Boing Boing 

Weird dinosaurs, haberdashery and second-kills

anatomic1 Our Monday reflection is a regular weekly 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. Sign up here to receive this digest each week via email—it's a great way to avoid missing anything.

Latest Features

Daniel Starkey previously wrote for Offworld about an American Indian pen and paper roleplaying game, and last week he re-joined us with something more serious: The story of how as a poor child, software piracy offered him a way out of the cultural desert and into experiences he wouldn't have been able to have otherwise. Although obviously nobody endorses pirating games, for some people it's that or nothing—the piece provoked a lot of discussion, but as far as I'm concerned, if you think a poor child should never have gotten to play Deus Ex we probably can't hang out.

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Games are apparently impacting Chinese culture in a big way, and Christina Xu came to Offworld to teach us Chinese phrases taken from the games world (can't handle a cute pop singer? your "blood trough is running empty"). It's really really interesting! Special thanks to Laura Hudson for working with last week's feature writers to bring these pieces to us.

Offworld Games

I love the work of Nathalie Lawhead, and her jittery, sentient Anatomically Incorrect Dinosaurs is part grotesque archaeology sim, part funny narrative experience. You absolutely gotta try it. My other favorite of last week was Sophie Houlden's Dusk Child, a mysterious and sharply-designed PICO-8 game. If you're new to PICO-8, we also covered a cool new fanzine devoted to the web-based microconsole, and it has some great contributors. You can download a digital version for free.

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Laura enjoyed Regency Love, a Jane Austen-style dating sim with tea and haberdashery and other Jane Austen stuff. The creators reportedly were playing Dragon Age games and wondered what it would be like to replace everyone with Mr. Darcy and all of those guys. I don't know actually, I'm not a big Jane Austen fan (although Regency Solitaire has been one of my favorite games of the year).

Transmissions from elsewhere

In the wonderful ZEAL zine, Robert Yang (you may remember we loved his dick pic game, Cobra Club and his car sex game, Stick Shift) writes about getting gay married, Ovid, bodies, keyframe animation and ragdoll physics. It's a great piece on body performances in games and the tech we use to create them, viewed through a wider social lens.

Not games

The new Destroyer record is streaming on most music sites. I was crying about something over the weekend, so I put it on, pulled the duvet over my head and had a good satisfying mope to the violins on the opening track. THEN SUDDENLY there's all these saxophones on track two, and my goddamn mope was ruined, but that's okay, because the record is really good.

That's all we have for this week's reflection; of course, that's not everything we did in the last week, just the things I'm still thinking lots about. As always, go to Offworld directly to see the gentle, loving face of the modern games space, with no gunmetal gray, no DLC, no bros, no energy drinks and nothing but cool weird things made by cool weird people and you belong.

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Offworld Monday reflection: Now with one hundred percent more digital plants

o-ihs5 Our Monday reflection is a regular weekly 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. Sign up here to receive this digest each week via email—it's a great way to avoid missing anything.

Latest Features

Juliet Kahn's debut feature at Offworld is an exploration of the different ways boys and girls tend to be socialized around video games. Interestingly, it takes the shape of a dialogue with her sister, who confidently explains that while there are exceptions to the rule, most girls she knows have internalized all kinds of messages about who games are really intended for. Lots of women I know had a similar story: They loved games as adolescents and young teens, but grew apart from them as they grew up, while boys entrenched.

An exceptional video murder mystery called Contradiction: Spot the Liar set me off on a reminiscence on the "FMV" era of games: You know, live actors and filmic techniques to often dubious effects. Fundamentally I think an arbitrary quest for "realism" or "more Hollywood" often results in some wrong turns for game design, but the endlessly charming and funny Contradiction captures everything we love about that weird lobe of history and none of the worst bits.

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Offworld games

Oh my god, we had so many games about nature. It was, like, nature week at Offworld. Do you like gardening? You can do it with a soda-powered jetpack underground, on a sunless alien planet, or with a cute ghost. Calmly re-assemble the pieces of a broken pot as you reflect on your life. Calmly soar on the wind as a flock of birds. Calmly die in a lurid forest.

You are one of us, now. Here is some creepy stuff to do with Sonic the Hedgehog, in case you ever miss the boring, old kind of video game.

Transmissions from elsewhere

The friendly crew of board game clowns at Shut Up & Sit Down recently returned from GenCon, a great big board game convention in Indiana. You know, I love board game conventions, because I have the liberty of only optionally working in physical games when I feel like it. I attended the UK Board Game Expo after a particularly stressful week of video game assholes on Twitter, and it was like a balm: A room full of earnest folks in World War II costumes, men in top hats really eager for you to try the card game they drew about pirate rabbits, and people trying to build tiny scaffolds with colorful cranes tied to their heads (a real game that I forget the name of). I often find people at board game conventions to be more sociable than the ones at video game things, probably because if board game fans weren't good at getting along face to face they wouldn't have anybody to play with.

