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"For years now people have been predicting that games would soon be made out of prefabricated objects, bought in a store and assembled into a world. For the most part, that hasn't happened, because the objects in the stores are trash. I don't mean they look bad or [that] they're badly made, although a lot of them are. I mean they're trash in the way that food becomes trash as soon as you put it in the sink. Things are made to be consumed in a certain context, and once the moment is gone they transform into garbage. In the context of technology those moments pass by in seconds. " - Bennett Foddy, Getting Over It rail section
Comedic Game Jam april fools VN about going on a tinder app and hooking up with doors. As a result of this premise it plays into 20s memetic language like 'bruh' and 'sus' on the one hand and for the sake of brevity turns most of the characters into short archetypes with end cards to match. It also has a great sense of color design and general UI flourishes for instance the keys icon spinning when hovering over choices is a great touch. What gets to me here tho is that if you took this premise beyond just stock anime archetypes you have great presentation that would make the concept of dating a door actually work to good effect. As such it feels like a prototype of a game with a lot of potential. This is most primarily seen in the 'Commandoor Locke' route where you can get a jail cell door to drop their tough guy act and melt for you. It may seem odd but I really some of the best art exposes itself through the aspect of the interactions of anthropomorphizations that haven't been considered yet. Whether it be birds (hatoful boyfriend), hedgehogs, or people turned into battleship parts (erostasis), or predator prey relationships (Tom and Jerry and Loony Tunes) theres a core part of the human desire to find seriousness in a story of silly representations. To find the confines and stretch them to what makes sense to tell a dramatic story. That might sound lofty or pretentious but honestly it goes all the way back at the very least to 1900s texts like Alice and Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh. Aesops Fables if you want to be incredibly generous.
So in a way Love Next Door represents the core frustration I have with the Game Jam industrialization at large, its a lot of concepts that are so unrealized they leave the audience wanting desperately to see anything more of them. Doors as romantic objects of player affection may seem like a joke, but its obvious just through playing this that a door can serve many different purposes and have character. Doors can be fancy or utilitarian, wartorn or hurt. Doors can have gold handles, brass ones, etc. Hell the existence of this game in itself proves that maybe the idea that people are 'as boring as a door' is actually wrong!
I guess the fundamental problem for me is that this is an overproduction of a lot of new and unique assets and concepts in a situation with a cruel relationship to copyright protections. It's nobody in particulars fault but when I see entire shoddy works like this my impulse is not to move on, my impulse is to possibly rewrite, mod, or otherwise reconfigure these works. It's not 'my work' though to do that, even if I don't get litigated directly it would only take a few days on the announcement of the idea for people to say I'm just plagerizing mechanics from these jams. So it begins to feel less like a culture of cute ideas and passion projects, and more like auto generated hierarchical ideas with which people can 'lay claim' to concepts for future use.
This point of course sounds painfully overambitious from somebody who hasn't made games at all, I'm only describing an unrealized personal impulse here. Yet, if I'm thinking that then its likely a lot of other people are to, and so the drive becomes 'I better stake my flag' rather than producing towards some goal. So I'm left in this awkward spot, on the one hand Love Next Door does everything it sets out to in a comedic tone, on the other hand it feels like a work that by its very existence is negating the future of its own concepts in this way. Has it occurred anybody else that anybody who creates a world featuring a talking candelabra would be under threat from the disney corporation for being too similar to Beauty and the Beast's Lumiere? To add to that, recently Winnie the Pooh finally became public domain but the dark part of it is that it has to be the old antiquated winnie the pooh designs, using the newer cartoon depictions would put you in the slammer. So thus Commander Doore lives and dies in this tiny jam work, this idea of mascots abandoned is a theme I explored so thoroughly in my old Yo! Noid 2 post that saying any more would be begging the point.
These games are clearly not made for mass consumption, it would be absurd to get annoyed at them unless they did something actually offensive. So, i'm only ever frusterated at these works from this viewpoint, an editor with no hope of inclusion, cursed to spectate as ideas get churned and then glazed in amber by the elusive wrath of propertarianism. I want a serious dating door game, I want to have a fictional crush on a door, just as I do on Ponies, and vampires, and all sorts of nonreal monstrosities that we attach ourselves onto! Now it might not happen (like sure you can just say 'well ask for permission then but I'm talking about a systemic problem here...). But my weird desires aside, this post could have been about any small work. It could have been anything. So it might as well be on a weird funny dating game joke that literally nobody cares about. Because hey, even if you think I'm totally off my rocker, at least you get to know that this exists :3
Man or Muppet (2021) is a great performance on how certain forms of nostalgia and memory weave as associations within the contemporary mind. First you have a problem, in this case the feeling that your identity is fragmented from people excluding you based on your body. Then you reach through the mind to find various media reference points to associate that to. I feel like this is worth stating boldly because even in other essay games that I do like, the sincerity of this form of memory is fairly uncommon, at best the form will be presented as mundane and then in the last moment revelatory which can wear out as a trope especially in a digital world of clickbait and 'revealing'. I praised the admittedly quite weepy and sordid He Fucked the Girl Out of Me (2022) for touching on this concept of 'unpacking' a memory through referentiality before, yet obviously the contexts between both games are a bit different. This is about the abstraction of a problem and its representation in media experiences, rather than a pure biopic on media itself as you might see in see Crime Life Crime Wave (2021). Describing the trans alienation through pastiche successfully defines the space of the problem being worked through.
