Boing Boing 

Leigh Alexander

Leigh Alexander is editor in chief of Offworld. She's also author of Breathing Machine and Clipping Through, ebooks on games, tech and identity, and recently published MONA, an illustrated moral horror short.

Avoid your job in this pleasantly oddball game

neverwork

The objective of NEVER GO TO WORK is in its title: Your alarm goes off just after 6 AM, and it's time to get to the office. Exept arriving there ends the game, and you don't really want to go to work, anyway.

You are Agenesia, disgruntled and harboring a crush on your unreliable bus driver, and your meandering takes you all over town. Anything can go wrong: I was killed by ghosts on a mini golf course, and found myself inexplicably on a riverboat. I wanted to go to the strip club, but it was closed. I kind of like the gritty caprice of Agenesia's world: The rough textures of the graphical interface, the not knowing what to expect—is my intentional avoidance of efficient bus routes going to make my lateness to work sprawl wonderfully on the digital clock before me, or will I accidentally stumble into a game-over?

Some of the opacity doesn't serve the experience though, something I don't mind saying as developer Rani Baker (who also made this buggy but nifty nostalgic rebuild of Demon's Forge, the kind of Apple IIe game that I'm weird enough to still be excited about) is still taking feedback toward a final version of the game. I have a pack of cigarettes in my inventory slot, but while clicking it sometimes takes me to a wonderful neon ritual site, at other times it gets me stuck in an endless loop. I'm not sure what it's for. I enjoy the tension between needing to keep moving and not wanting to arrive at work, but while the collague of unpredictable moments feels creative and cool, at times I wish there were a little more for me to do.

NEVER GO TO WORK is free to play in your browser. It is the latest title to be commissioned by the Interactive Fiction Fund, which aims to support both established and up-and-coming interactive fiction makers with actual money (I'm a backer; consider becoming one yourself here). The last title was Morning Rituals, a game about a Satanic Keurig machine (which we liked).

Play it now: Claw Champion Earth

clawchamp2

Oh, claw machines. Those playful, enticing toy bins we've fairly recently learned are definitely rigged to routinely thwart your desire for a new fluffy friend. Even if you study this wonderful WikiHow guide to winning crane games ("if you haven't won, repeat the process to try again"), the claw machine seems fundamentally destined to break your heart.

Until now. Plenty of video games cast you as the cool young arcade champion on the block, but never before has the cool arcade been a claw machine. In Claw Champion Earth, you battle other kids in a game of frantic, duelling prize-grabs that manage to capture everything you like about claw machines, and also everything you don't like about them, except it's still fun.

clawchamp1

It's simple to play: You and another Claw Kid, played by the computer, swing your spindly claw arms in frantic, urgent competiton, trying to grab the most prizes from the machine. What makes it really fun is that your prize, or your opponent's, can get stuck in the PRIZE AREA, meaning if you're fast enough you can swing over and pluck something right out of their winner's chute. You end up grasping hopefully for toys, whispering the same kind of no-no-no-come-on-rrgh-yes-yes-yes mantra you might mutter at the shrine of a real machine.

Claw Champion Earth, by From Smiling, was made in 72 hours for a jam called #indiesvsgamers and is free to download.

Mobile game of the week: Prune

Prune is a game so simple that its elegance becomes hard to describe. It's a game about trees stretching their limbs slowly toward the light, and how sometimes you must trim parts for the betterment of the whole.

Designer Joel McDonald describes it as "digital bonsai": With a swipe of your finger, you plant a procedurally-generated tree, which gracefully begins growing and branching; when it reaches light, then flowers blossom. Along the growth arc you can swipe to wick away lesser branches for the betterment of the whole, or to affect the shape of the tree.