You should totally watch this GenCon video, because it's incredibly funny and I'm really proud of my friends and colleagues Quinns, Matt and Pip for doing such a good job sharing the heart and spirit of the board game fandom. And also because I sing a jingle halfway through.

And speaking of playing in person, Hannah Nicklin has a wonderful piece on the work of Holly Gramazio, a designer who genuinely understands the universality of play, doesn't seem to be really bothered with the insistent designations that "video games" place upon designed interaction.

I am friends with everybody I just recommended you read/watch. It is one year on from "GamerGate" and I now have my own video game website I use to celebrate the work of the people I like and whom I think have accomplished interesting things. Nyah, nyah, I won.

Not Games

Photo by Ian Hughes [via]

Photo by Ian Hughes [via]

Hayley Campbell's work at BuzzFeed often involves photos of death masks and naked skeletons and skin carpets and scary things like that (I think she is winning too), but the latest photo gallery she posted contains some absolutely wonderful cruise ship photos from the 1990s, left behind by partygoers who never retrieved their branded memorabilia. The photographs, taken by Ian Hughes, are especially great at capturing the thing I imagine is awkward about cruises: You must have fun; you may not exit the watercraft. You are with these people for the duration.

Hayley also challenges us to remember all the women Lou Bega likes in his 1999 earworm "Mambo No. 5". I forgot Pamela. Try not to forget Pamela.

Offworld Monday reflection: Chimes, specimens and Tinder

Zoe Vrabel (center). Photo: Robert Hamilton

Zoe Vrabel (center). Photo: Robert Hamilton

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. Sign up here to receive this digest each week via email—it's a great way to avoid missing anything.

Latest Features

Laura visits Belles and Chimes, an Oakland-based pinball league that's only for women. It's a fascinating look inside a unique sport, and why women's participation is ramping up in a historically male-dominated play space—my favorite is the part about how the competition isn't so much between you and the other players as it is between you and the finicky machine, how well you can get to know it.

It's hard for me to believe that with incidents of police violence against black Americans in the news almost-continuously, myths persist about who's responsible for inequality—many people would rather credit any other factor than racism, lest they have to help change the world, change themselves. When designer Akira Thompson saw that friends and colleagues around him didn't quite "get it" (why do there need to be riots? Why can't everyone just behave differently?), he decided to design a game experience aimed at putting players in the shoes of a poor black American in his own neighborhood, facing constant aggressions against his dignity and safety, and how that intersects with confrontations with the police.

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I think it's an amazing example of what games can do—helping us understand systems from new perspectives by putting us inside them. One of the interesting choices Thompson made in the design of the game is to ensure that only the player acting as The System can hold the rulebook or roll the dice. Chilling. Read my interview with Thompson about his work and the feelings that led to it. You can also follow the Spawn on Me podcast to hear Akira Thompson interviewed on an upcoming episode.

We took a look back at board games for girls from the 1960s up through the 80s. Most of them feature panting children grabbing at portraits of men in suits or pretend credit cards for pretend shopping sprees. It's really creepy and weird.

Offworld Games

In Wanderment, you play a cat searching for home, using not sight but a sort of comet-tail light echolocation. It's beautiful. We also spotlighted Litterateur, a print-and-play word game made with fans of Alphabear in mind (from what you tell us we have created a lot of Alphabear fans)!

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But nothing's really caught fire in my social circle lately like Specimen, last week's mobile game of the week. It's essentially a color-matching test, and you wouldn't think that would grab you so hard, but bear with me. It's juicy, colorful and a pleasure from a visual design standpoint, and is at times genuinely difficult in the precise kind of way that makes you doubt your own physiology. You feel betrayed by your eyes. What's more, Specimen is free because it's part of an experiment about how the human eyes see color. How neat an idea is that?

Connor Sherlock designs really unique, moody game spaces, and we looked at a few of them. I often enjoy the fact of exploring them so much that I forget to be 'playing a video game', but there is play hiding gently in Sherlock's works. You know. If you like that kind of thing.