On a more technical note, HotelBones was really clever in utilizing video as an interactive overlay to rifle through here. You can choose to stick around with the muppets during certain moments in the essay for as long as you like, thereby inverting one of the main dissonances within narrative driven gaming. To illustrate if I'm playing a game and have control over the movement of my character I can simply choose to not move for a long amount of time and thereby break the immersion if even so slightly. Here, the 'character' is just a thought abstraction you're piloting. Instead the desire to linger is shown as meditational. These videos are all equally situated as cultural memories, some wonderful and others awful, but all in reference to the main point.
There's a specific hard to articulate aura about this. It's the plunderphonics stream of conciousness. To explain what I mean, allow me a small anecdote. I spoke to the creator once before about how I have 'Glover Circus level 1 brain' and her immediate response was that it was an awesome metaphor and she would love to play a game about that, an urge to represent that which would be strange to anybody else just 'makes sense' to people who immerse themselves in this style of thinking. The disorders of life are immediately understood through analogue reference and I think we are often trying to hard to avoid how often our minds really are like this because it would freak us out. Yet, if this project shows anything aside from its central thesis, it's that embracing this weird part of our brain that compresses the media we overconsume into reference points is maybe what we should be doing instead. Like yeah the game is good and I agree with it, but there's a profound form of bohemianism I find here that is worth putting a spotlight on.
As I see it you have 3 primary interactive psychological 'bohemian' relationships with games.
1. 'Hatemusement' where you interact through often 'enraged' amusement and confusion (Puzzle game frustrations, The Angry Nintendo Nerd)
2. The observational and rather clinical approach thoroughness of a work in itself (LP Archives, Matthewmatosis and his clones, most long posts people like on BL)
3. The sentimentalist approach that sees art in terms of profound immersion that is trying to get you to enjoy it.
1 and 2 are spoken for, and are to a large extent most of what gaming culture is dominated by, but the niche scene artists like HotelBones and Bagenzo are working from, speak for this much more faint relationship to gaming and art in general. As an internal memory wistfulness. I'm not the best at speaking towards it myself, in part because I think text is actually too limited a form to do it successfully. For instance I've attempted it in my Pagan: Autogeny post, which while I'm not fully unhappy with feels much too much like a 'one off' for me to adopt as much as I like just yet, I feel too 'anecdotal' doing it at the moment. That said I see a lot to love in the sentimentalist approach to art and feel a deeply passive sense of endearment and love of media from others that do perform it. As I feel my memories fragmenting and falling into disarray, wartorn by overindulgence in disparate media and failed attempts at community the candidness of these pieces and how they work keep me anchored at bay from feeling that its all totally useless ^-^
Also this is a great if you're furry or furry adjacent because it exposes that human bodies are disturbing to begin with fundamentally. I'm down with that. If it was up to me we would probably all be covered in fur I'm ngl.
So the popularization of various '-dle' clones as a mode for trivia needs basically no introduction. While there's no 'canon' to which to enjoy, Wordle implicitly brought back the dormant web browser guessing game joy pioneered by Geogeussr and Wikipedia's more general hyperlink information systems. In the sense that it focuses on the relationship between player knowledge and the desire for players to learn anew. All the words in the original Wordle (before the NY Time acquisition fucked up the word pool with words like SNAFU) were fair of course but on the other hand there were plenty of words that you could guess to like January 9th 2022 word 'Gorge' that would coincide with an appreciation for that word. Looking it up and letting it sink in. Wordle in this sense is not simply a process of elimination puzzle game, it's a game that in some very actual sense was pulling your cognitave webmap of the english language to the forefront again. Causing you to process the verbs and nouns that exist in the shadows of concious dialogue. At the risk of overintellectualizing it a little bit, I think this is the real 'mass appeal' of wordle. If it was just a hangman clone nobody would care, the wordlist and its relationship to passive knowledge acquisition does a lot to move the goalpost where it otherwise wouldn't. Crossword players are already in deep, Wordle makes the ambitions way more subtle. Just try to solve this 1 small puzzle and go about your day again. Let the success of guessing the word 'rivet' settle.
