Macpocalypse

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Ian here—

For years now, I’ve wanted to update the section of my site devoted to games that can be easily integrated into syllabi. I was laying low until the firehose of my students’ work turned off, but I figured since I’m teaching another games-related course in Spring 2020 it would be a good time to return to the subject.

Unfortunately, the past few months have brought with them a significant new hurdle.

By now it’s old news that Chrome will be dropping Flash compatibility in December 2020. I’ve seen the pop-up, and I’ve gradually made peace with the fact that games like LonelinessProblem Attic, and The Artist Is Present won’t be accessible to students in the future. It’s a major loss for free, platform-agnostic games that could be easily assigned. But with the release of macOS Catalina in October, with its 64-bit requirements for all applications, I’m now forced to grapple with the fact that Mac, as a platform, is all of a sudden much less friendly to indie games than it had been for much of the past decade.

I’ve seen a few guides online to what is and isn’t broken by the strict 64-bit requirements of Catalina, but most of them are light on indie games (especially non-Steam indie games). So I went ahead and personally checked all of the games listed in my “practical pedagogical notes” section, and all of the games from my “games of the decade” list (including the honorable mentions). I’ve also added a few things that I’ve written about, included in a video, or done a capsule review of. Below the fold you’ll find a list of 32-bit games that no longer function on macOS Catalina. I’ll update the list as I test more, or if developers get around to updating them.

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Interesting Games of 2019: The Year So Far

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The scope of new releases I have been playing has narrowed, as of late. I’ve been focusing in on a few choice genres and subject matters, as I round up my final list of case studies for my book project (as well as any upcoming video essay series connected with it). Practically, this means I’m spending a lot more mediocre games I hope I’ll have something interesting to say about, and a lot fewer games I’ve genuinely heard good things about, had fun with, and would in turn recommend. (It’s downright incomprehensible to me now that the first time I did one of these round-ups, in July 2017, I had actually played both Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 already, and was ready to write some words about them.)

So this post will be a bit more slight than some past mid-year wrap-ups have been. Below the fold, I offer thoughts on six little highlights released since January.

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Interesting Games of 2017: Six Worthy Follow-ups

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Among the inordinate number of truly superb games released in 2017 were some hotly-anticipated (by me, anyway) follow-ups to indie games of past years. Some were sequels. Others were sophomore efforts. Whichever the case, 2017 was a very good year for promising indie developers releasing something new after a couple years of silence (or, heck, three or four or five years of silence), and having that new release not disappoint. Below the fold are my six favorite releases that followed up on the promise of something a developer made before.

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Meta/stasis: Little Red Lie

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Are “personal games” a thing, in 2017?

They most certainly were a thing back in 2013, as evinced here, and here, and here. I think the case can be made that they were still a thing in January 2016, when That Dragon, Cancer, one of the most buzzed-about “personal games” in existence, finally released. But are they a thing in 2017?

Signs point to “no.” Not in the sense that people stopped making them—au contraire. What happened was that the floodgates opened. Digital distribution made its way to the masses, in the form of itch.io, and Steam’s post-Greenlight non-exclusivity. Twine went from a footnote in Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters to a designated week in every digital media course offered in North America. People are even making and distributing dreary anti-consumerist Super Mario Maker levels.

So, the games themselves have not abated. But the writing about them, the treatment of them as a definable “scene”: yeah, I think that has gone away. Part of this might be about queasy caution among game journalists, who pointedly remember how a non-existent review of Zoë Quinn’s Depression Quest (2013) sparked Gamergate. But mostly, I think, it’s that there are now just far too many of these games to keep track of, and treat as a coherent thing. Now that seemingly everyone is making games about their deepest and most private anxieties, there is little incentive to build any sort of critical consensus on how to survey the how to survey the zinester scene, who to determine what games are worth checking out (if only to pointedly critique), and which creators should be checked in on every now and then, to see if they’ve done anything interesting.

Case in point: in 2013, Will O’Neill released Actual Sunlight. The game became a central text in the conversation around “personal games” movement, and cemented O’Neill as a figure to watch in the interactive fiction/visual novel scene. Fast forward to June of 2017. Will O’Neill (now operating under the moniker WZO Games Inc.) releases Little Red Lie, to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. It is by sheer chance that it didn’t slip under my radar entirely. As of this writing in November, I have found precious little writing about it anywhere online.

Which is a shame, because Little Red Lie deserves to be talked about. So I’m going to do my own part.

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Games of the Decade, 2007-2017: The Complete List

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Alright, here they are. These are my fifty most highly-recommended games of the decade. It is, admittedly, an unusually demarcated decade, stretching from October 10, 2007 to October 10, 2017, as a way of celebrating the 10th anniversary of the release of Portal.

Happy birthday, Portal. Enjoy the cake.

Again, I make no claims that these fifty games are the “best” games of the past decade. They are not even necessarily my personal favorites. They are, instead, the games I recommend the most highly. They are the games I feel are the most representative of the new horizons artists working in the medium have pursued over the past decade. I would recommend them to anyone interested in the outer edges of what the medium can do: students, teachers, family, friends. I am recommending them to you, right now.

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Games of the Decade: Endings

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A week ago, I laid out that videogames typically have bad pacing. Did I also mention that videogames far too frequently to have bad endings, too?

No? Well, they do. So often, in fact, that I can lay out five distinct schools of bad videogame endings. Below, I list out those five traps of videogame endings, and how the games I have chosen to end my own list with escape those traps.

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Games of the Decade: Mood

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I’ve already compiled a list of games that make me deliriously happy and agape with wonder. But not all art aims to create positive emotions such as these. Much to the continued consternation of aesthetic philosophers, human beings have been proven, time and time again, to also like art that makes them sad, that makes them scared, and even art that makes them angry.

The games listed under this category excel at provoking feelings. Not all of these feelings are what I’d call “emotions.” Some of them are too inchoate and undirected to attain that designation. This is raw, bodily stuff we’re talking about here. And unlike my delight category, not all of the feelings provoked in these games are positive ones. Happiness might be undercut by a sense of melancholy. Wonder might be mixed in with dread.

But whatever the feelings are that these games actually offer up, they all display an airtight control of tone. Some might find the end results to be manipulative. And, for some of these games, I wouldn’t deny that charge. But even if we grant it, there is still no denying that these games display top-notch craft in mood-modulation. If nothing else, they are a wild ride.

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