I like games that are mean to you, in the same way as I like chocolate or orgasms or anything where you are in some way having a really good chemical reaction to something, that lets you leave the body for a minute. Or be really present in a different state of bodiliness more like. Depending on how you think of it.
Just like good food and good cum, good games with mean purpose are hard to find. Like, it’s always kinda alright, and takes you out of it but it shares with these other experiences the fact that both the stimulant and the mood has to be right for it to be real good.
Maybe I’ve just been in the wrong mood lately, but the games which have this sweet meanness supposedly at their core that I’ve been playing just haven’t soothed any of the existential dread that they normally do.
For instance I played OK/NORMAL and Broken Reality just this past couple of days and really had quite a numb time with them. They both have the aspect of being games designed with a cynical outlook at certain things:
OK/NORMAL appears to take the actuality of a depressed mind state attempting to be OK and NORMAL inflicting pain on itself in the form of a 3D platformer world rapidly deteriorating into excessive difficulty and bad headspace.
Broken Reality is set in a glossy virtual world where social media clout means access, and the low poly realms of its hub worlds can make that possible for you, for you to proceed up the ladder towards admin. A bright and abrasive satire it oozes contempt for social media and capitalist tech in general.
Both of these feel like and look like they’d be the perfect fit for a kind of self-punishing experiences in vaporwave aesthetics, and neither managed to be entertaining about it. I think there’s a kind of respect for the audience that has to be there, just as much as the things you plan to inflict, when creating cruel works of pleasure that is hard to distinguish as a design point. What makes the respect work? It certainly nothing like ‘not hand holding’ or ‘not insulting intelligence’, or whatever other annoying ways you can say people just don’t get games like you do.
I don’t know if I could tell you how and why I am appealed to by Pony Island and yet not by just one kind-of tricky platform in OK/NORMAL though, or why the bleak satire of The Stanley Parable is much more entertaining than that of Broken Reality. But, I can tell you that the absence of the good feelings about being hit is there, and it’s just bleak to me. I get the jokes, I see what they’re doing, where it’s going, all too soon maybe, all too clear that hey, the games here to make me feel bad, and I’m there to be a chump.
What makes the line between being a chump and being a willing and excited participant in someone’s death trap is very subjective I guess. Different strokes, different folks, and I don’t think there’s anything bad about making art that is actively repulsive, indeed repulses people from interacting with it, that’s just another spoke on the wheel. I don’t know if people are making games to not be played though, at least not in the sense that they would come up as recommended in things I should buy, because enough others have bought them.
If I were to make a game that no-one even wants to play because it’s so miserable or impractical, I would probably go very big and gross with it. I think. I reckon that maybe these were just games where me and the creator saw eye to eye on the smirking cruelty, the terms of desire, and yet not on terms of engagement. Not right now. In this economy?
Playing Now in the theatre Things You Don’t Actually Want To Play.