On a mechanical level you want the tree to make enough flowers to quantify "success" (tiny stars in the sky resonate with each petal), but often this objective develops only a secondary importance. You are doing thoughtful aesthetic work, too: Pruning away some branches means a healthier, taller tree, but you can also create graceful silhouettes. Sometimes you are merely playing with nature to see what develops; you can zoom in to flick away even the tiniest twig, to rustle a little petal.

prune

As you progress through Prune you'll gently consider environmental factors like wind, or great looming shadows against which your tree can't thrive. It's very soothing, thanks in part to the gentle ambient soundtrack by Kyle Preston.

Prune is $2.99 on iOS.

Offworld Monday Reflection: Desert wars, desert horror, and Encarta on acid

counterstrike

Last Week on the Colony is a new, regular Monday item here on Offworld, a special satellite transmission designed to highlight our favorite Offworld stories, wonderful trends, and the stories from elsewhere in the galaxy that got us talking.

Read the rest

These cute virtual cartridges prove 'retro' is more than an aesthetic

farfin2

Quietly I believe there is a special place in hell for anyone who sees 'pixel art' or 'vintage' aesthetics and confidently declares it is 'retro'. Pixel art is just a style that can be applied to all kinds of things, sometimes to evoke an intentional nostalgic effect, sometimes not.

To me, there's a feeling about old arcade games: The weirdness, the mystery, the fact you might stumble into death several times before you even know what you're supposed to do. That feeling of intimate congress with a machine that doesn't want to hold your hand isn't something you can imitate through visuals alone—and what's more, nostalgic emblems for their own sake can be embarrassing, even grotesque.

Luckily there's this lovely little collection of virtual cartridges, made by Farfin for various game jam competitions. Each one is just a single executable, a tiny little Flash game that evokes the simplicity and opacity of the mysterious arcade games of my youth. They're just difficult enough to be engaging, and each one is full of fun surprises.

Aliens on a School Day is my favorite. It's all about controlled descent, as you play a little girl hiding underground from aliens, trying to hit checkpoints along the way. Legacy Bird is an Atari-style action game of consecutive screens, where you angle yourself against enemies in a conventional sense—but level up by meeting and falling in love with other birds on the way. "Do you love this girl?" it asks. When you say yes, the game then wants to know if you love the baby who has suddenly fallen from the sky. At ladders: "Do you love to climb?"

farfin3

Most of them, like Zolita Mansion, feel genuinely like lost Nintendo games, and playing them is like speaking a langage you haven't used in a while. Others feel just a little 'off', like Gunz & Sedanzz, where you're an office drone collecting fuel for your panicked, murderous vehicular rampage. And These Are Your Friends sees you cast as an enormous, lovely woman, flicking monsters away from the tiny pals on your dress.

The whole suite is good fun and free to download, so get each cartridge and keep them handy to try in bites.

A game about imagined conversations with your ex

squinkyconversations

Most of us do it: We imagine the conversations we'd have with an important friend or partner from years ago, now that everything's changed. You're a totally different person now than you were then, and now there's probably some things you kind of want to explain to them, lingering memories you still feel bad about, things like that.

It's such a universal human thing—of course it isn't possible to follow all threads back into our past and tie them up neatly. Sometimes it's not ethical to dredge the other person's history just so you can get a sense of closure. So the conversations we long to have with the people of our past remain theoretical, even if we can imagine them vividly, can imagine what we would expect the other person to say, what we wish they would say.

Conversations We Have in My Head is a new, simple game by whiz-of-all-trades Squinky that deals with this theoretical space. In the game, Squinky imagines some aspect of themself (a character called "Quarky") talking to an ex about (among many things) the past, their relationship with their family, and coming out as genderqueer, apparently a new development since the last time Quarky and the ex spoke. Talking to an ex, who once knew you a bit differently, about such a shift in how you identify and express yourself is its own unique circumstance, and it's fascinating to see it illustrated in a game.

squinkyconversations1

What I like about this vignette is that you play as the ex, in a sense—occasionally you have the option to interrupt the other character with phrase prompts that appear on the screen, either to respond or to ask questions. Or, you can just let them speak to you and simply listen—clearly they need to speak to you, and the desire to offer that character a compassionate or curious response is in interesting conflict with the wish not to interrupt them.

