with any sort of political conversation surrounding video games for the last twenty years, you’ve probably heard a lot of people harping on about violence: specifically, that violent video games lead to violent behavior in real life. While that claim has largely been debunked by research, there’s no denying that violence is an integral part of most high-profile titles. A tight and fluid combat system is a major selling point for a major release from an AAA studio, and a game with poor combat is lambasted with bad reviews. For better or worse, combat can be how players define a game: it determines how we view its quality (sometimes privileged over other concerns like graphics and narrative), and how fun the process of violence is in a game is the point by which we decide whether or not to play. (more…)

My First Game: SSX (2000)

My First Game: SSX (2000)

I have really cloudy memories of the Christmas when we got our PlayStation 2. We were at my grandparents’ house, and I mostly remember just both my brother and I completely losing our minds in excitement. Those videos of kids absolutely flipping over getting a Switch? That was us about 20 years ago.

SSX was one of the games we got along with the PS2. And honestly, I’m not surprised that it became one of my favorite games right away. (more…)

Developing Horizons: What Animal Crossing: New Horizons Reveals About Global Development

Developing Horizons: What Animal Crossing: New Horizons Reveals About Global Development

The game will tell you what you want. Then, it will tell you how to achieve it. Of course, this is exactly the premise on which most games operate. Yet the copious hours I have dedicated to Animal Crossing: New Horizons have helped me realise just how this fundamental process can reveal troubling assumptions about what the players are expected to value. (more…)

Don’t Leave Luck to Heaven: The Small Secret Feature that Altered the Spirit of Animal Crossing

Don’t Leave Luck to Heaven: The Small Secret Feature that Altered the Spirit of Animal Crossing

Randomness in games is often talked about purely in terms of strategic cost-benefit analysis. Random number generation (RNG) is good when it is fair, or used in procedural generation processes, otherwise it is bad and must be avoided. But randomness can also be aesthetical a la aleatoric art—pardon the tongue twister. Celeste‘s gameplay is wholly deterministic, which is a part of why speedrunners like me admire it, but in actuality it uses RNG for its various particle effects. One game series which uses RNG in both a mechanical and aesthetical way is Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, and not only in its island-creating algorithm. (more…)

Playing Beat Saber Is Like Doing Magic

Playing Beat Saber Is Like Doing Magic

I do a lot of magic. I also play a lot of Beat Saber. These two facts about me seem pretty thoroughly unrelated, but the more Beat Saber I play, the more I don’t think they really are. Magic is intense and personal, and it feels like being on the same wavelength as something primal in the universe. And—hear me out—Beat Saber is the same. (more…)