Boing Boing 

Play Pac-Man in Google Maps today


Yes, it's April Fool's Day, the national day of acting like a jerk with impunity, but this is no trick: You can play Pac-Man in Google Maps right now. Just zoom in to your neighborhood or any interesting tangle of roads, click the Pac-Man icon in the lower left, let the game begin. You'll have more fun if you pick an area with a lot of intersections and escape route -- remember, those ghosts would love to chase you to the end of a long, lonely country road and eat your face.

Note that the area of play is limited; you can't just make a game from the entirety of Manhattan, for example, and will have to zoom in on a smaller area instead. Also it only works on desktop, not on mobile. Happy chomping!

Read this comic about a girl falling in love with PC games

When cartoonist Yao Xiao fell in love with video games, she was a 12-year-old girl growing up in China. Group sports had become less welcoming in adolescence, but PC games "provided a new 'arena' where I could be free of my physical form," she writes. "Somewhere not to be not safe, not protected, and not kept away. Somewhere to stay who I wanted to be."

Offworld presents Xiao's comic "A Part-Time Knight" in its entirety; it's one of 40 comics in the upcoming lady gamer comic book anthology Chainmail Bikini, If you want your own copy of Chainmail Bikini, the Kickstarter ends tomorrow, so get on that.

Chainmail_bikini_YaoXiao_pg1 Chainmail_bikini_YaoXiao_pg2 Chainmail_bikini_YaoXiao_pg3 Chainmail_bikini_YaoXiao_pg4 Chainmail_bikini_YaoXiao_pg5 Chainmail_bikini_YaoXiao_pg6

Most users of online worlds do sex stuff


My generation of girls grew up sneaking around online, pretending to be older, pretending to be supernatural, in order to meet strangers -- more important than the fleeting strangers, though, our Buddy List of names, was finding ourselves.

These days, 59 percent of people who visit worlds like Second Life have engaged in sexual activity there. 11 percent of users have either paid for or sold sex in their online world, and only 22 percent have never gotten rude with other avatars before. I mean, that's what they said.

Two thirds of participants in a new, massive study of online games and virtual worlds have dated someone within a virtual world, while a quarter have gone on to form real-life dating relationships with their online partners. About the same amount visit virtual worlds together as a couples activity.

A massive study conducted in 2012 suggests that it's mostly people my age and older who still play in "the Metaverse," regularly visiting open, lawless virtual environments like Second Life. Gen Y-ers dominate the multiplayer game demographic -- which, with all its rules and goals and leveling, is generally considered distinct from "virtual worlds," according to the study, which was led by Georgia Tech/Northeastern's Celia Pearce and her colleagues. Pearce says this study is the first of its kind in scale and depth.

There's a big infographic of neat findings you can view here; the whole study is available to peruse here.

The featured image for this post on Offworld comes from Animations Rising, which sells custom looks and animations for Second Life avatars. 46 percent of virtual world users make some money from their online creations, and 28 percent support all their virtual world expenditures by selling online goods.

The existential dread of fighting games

All my life, winning was everything. These days I'm just proud I still show up.Read the rest

You're the writer of a terrible video game. Can you save it?

César Astudillo, creative commons image :

You're the writer of the latest game in a once popular, lucrative game franchise called Shattergate. You've never actually played any of the Shattergate games, granted, but somehow you're writing it anyway. And you're so screwed.

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Videogames for humans, a special book


Games can be conversations, and a new anthology curated by Merritt Kopas called Videogames For Humans aims to explore those connections. She's gathered Twine game creators and critics to annotate and discuss one another's works -- the result isn't just a unique angle on games criticism, it's a gathering of many of the most prominent creators in that unique space.

Real talk: I'm also in this book, narrating my experience of Christine Love's brutal little piece Even Cowgirls Bleed (a quick, free play in your browser), relatable to anybody who's had a little bit of ego, overwhelm or poor social adjustment get in the way of love. I chose to donate my piece in exchange for just a copy of the book and a chance to be part of this rad collection, though, so I don't have a financial agenda in suggesting you check it out.

"People are doing work in this space that's practically unheard of in video games and in traditional literary circles," says Kopas, who's previously written for Offworld. "With videogames for humans, we wanted to collect some of this work both to document the incredible things people are doing - especially people who are underrepresented in videogames authorship - and to build bridges between interactive fiction and broader literary communities."

Videogames For Humans will have a launch party at New York's irreplaceable Babycastles Gallery on 4/20 (duh -- details here, make sure you click the "turn this mother out" button). You'll be able to get one of a very limited print run of the book there -- thereafter the digital version will be available on publisher Instar Books' site, so bookmark that.