Ultimately I played Conversations We Have in My Head a few times to experiment with all the possible directions the conversation can take—which is fitting, because these kinds of things and their different possibilities often repeat gently in the mind, following their different paths. You can try it yourself for free or pay-what-you-want.

Squinky's games often focus on "gender identity, social awkwardness, and miscellaneous silliness" as themes; you can see some more of their work on their online storefront, or back their various projects via Patreon.

Play it now: The Old Man Club

oldmanclub

Michael Koloch's The Old Man Club is a good example of what games can do well: create a complex space for feeling in just a few gestures. It's a game about arm-wrestling eloquent, impossibly-brawny anthromorphs, often with fish heads, and it's a truly-clever adapation of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

Imagine Hemingway's book about the complicated, stubborn heart of a certain type of masculinity as a game—a game about testing your might versus fish-men. You arm-wrestle by clicking your mouse furiously, a particular sort of frustrating and desperate act. You can easily beat your first opponent, a gentle, gawping trout-head, lurking in the doorway of the Old Man Club, a charmingly-scribbled wood shack pinned with quaint reminders of the sea (and, grimly, fishing gear), but the next one won't be so easy, and the one after that?

You start to hunger for advancement. You are loath to back down. How much stamina have you got? I mean, psychologically?

oldmanclub1

I'd love to see more games capture literary conceits in such creative ways. The attention to quality in this very simple work really adds something extra—the smooth transitions when you click to look around the Old Man Club, the splendid, absurd character art.

Download The Old Man Club for free or pay-what-you-want.

Now you can date pigeons on almost any platform

hato

Hatoful Boyfriend, a deeply weird yet touching visual novel where you date birds, has just come out for PlayStation 4 and its attendant handheld, the Vita, so it's a good time for us to recommend it. As I write this, there is a virulent thrumming, like a sick animal growl, coming from our windowsill: It is the persistent, almost threatening coo of a local city pigeon who has decided our bird feeder is now its territory. I'm going to just go ahead and suggest you play the pigeon dating game.

If you want to know more about it, last year Laura wrote about Hatoful Boyfriend for Rock Paper Shotgun, and without spoiling anything she digs into the genuinely-subversive elements of the game, aspects that have fun at the expense of the visual novel format, its tropes and conventions. Just when you think you have mastered all the conceits of bird-dating, something unexpected happens.

If you don't have a PlayStation platform you can check out Hatoful Boyfriend on Steam, and you can get a free demo here.

That pigeon is still outside. It is starting to frighten me. This isn't a joke.

This subtle desert horror fiction will haunt you

chyrza

At first, CHYRZA is gently-transfixing because of everything it allows: Using the keyboard you traverse a slow meditation across an enormous desert, silhouetted by structures you naturally investigate. These towers of dark blood-colored marble have floating stairs, or pendant-like elevators moving slowly in space, and you worry about falling. You worry about your movements and your timing.

But you need not. The things that you think are impossible are possible; you plummet harmlessly toward the sand, and you can, sometimes, traverse air. The world of ruins, lit by the iridescent light of an uncanny, sulfur-colored moon, becomes a sort of idle playground, and you naturally find yourself collecting little green crystals along the way. Each one is a fragment of a strange memoir, murmured by a wood-smooth but sepulchral voice against the desert air. Once you've heard a little of the voice's story—it concerns the stark, angular pyramid that contrasts oddly against the soft sand hillocks of the skyline— you start to fear the ending.