Entering down the pipeline are the various clones: Gamedle, Posterdle, Tradle, Heardle etc., yet while these games can be equally as fun to try and guess at for players passionate with it, the knowledge base is far more limited in scope. You usually have to have a prior fixed knowledge on the subject in order to have a good chance, whereas any english language speaker after the 9th grade has a chance in Wordle. There's often a snobbish aversion to 'mass appeal' games on the concept that they are 'dumbing things down' for players, but if there's anywhere we can interfere in our on snobbishness on that idea is in imagining a similar snobbery that crossword enthusiasts would lob at Wordle. 'Its too easy and usually too short' would be missing the point, and the esoterica of trivia linguistic riddles crosswords assess are for people who already have the synaptic network for that part of their brain pulled together. I'm serious when I say that this exact dialogue exists for almost any other genre you can imagine. We often forget that older people have troubles dealing with quick changes in onscreen information, which is why Wii Sports is a perfectly fine alternative to the quick decision making of Madden or Rocket League.
Trivia game postulation aside, I think this is what makes musicle less of a bastard child to what is being tested in these low stakes quick to play trivia games than something like Heardle. In Heardle either you know or you don't the song being run, I think people found the granularity of nessecary preinformation needed to guess a Heardle really funny in this regard, and is the reason there are more Heardle clones than probably Wordle ones. One Direction Heardle, Yoshi Heardle, Touhou Heardle, etc. If you don't know the initial properties then what chance do you have? After you fail to guess how likely are you to really linger on it in comparison? In my case not that much. I usually roll my eyes and move on not thinking about the specific Yoshi song meaningfully almost at all. If I were to actualize a hypothesis from this data it might be something like 'Game design in trivia/puzzle games has to find ways for failing solutions not to feel frustrating'.
Musicle offers a bunch of genres to choose from, allowing for you to choose the difficulty of information, you can choose jazz if you know jazz etc. Then its 'tests' you to listen to a song and choose which album its from out of a selection of 4, with the full cover art of the album fully displayed. That's nothing new, that's basically an exam test format, as dreadful as those have become. The nuance is this: it does feel frusterating at all to fail an answer because the remainder from being wrong is new music to look into! This is the flavor that makes it stand out to me. In this way Musicle operates just as much as a game as an esoteric aggregation resource for learning new music. Even if I'm wrong on any guess I'm never annoyed because I'm lingering on the answer and exploring it. This is I think a nessecary distinction to make and one that makes exploring the '-dles' as more than just an internet novelty worthwhile. Wordle was not that complicated to make but highly enjoyable in its original form, I believe a large part of the spice missing is that it wasn't just a puzzle for puzzle's sake, its was gamified curiosity. While Musicle is a bit too splayed out due to its 20 genre categories to latch on as a popular phenomenon, it'll never have the same level of mass appeal, the spirit of its dynamics is still there. This is that aspect of a lot of these clones I find frusterating. Even if I have fun with Timeguessr, and find out about the picture shown is the berlin wall, there's always this lingering feeling of 'tell me more'. With a simple set of guessed words that process is obvious, but with even Geogeussr there was always this feeling that the ability to get better or have new novelty trivia is right outside my reach.
I could end my diatribe there, but allow me a further indulgence for a moment. I bring this all up because I think as I get older I've come to recognize that educational value and gamification are way more interlinked than we recognize. On my last birthday I played the interactive geometry tool called Euclidea, I was frusterated with the limits of my knowledge a lot then and how to improve with it. If you're interested, you can read it here. Well it's about a year later, my birthday is coming up again soon, and I have to be honest and say that while that game was extremely frustrating almost nothing has given such a direct interaction between authentic knowledge and progression for me since then until this game. When I was in school I was obsessed with algebra puzzles, they were so fun for me and people would often try to get me in higher maths and fail in doing so (because the school tests thought I was too stupid to handle them or whatever). Basic solving equations with neat outputs you can stack upon. Euclidea's progression system is far more linear and end goal driven than any of the -dle clones, but I'm convinced that there's more than just novelty under the surface here. I think we may as a game's culture let Trivial Pursuit speak a bit too loudly and quarantine this entire genre to novelty and vulgar pop culture. Perhaps the depth is more than just ankle deep, perhaps the informative aspect of design is only a few steps away from being resurfaced, with Balance of the Planet being the invisible progenitor to a diaspora in game information systems.