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 Loneliness, Problem 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 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.
This past March, at SCMS, I walked out on a paper being delivered by Oscar Moralde on The Witness (Thekla, Inc, 2016). I did so not out of disinterest. (I’ve enjoyed Moralde’s papers in the past.) Nor did I do so out of rudeness. Rather, I did it because of spoilers. Moralde was kind enough to warn ahead of time that his paper would spoil a small portion of the joy of teasing out the behaviors of The Witness’ world, and advised those who hadn’t played it to leave, lest they deny themselves a rich intellectual—and some would even say emotional—experience of personal discovery. And, in my eternal shame, as of March of 2017, I still had not played The Witness. Even though it had been sitting right there in my Steam library for months. (Ashlyn Sparrow and Whitney Pow can attest to the truth of this story.)
Moralde’s paper was a wake-up call to me that I needed to get better about my gaming backlog, if for none other than purely academic reasons. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up on things in real-time since that moment. (I played Tacoma, already!) I offer this story, though, not (strictly) as a chance to to advertise my newfound dedication to keeping up with recent releases, but also as a warning. Basically, the heads-up Moralde offered in front of his talk also applies here. The pleasures of The Witness are the pleasures of discovering puzzle mechanics, and you will deny yourself a small portion of those if you watch this new video essay I’ve whipped together.
That said, if you don’t mind spoiling such things, or if you’ve played The Witness already, go ahead and dash right in. This video is considerably shorter and more focused than my previous experiments in the “Let’s Study” format. It focuses on the pedagogical aspects of the game’s puzzle design, in particular its fondness for safe failure. Whether it’s encouraging assumptions about its mechanics that quickly get proved wrong, or setting up perceptual bad habits only to nip them in the bud, Jonathan Blow’s puzzle design in the best portions of The Witness front-load failure, so as to hammer home lessons. I hope you enjoy my short tour through this technique!
As before, a full transcript of my narration is below the fold. (I’d love to eventually add these as subtitles to the YouTube upload for accessibility reasons, but that is beyond my abilities, at the moment.)