The last game we played by CHYRZA's developer, Kitty Horrorshow, was Hornets, an elegantly-written text game about the aftermath of some dread ritual, where you see the blood-slick bodies of oddly docile giant hornets as you trawl a beautiful ruined city. That same juxtaposition of beautiful, near-religious mystery against the slow dread of unknown darkness is also present in CHYRZA, and brings you to a genuinely-jarring conclusion. chyrza1

CHYRZA is not a new work; Kitty Horrorshow recommended I try it after I declared on Twitter that Offworld likes to fly in the face of traditional video game websites by refusing to discover and rediscover things just because they are not brand-new. Fittingly, CHYRZA flies in the face of traditional video games—like a hot underworld chant, it creeps up on you slowly. It even comes with a WARNING readme file, lest it make its way into your world without your knowledge. I played it on a low-spec laptop and felt the keys begin to burn hot as I approached the (short) game's climax. It was awesome.

CHYRZA, Hornets and numerous other Kitty Horrorshow games are available on her storefront for free or pay-what-you-want.

These surreal, unforgettable little works will expand your concept of 'games'

sluggishmors2

I'm often nostalgic for the graphics of the mid 1990s -- those bold, dark shapes juxtaposed against soft, staticky textures, limned in herky-jerky flourescent flickers like migraine auras. In music video interstitials, alternately morbid and comic late-night animated shorts, and in darkly cryptic portals to primitive net art websites, arresting collisions of photographic clippings would pile fluidly on top of goggle-eyed cartoons, or smudges of claymation and smoke.

At first, the last few years' short, surreal works of game maker Jack King-Spooner, who combines textured film footage with digital art and photography, put me in mind of that loved bygone era. His game Vessel, a short poem about automation, adoption and suicide (take care of your own limits), has an almost gothic AEon Flux quality as it references the burdensome condition of being a tool in a system.

King-Spooner's Sluggish Morss: A Delicate Time in Space is richer still, mysterious in the way after-midnight grunge era cartoons longed to be but were never delicate enough to manage. It is part of a trilogy, but I cannot tell which part. You are Widok, a woman plagued by flickering photorealistic premonitions that maybe have to do with the great mathematics of existence; you ride the Sluggish Morss, an interdimensional craft that plays host to an unexpected expression of id.

sluggishmors3

Your universe is watched over by a disturbing quilt of multilingual infant heads; some of the characters are portrayed by photographs so plausible they could be the Facebook profile pictures of the creator's real-world friends, and others are inconsequential smudges of shadow or light. These background actors offer profound existential provocations or theories ("nostalgia creates laws").

I'm not sure whether my favorite part of the game is a long, bubble-like radiant elevator where a formless sort of tapir sings me solemn questions, lets me choose the solemnly-sung replies, or the part where an unfinished Barbie-like figure chants the words to Beyonce's "Halo" as Widok and her friend wonder at the origin of music, of their very lives. Maybe it's the eyestrain maze of shimmering black and white lines, where a needed four-digit code becomes audible in the music the closer you navigate to a serene, open-mouthed head at the maze's center.

It sounds like the kind of thing that wants to be weird for weirdness' sake. The works of the 1990s that King-Spooner's aesthetics recall certainly did often traffic in that kind of cynicism, that deliberate grotesquerie. But this is not like that at all: there is somehow absolutely nothing pretentious about King-Spooner's games. They are surprisingly straightforward and accessible to play, their fragments fusing and shimmering together to make an easy, dream-logic kind of sense.

sluggishmors4

From bluesy guitar hums to interstellar electronica he seems to do most, if not all of the music himself. The language is plain and truthful, and something about the use of real photography, or the humble sound of computer voice effects (that often provide canny cover for King-Spooner's own Scottish accent) feels wonderfully vulnerable and intimate.

King-Spooner's Blues for Mittavinda feels handmade. The knobbled, shiny clay textures of its people are startling and lonesome on top of cowboy scribbles on wood-colored paper; they sit like toys on the photorealistic concrete and sand textures, the gentle pulsing of smoke and tumbleweed.

Blues for Mittavinda is the gentlest and most straightforward work among the King-Spooner games I've tried over the years, and even then it's given to dreaming—like when you're forced, for a few soothing moments, to inhabit the body of an incongruous bright tropical fish right after a fisherman alludes to the value of being present in the moment.