Transmissions from Elsewhere

Jon Blyth laments the time he's wrung into the impossibly compelling Clicker Heroes, a "game" which stole my life for long months. I remember that time; it was a year ago, not long after my friend Zoe had sent me a message on Facebook. She was wondering if she should be worried about some weird blog post from her creepy ex, and I told her, like, nah, don't worry, probably no one is going to care and nothing is going to happen. I'm great at advice. Anyway, the computer felt radioactive to me and a lot of my colleagues for the next few months, so I played Clicker Heroes. I recommend it. Kind of.

Not Games

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Vanity Fair's big piece on "Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse" is a transfixing read, at least, although there is an anticipated dash of technology paranoia and concern-trolling women's sexual agency therein. Although I got myself into a serious 'relaish' just around the time Tinder began to rise in popularity and as such never used it, all my friends in New York do. Sometimes I'd grab the phone and use it "for" someone, swiping left and right in accordance with either my own preferences or what I thought would be "good" for them, depending on the day. Someone I know is even quoted in the article.

The weird thing is that while most single people I know are on Tinder, I've not seen the same mercenary "different girl every night" attitude that the interviewees in the profile express. People Tinder out of curiosity, out of a sense of possibility, but if they aren't big casual sex fans, Tinder doesn't "make them". The article puts forth Tinder as some kind of vehicle for failed intimacy, when in fact I think it's just sort of a symptom—tech not as a great destroyer, but instead a tool that makes it more convenient for people to be the way they are anyway.

I think there is, absolutely, an intimacy problem in New York, though. The thing where no one is ever really "together" (even if they live together for months, as with one of my pals) is true. The power differential between men and women that the article suggests (albeit maybe in extreme examples) is real. I guess when you get a lot of over-educated, under-employed people with generally very liberal politics together on a tiny, stressful island, nobody is thinking about confidently riding over the horizon with the future parent of their children, or whatever. Everyone is anxiously re-negotiating roles. It's not a good place to fall in love, I don't think, app or no app.

Remember when Gita Jackson and Maxwell Neely-Cohen reviewed Tinder as if it were a game? I liked that.

IN HAPPIER NEWS: You absolutely must follow the UK Sylvanian Families Twitter feed. Remember Sylvanian Families? Yes you do. Go look at the pictures. Isn't that better?

That's all we have for this week: If you don't already, subscribe so that you get this missive each week to your inbox without fail. We really want to keep in touch with you. And don't forget to send your favorite Offworld features, little games and other links to friends, even the ones who don't play video games. We aim to populate the universe with the idea that games are for everybody.

Offworld Monday Reflection: Living card games, white whales and digital bonsai trees

problembraid

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. Sign up here to receive this digest each week via email—it's a great way to avoid missing anything.

Latest Features

Offworld was home to several wonderful features from visiting writers last week, including Kim Nguyen and her look at Netrunner, a living card game set in a dystopian future—and packed with diverse characters. Nguyen examines why the player base isn't quite as inclusive at the characters and lore of the game, and and how some members of its community are working to change it.

Meanwhile, game developer Liz Ryerson wrote a deeply personal reflection on her evolving relationship with Jon Blow's puzzle platform game Braid, and how it influenced her and the creation of her own game, Problem Attic.

prune

Offworld Games

As usual, we found plenty of games to play, like Prune, an elegant "digital bonsai" experience where you carefully trim the branches of a tree as it grows towards the light. We were also fond of Pequod, a Moby Dick inspired game where you star as the ship-destroying white whale, and a suite of digital cartridges that evoke the strangeness and mystery of old arcade games.

Leigh also spotlighted the battling crane game simulator Claw Champion Earth, a game about dead virtual pets, the typing RPG Secret of Qwerty, and Never Go to Work, a delightful Twine game about desperately avoiding your job.

Transmissions from Elsewhere

Patricia Hernandez pointed us at a terrifying creepypasta tale about a haunted arcade, while Mark Serrels talked about the joy of multiplayer games like Splatoon and Rocket League where the stakes are lower, and maybe it's even ok to suck a little bit.

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Not Games

While I might make my permanent residence at Offworld, I still make regular trips outside the colony to write at other sites; one of my recent articles at WIRED delves into the controversy currently roiling in the comic book industry around racial representation and appropriation. It's a complex but important conversation, and one that's equally applicable to a lot of other industries.

I was also particularly moved last week by a piece on Salon titled "Yes, it’s possible to be queer and Muslim" by a woman named Lamya. "My queerness and my Muslimness are too deeply woven for me to choose between them, to see them as mutually exclusive," she writes. "I don’t need an Imam to tell me this, to tell me that I can find comfort and joy in both."

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mobile game of the week: Alphabear

I ended up having a fight—like, very nearly a real fight and not a play-fight—with my boyfriend over the iPad just a few days ago. The reason was Alphabear, a bright, bouncy playful word game where you collect bears.