The common fact of your curiosity as a player, your compulsion to answer certain questions, gently marks you as a person who can't accept death or chaos. Blues for Mittavinda ends stunningly, with a fourth wall-breaking guided meditation on the raw, immediate sensation of existence, probably the best such meditation on being present I've ever tried. You should try it, too.

mittavinda

Jack King-Spooner's vulnerable, generous, small games help remind me of why I like to work in games, to be frank, and I think they illustrate just how easy it is to take an instant and fall in love with the expressive potential of this medium. I was prompted to revisit and to gather some thoughts on these works now because his computer has up and died, which means he can't make games any more, and he's selling a donation-based bundle to help raise money for a new machine to create with. According to this interview he has created some twenty-two vignette games already.

I highly recommend you download the Jack in the Box collection for five bucks (or suggested donation); the few games I've mentioned here are already free for you to try, but as the collection includes King-Spooner's other works and his soundtracks, and as your purchase supports his further designs, it's worth considering anyway.

Try gay orc dating with Tusks: The Orc Dating Simulator

orcdating

If you have ever thought of being a male orc adventuring, traveling and bonding with all kinds of other male orcs, then Mitch Alexander's Tusks: The Orc Dating Simulator is for you. It's a really clever and enchanting premise that makes "orc society" feel like a real thing.

Alexander (no relation to me) has just released a free preview of Tusks, which lets you experience your first day among the Orcs as you travel through a sort of mythical Scotland, introduces the characters you can meet and romance, and even features a randomized Scottish name generator. I thought it was tenderly-conceived as a visual novel, lovingly-written and I really like the characters so far (there is also a boar and a selkie). There's also an "autonomous NPC" feature—the characters can make some decisions on their own regardless of your wishes—that I'm excited to see implemented.

I'm not a gay man, but my colleague Todd Harper is, and in his response piece he found Tusks and its diversity of bodies and ideals alleviating and welcoming, in an aesthetic climate that often prioritizes "a parade of... 'wax dolphins'":

Does this mean the final game can’t possibly upset me? Of course not. It might. But if it does, it will be a surprise, not the fulfillment of a prophecy. And that’s an infinitely more welcome situation than the last however knows how many fucking years of seeing “a gay [x]” and then having it utterly confirm everything about gay culture that I hate and which has hurt me.

Thus, to this I say: bring on the fucking orcs. In every possible reading of that sentence.

orcdating2

Heck yeah! Fucking orcs!

Lose yourself in this trippy, existential interactive picturebook

enough4

Something about ENOUGH, a web-based story experience by Cabbibo, brings me right back to the mystery and magic of the early web. Your mouse leaves a glittering contrail in the shifting dark; subterranean life forms follow your pointer, and pearled marinelife pulses and sings in response to your touch.

The creator says ENOUGH is an effort to capture the vitality and wonderment they experienced reading picture books as a child, and that comes through: The "pages" are alive, their laws of dimension and gravity slowly shifting before your eyes, objects rising from the surface as if in a dream. As you follow the story of a creature trying to find her purpose in an abstract marine universe, sound, light and visuals unite in harmony.

enough

People will use the word "trippy" about just about anything that suggests pretty colors and metaphysics, but fans of psychedelia in particular will relate to the slow transitions, the spiritual rhythm of the storytelling, and the sense of awe that gently haloes every page. "Pages" are little more than a concept, anyway. For me, the whorled iridescent shapes, the delightful sense of experimentation as luminescent anemones follow my mouse, remind me of falling into the heart of the software of my childhood, some acid-dipped Microsoft Encarta CD-ROM.

enough3

Experience ENOUGH for free in a browser tab, though you really ought to let it full-screen and wear headphones for the optimal immersive effect. The creator, who calls ENOUGH "the best project of my small life", is on Twitter.