He had used my bears. So uncool.

Alphabear, by Spry Fox (you know about Triple Town, right)? is a game where you spell the best words you can out of tiles on a screen, where each tile is worth points. If you clear tiles that are next to each other, big, adorable square bears (designed by Brent Kobayashi) appear, and clearing further tiles around the bears' perimiter makes them expand, sometimes into comic oblongs if that's all the space they have.

The bears add a bit of extra consideration to the mechanic of just Scrabble-ing for words—you want to work with their shapes. As you play, you collect more cute bears, each with its own little "power" that you can use during levels—score bonuses, extra points for certain letters, things like that. Furthermore, letters don't hang around forever. If you don't use them when they turn red, they next turn to stone, impossible to clear, and barring further bear expansion.

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It's actually a complex and deep enough design that it's not easy to explain but you grok it immediately. You're always balancing several goals in interesting ways: Grow bears, clear red letters, make high-scoring words, make long words, use the right multipliers, keep control of the board space. Before you know it you're completely hooked, collecting panda bears, pirate bears, ghost bears, bears in dog costumes, bears of all kinds. Every day brings different kinds of challenges, some short and timed, others long and leisurely. There's a cute social media component, too, as bears you use will volunteer cute nonsense-tweets based on the words you've spelled (it's funny on its own, but it subtly lets you show off how good your words are). It's also resulted in some funny #Alphabear hashtag confusion on Instagram.

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Alphabear is basically free to play, but if you don't buy "honey", one of the game's currencies, you end up having to wait before you can play new levels. You can watch ads to gain honey, or pay $3.99 to never have to worry about that wait again (my verdict is that it's definitely worth a few bucks for how much and how often I've ended up playing). Your special bears need cool-down time too, so you can't just pile on your fanciest bonuses constantly (unless you spend real money on pretend coins, which I haven't felt the need to do).

This payment system is, I think, maybe a little more fricative than is common these days, but isn't prohibitive; it has the pleasant side effect of making each round of Alphabear feel more like a treat, something worth waiting for and looking forward to. The game's main downside is that it's cloud-dependent—in other words, you can't play offline, a real bummer for people who do most of their mobile playing on airplanes and subways. Dan Cook, chief creative officer of Spry Fox, said the team tried to make it work but was unable.

I also wish it allowed for separate player accounts, so, say, two people in a household could do their own progress separately and not use each other's bears. Because that is so uncool. If you're reading this, I hope you wouldn't do that to me anyone.

The 5 best uses of a cell phone in video games

One of the coolest little tricks video games can pull is when they drop familiar real-world communication devices into the virtual space—there's something a little special about seeing an interface effectively brought to life inside an interface.

Lots of video games have mobile phones in them, but we think the best use of mobile phones in games (I really want to type 'cell phones', as some of these are definitely 'cell phones') comes from when they make us think about our relationship to those devices and the ways they are used. Here are our personal favorites:

Magical Maiden Madison

By Christine Love (Play here free) madison

Lots of girls from our generation grew up on magical girl transformation anime like Sailor Moon. Christine Love's Magical Maiden Madison is a brief, humorous game that scrubs off the patina of slow-drifting sparkles and rose backgrounds to examine what it might actually be like for a modern girl to be in those kinds of situations. The main interface, Madison's mobile phone, plays a key role in that modern imagining, a vehicle for teen emotes and shorthand as she talks with her friend Amy about her latest battle of the week—and everything that would entail. There was no texting on Sailor Moon; everyone had to talk to each other through "cosmetic pens" or something. I mean, I don't remember.

Cobra Club

By Robert Yang (Play here free)

(Read what we had to say about it) cobraclub

Cell phone cameras have doubtless massively democratized the dick pic, and Robert Yang's Cobra Club explores the issues of privacy, government surveillance and consent through this strangely vulnerable work that takes place in the uncomfortable light of your mom's bathroom mirror. It's inspired in part by that memorable conversation between John Oliver and Edward Snowden: Who can see our dick pics? Will that be the question by which we'll finally fully engage Americans in the surveillance conversation? How can we reclaim our dick pics from the government eye?

The selfie is often-discussed as a way for people, particularly young women, to regain control of their image; Yang's Cobra Club reminds us that when we wield a phone camera, we stand both to gain and lose all kinds of power.

SMS Racing

By Turbo Button (Coming to VR platforms later this year, play browser version here free)

(Read what we had to say about it)

It's hard to tell people they shouldn't do things without being a total mega buzzkill loser, but luckily games are a fun way to show how systems work and, often, to highlight the inherent absurdity of our behavior within systems. SMS Racing is about trying to text while driving, behavior which of course all write-ups earnestly warn you must not do. The creepy, defiant little thing started out as a browser game in 2015, and now is coming to full-blown VR, because of course it is.

Freshman Year

By Nina Freeman (Play here free)

(Read what we had to say about it) fyear1

Nina Freeman's distinctive vignette games are brief constellations of moments and memories, often about complicated subjects like sex and girlhood in her own life. Her game Freshman Year is an upsetting work about heading out to a college party and experiencing a brief but poignant assault. Although you can make choices in the game—what to wear, how much to drink, how to feel about the night ahead—fittingly, none of them make a difference to the outcome.

One of the most interesting techniques Freeman uses to pace her storytelling in Freshman Year is a mobile phone, which Nina consults throughout the night, searching for the friend she's supposed to meet at the event. The way the phone is used in the game does a brilliant job of dictating the way we turn to text messages for comfort, for space, for pauses in crowds, and when we're lonely or frightened. The insistent text communication with Jenna provides the rhythm that makes the game feel like a real memory.

Catherine

By Atlus (Buy it on last-gen consoles for about $15)

Catherine was a distinctly weird PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 game that launched in 2011. It's one part visual novel, one part wildly-frustrating block puzzle, but it took some interesting risks in its attempt to portray the inner conflict of Vincent, an aging loser-guy who's torn between his commitment-pushy longtime girlfriend and the exciting young thing who's suddenly showed up to exploit his weak temperament.

The most memorable part of that game remains the cell phone interface you'd get to interact with during those stretches of game you'd spend shuffling Vincent around a bar at night, long after his friends had found better things to do. You could read and reply to your text messages from each woman, and you'd be offered multiple options tonally as to how to respond—but the way the interface worked, replies typing themselves and then disappearing in favor of the next option, meant you experienced the awfully-human act of sitting alone in a booth, half-drunk, writing what you might want to say and then erasing it again until it seemed "right".

And then, of course, the agonizing after. It was a precise, excellent note on the part of a game which was otherwise all over the place (but which I nonetheless loved).

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7 games you can play with Google Maps

pac-map

For April Fools Day this year, Google created a version of Pac-Man that you could play inside Google Maps, to the delight of everyone who wanted eat power-pellets on the roundabouts of their hometown. Although this Pac-Man experience is now sadly defunct, people have been building games around Google Maps for years: trivia games, hidden object games, shooting games, building games, driving games, and even survival games. We've picked out seven interactive cartography experiences that you can try out for free in your browser, on the streets of nearly any city in the world.

Google Sheep View


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Think of it as a version of "I Spy" that spans the entire world, and focuses exclusively on sheep. Created by Ding Ren and Mike Karabinos, the Google Sheep View tumblr encourages viewers (or players) to digitally wander the streets of Google Maps and try to spot the wooly little faces of sheep.

Geoguessr


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This popular geography guessing game displays Google Street View pictures from locations around the world—roads, houses, trees, stores—and challenges you to identify the towns and cities by dropping a pin on a map. After you've made your guess, it reveals the real location, and awards points based on how close you get.

MapsTD


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If you enjoy tower defense games like Bloons, chances are you'll enjoy MapsTD, where you build battle towers by dropping and upgrading colored pins, which defend against the enemies marching down the streets of your chosen city. If you're not into the satellite view, you can always shift into watercolor for a more abstract experience.

Geo Guns


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Like many shooting games, Geo Guns views the world as a rich and varied series of backdrops for blowing things up. It promises to let you "turn any place on Earth into a virtual battlefield thanks to Google Maps’ awesome new 45 degree angle view." Select a location, and it immediately becomes the wallpaper for a tank battle between you and a computer opponent.

Build with Chrome


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A teamup between Google and LEGO, Build with Chrome lets you turn the world into your very own LEGO version of Minecraft, picking out a plot of land on Google Maps, building your very own city of plastic bricks, and then sharing your creation with your friends. As the name suggests, only works in the Chrome browser.

Streetview Zombie Apocalypse


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A survival game of sorts, Streetview Zombie Apocalypse promises to let you "run from the living dead in your own neighborhood" by dropping you into the street view location of choice, with a small mini map the displays the undead lurking around you with red pins. It's your job to run away from them through Street View, and stay alive for as long as you can.

2D Driving Simulator


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This browser experience doesn't allow you to drive down the streets of your favorite city so much as it allows you to glide over them in a tiny vehicle that never encounters any obstacles. Think of it as 2D Hovercar Simulator, maybe?

Any more Google Maps games to suggest? Drop them in the comments.

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