Medical science and creepy conspiracy collide in this futuristic diagnosis game

Border control simulation Papers, Please may have launched a whole mini-genre of games where emotional conflict and narrative emerges from your repetition of detail-intensive bureaucratic tasks. S.O.R.S (it stands for "Spatially Offset Raman Spectography") takes this inspiration and creates a weird but unique sci-fi world around diagnostic equipment.

If you love medical simulation games (and I have since I was a kid!) you'll find some of the basics appealing: Learn to watch for symptoms, interact with patients, and access a toolset of diagnostic tools that gets ever more elaborate as you succeed as a doctor. But the narrative wrapper around the game is interesting: "the earth's population has grown to the point where mankind has expanded upwards, living in ever-growing skyscrapers, and criminals are sent to live on floating solar-powered ships in the sky." Each work day you get new and sometimes puzzling instructions, and occasionally, mysterious emails from people who warn that things are not all that they seem at your job.

sors

S.O.R.S. has been Greenlit on Steam, but you can still play a free demo for Windows or Mac here.

Games excel at teaching systems and at getting people to perform repetitive labor—like when you 'grind' for points and money, or when you repeat a puzzle in Alphabear so you can level up your bears. That's why these subversive storytelling techniques can be lots of fun, prompting us to question all the things we do just because we're told, and to think about what kinds of authorities we trust in (Portal became an instant classic because of this, obviously, and The Stanley Parable is another popular example).

Offworld Monday roundup: Empathy, criticism and being filthy in the shower

Her-Story-Screenshot-Desktop-B This roundup is a new, regular Monday item here on Offworld, a special satellite transmission designed to highlight our favorite Offworld stories, wonderful trends, and the stories from elsewhere in the galaxy that got us talking.

We're such big fans of Sam Barlow's Her Story; we've been interested in it since I did this interview with Barlow back around the time Offworld launched. The game's seen some backlash from the worst sort of people for all the best sort of reasons: Its familiar computer-search interface means anyone can play it, you're just supposed to, like, read and listen instead of, like, shoot things, and, worst of all, it's a game about a woman.

I think one of the biggest problems there is in the conversation around games these days is that nobody is allowed not to like something, or to be critical of it. That's a problem in general on the internet, of course, but I think it's amplified through (shudder) "geek culture", where people often identify very strongly and very personally with media franchises. Any critique is "hating on", "slamming" or "disrespecting", and we can't have nuanced conversations about important things like, I dunno, sexism or racism in our media because everyone is so loath to hear what they perceive as "hate", so infuriated at the supposed "creative censorship" that they think is going to take place when people even gently critique something.

This is especially frustrating for people like us who believe discussion is the best way to love something, that critique is respect, and that just because you're saying something like "dang this game is really, really super white and I want to talk about that", it doesn't mean you think the game is garbage and should be edited to your specifications and that people who like it should feel guilty and that everything in the world needs to be tailored explicitly toward your comfort.

diversity

Laura really loved playing Her Story, thinks it's a brilliant game, and would like to play it again. But a conversation she had with one of our mutual friends piqued her interest in writing about whether its storycraft leaned on a harmful trope. Read that feature here; there is a spoiler warning before the spoilers begin, so just stop there if you'd like. I'm really proud to have Laura building Offworld with me, and this piece is a great example of why: She models how to love something and still feel conflicted about some aspect of it, to talk about that conflict without diminishing affection for the larger work.

I was surprised at some of the response, though. Even folks I would have expected to be joyfully participating in this larger conversation we're having about nuance in criticism responded via social media and in comments to let us know that Laura's article was "wrong" because there are multiple theories of the story, and another one may be more correct. Without spoiling anything, there's definitely some ambiguity to the story, and those variant possibilities act as a plot device. Even if one theory is ultimately a red herring, it's still being used, and it still deserves to be examined. Anyway, super proud of Laura, and to be a place that publishes work where we can have interesting and complicated discussions about media, even ones without a "right answer".

On a related note, if Her Story is your first acquaintance with Sam Barlow's work, or if you just know him from the awesome Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, you must play his groundbreaking, classic work of interactive fiction, Aisle.

cloudstrife

In other Offworld features, Laura digs through the noise and pomp of San Diego Comic-Con to find ten genuinely-neat bits of news for comics fans at a time when the comics themselves often get overshadowed by big budget entertainment franchise announcements.

We know you've been just aching inside because there's only so far one can read back from our home page at Offworld.com, but clicking "more" (or bookmarking this link will now allow you to read back our last 50 (!!) features.

Ever since the Final Fantasy VII remake was announced, there's been a lot of social media dialogue on how the remake, which looks vivid and serious, would handle the game's odder and more colorful notes—in particular, a classic sequence where Cloud has to crossdress, mostly for comedic effect. Sarah Nyberg explores the issue for us, offering a personal reflection on her own complex memories of the scene, and some tools for folks to better understand and discuss this type of sequence (it helps to understand who, and what issue, is actually the butt of the joke, she writes).

Offworld Games

We've got two works by Loren Schmidt (Star Guard) this week: A unique and fascinating "moth generator" they made with artist Katie Rose Pipkin, and the Lynchian "red-hued glitch dream" Strawberry Cubes.

sbc

Thanks to Steven Lavelle's Shower Game, you might never feel clean again. And just in time for Season 2 of Bojack Horseman, here is a game about being a horse (who functions as a bank robber). As a reminder, our Play It Now tag takes you straight to quick, free (or donation-based) games you can play instantly in your browser with no friction or special skillz, so it's a good perma-bookmark to save for your lunch breaks and idle moments.

Transmissions from Elsewhere

Designer and critic Mattie Brice looks at ways she might implement game design sensibilities to help with the often confusing and complicated power dynamics of kinky group play parties. It's always exciting to see game design principles enter the event and performance space, and this is an area where I think it must be particularly under-utilised.

Not games

In this genuinely-fascinating interview, Jon Ronson decides to try to get to know the widely-loathed inflammatory talking-head Katie Hopkins. His work lately often sees him attempting earnestly to empathize with people society has decided are beyond deserving it, like psychopaths, or people who say racist things on Twitter and are then pilloried.

I like Ronson's work a lot, and this isn't only because he actually wrote back to a "thanks for your book" email that I wrote him last year (this is impressive because I, an exponentially less-famous and less-relevant writer, can't be bothered to answer most of my emails). It reminds me of when Louis Theroux goes to someplace like the Westboro Baptist Church to search for some humanity in the people there— this type of journalism is as interesting to me because of my own thoughts and reactions as it is because of the journalist's. It's interesting to notice my own temptation to want to remove someone's humanity, because they've done something I find loathsome.

I think Ronson has gotten some criticism for his book on public shaming; I've often seen floating around on social media the accusation that he felt too sorry for the public figures who said the stupid things and received consequences for them, and not sorry enough for the marginalized folks who are systemically harmed when powerful people casually say stupid things. Although that is a valid criticism, I don't really get that from his work—when he speaks to people like Justine Sacco or Katie Hopkins I never get the sense that he thinks what they said or did was unimportant or okay. I think he just wants to use examples like Sacco's to talk about humanity and forgiveness. Just to talk about it, and I'm drawn toward that approach as a media critic who often does want to just talk about things without being accused of taking a position or desiring some material outcome or redress from the creative works I'm talking about.

The main thing I disagree with when I read Ronson's book on public shaming is his categorization of "mob justice"—I think that conceptualization of internet-punishment implies an organization that isn't present. There's a major tenet of Twitter that only starts to dawn on you once you manage volume at scale, and it's that most people have no idea that to you they are just one of potentially-infinite identical voices. That's why when you tell a joke, you'll get 20 variations on the same "helpful addition" to your joke (mostly if you are a woman, because women can't tell jokes on Twitter without men helping them).

These people do not realize they are a "mob". They each think they are special, and that they are having a wonderful one to one conversation with the figures they follow. When I try to tell people on Twitter their presumed intimacy is inappropriate, or that they're just one of a hundred people trying to perform the same not especially unique behavior, they're almost offended, they feel rejected, why use social media if you don't want to be social, Ms. Alexander?

Or the reverse: They actually assume their comment won't be read, that the person is too remote, that this is a safe and generally harmless way for them to vent something at you. In my experience being targeted by the little keyboard-lords of GamerGate, the latter is true more often than not: These are not often people gloating over someone whose power they believe they have stolen; they are people who feel inherently powerless, throwing tiny stones at someone they assume cannot feel them anyway.

I do worry that Ronson's ambiguous characterization of "mobs" doesn't account for this principle, and as such risks grouping actual highly-organized harassment campaigns—which do happen on social media, and which mostly target marginalized people—into the same category of befuddling retaliatory "justice."

Anyway. I still think the Katie Hopkins interview is super interesting work; you could argue it's sort of irresponsible to try to empathize with a person whose opinions basically constitute hate speech, but the picture of the person that results is so sad, so deeply pitiful, that all it does, for me, is deflate her hatred, take its power away, reveal it for the flailing it is.

Play it now: You Are A Horse

horse2

Does the genre of 'animals who mingle in society as if they are people' have a name? Like, let's say there's an octopus just kind of walking around being a dad, and no one knows he's an octopus? Or there's this horse who used to play a dad on TV, and now he's retired, but he's still a horse hanging out in his Hollywood mansion?

You Are A Horse is a Twine game where you are a horse. Who robs a bank. The game, by Colin Spacetwinks, promises "multiple endings, several jokes, and pulse pounding, heart stopping, reading text and clicking links only action!", and it has a playful sense of humor. I love animals just kind of being people.

Pixeljunk Eden's Baiyon to direct his own romantic adventure game

musealone

Tomohisa "Baiyon" Kuramitsu is best known for his work as art and sound director on PixelJunk Eden, a distinctive and unforgettable abstract flow puzzle (one of my personal favorites). Now, the popular Kyoto-based multimedia artist is directing his own game for the first time.

Baiyon's upcoming project, MUSE: Together is the New Alone is a "romantic adventure" about a boy trying to wake a sleeping girl by collecting pieces of her life. "I was eager to create a video game with the theme of love where you can step into my mind's nostalgic scenery," he tells me. "I am not sure why, perhaps I am getting older, but I started to feel that I want to express my inner world."

"My main theme is 'to project the incompleteness of humanity and beauty of fluctuation within the digital logic of a video game', and that shapes sound and visual creation and story telling," he says.

musealone1

MUSE aims to release sometime next year on PlayStation 4 and PSVita. We don't normally post game announcements here on Offworld unless it's something you can imminently play, but we're curious about this one—you can see a little more of the concept and subscribe to the mailing list at the official website.

Procedurally-generated moths are wonderfully haunting, plausible

mothgen1

There's something striking and lawless about the bodies of moths, isn't there? Their patterns of howling eyes, bark-like patterns, haloes of bright, thin hair seem almost accidental, like fractals gone all wrong. Now, a new procedural generation bot pays tribute to the morbid maths of moths, and it's compelling.

Poet and artist Katie Rose Pipkin and multi-talented game maker Loren Schmidt (their stark, demanding 'retro'-style work Star Guard was an Independent Games Festival design finalist) have collaborated on Moth Generator (lepidoptera automata, of course). It makes moths, tweets and names them.

mothgen2

A dark sort of beauty wings out of such a simple idea: Sometimes there is one tiny pearlite body pinned to a slate-gray scientific sheet, and at other times, it manifests a whole board with a array of spectacular forms pinned side by side. You feel lots like you're wandering the collection of some mad biologist, skirting the line between artifice and nature. Follow @mothgenerator on Twitter to watch the dusty, incandescent life forms unfold.

mothgen3

If you like the project, you can buy Katie Rose Pipkin's work on itch.io, or support Loren Schmidt's ongoing work via Patreon.