The cover art is by the amazing Michael DeForge -- enjoy familiarizing yourself with his work, too, if you haven't already!

Watch: The rare Japanese Let's Play-ers

Lots of young people are growing up watching strangers play video games. But while "Let's Play" videos are fairly common in the West (I even do a niche series of my own), for some reason the format as we know it apparently isn't big among Japanese.

Japanese game makers and players have long been considered to have distinct styles and appetites different from Western ones, which is why it's so neat to read this interview with Japanese Let's Play-ers Aniyja and Otojya. They have over a half a million subscribers, and apparently focus on Western design forms like the first person shooter, an unexpected angle.

Koichi: On the flip side, how about “Japanese gaming culture?”

Anijya: I think Japanese gaming culture is completely different from that of other countries. The gaming experience that at one time could only be had in an arcade suddenly became available at home with family game consoles, and even people who weren’t interested in gaming that much now play app-games on their smartphones. Now, it’s trendy to create games for smartphones that everyone can enjoy rather than just for game consoles or computers, which have become more complicated and expensive. The gaming industry is still developing, but I think there is still a lot of room for growth.

Otojya: I think Japanese people consider gaming a childish thing. If you play games as an adult, it can give people a bad impression of you, so I think many people hesitate to confess that they like gaming

It's surprising there aren't more Japanese Let's Play-ers -- I was just thinking this recently, watching old episodes of Shinya Arino's Game Center CX (Retro Game Master). Arino was doing the format before it was cool. If you can get your hands on some episodes it's totally worth it, bursting with heart, character and nostalgia.

Also at Offworld: Lo-Fi Let's Play: LOOM

Shuffle around the family baggage in Aunt Flora's Mansion


Aunt Flora's Mansion is a simple little block puzzle game from prolific designer and author Anna Anthropy. You might have played games like it before -- push a block thoughtfully and you can clear a path for yourself ahead, but shove them around in haste and you might block your own way, hey hey. It's a real puzzle.

It might be a little visually confusing to newbies at first, but it's simple: The line on the block indicates the direction in which you can move it (north to south, east to west, or all four). There are also little purple blocks you can pass through, but only in the direction of the arrow stamped on it.

The theme of the game is that your aunt's invited you for tea, but she's accumulated so much stuff at her age you've got to carefully forge a path just to reach her. Haul your family baggage around, and be smart about it, and don't screw up.

It's a sad situation -- is it healthy, this performance that Aunt Flora demands? I get the impression she doesn't realize the effort her invitation costs, innocently in love with all of her belongings. Is this house safe for poor Flora, even though it's so treacherous to you? Should you ask her, or should you just do your best to reach her so you can put a smile on her face?

I am not very skilled at these kinds of logic puzzles. Maybe it's all the poor weather and the long trips I've been taking among my relatives lately, but the bright, nostalgic palette of Aunt Flora's makes me ache. It's hard to reach your loved ones, sometimes. It's easy to make mistakes when you try. And then there's the matter of the resolution when you do. Can you reach your Aunt Flora, at the end of the game? How do you feel when you do?

Anthropy tells me that Aunt Flora's Mansion is based on a game called Cyberbox, made by Doug Beeferman in 1991. She ported Cyberbox to PuzzleScript "a little while ago," her first project using the tool. Aunt Flora's Mansion is her first original work using elements of Cyberbox -- and as you can see from the small "hack" link at the bottom of Aunt Flora's Mansion, you can also use a level editor to modify and design your own family problems and generational pains. I mean, puzzle games.

This game was released early to Anthropy's backers through her Patreon. Lots of independent game makers fund their work via Patreon, and backers get early and exclusive works as well as other perks. For many creators, Patreon is the primary source of income for their games.

How a small art team created Firewatch's beautiful environment

San Francisco-based Campo Santo is an indie studio currently at work on Firewatch, a visually-evocative game about being a volunteer fire lookout in the wilderness of Wyoming, with a handheld radio and a mysterious supervisor your only companion.

Recently at the Game Developer's Conference, the team's Jane Ng gave a fascinating talk about creating the game's art -- layers of burnished color, stark vivid shapes, long shadows and the lonely outlines of endless pines create a poignant image of a world that invites the player. Ng's talk is remarkably accessible for anyone even a little bit interested in visual design. I found it interesting to watch and soothing to listen to, and my artistic ability stopped developing after the school notebook anime characters of yesteryear.

I'm friends with a couple of the people on the Firewatch team -- we play board games and Netrunner sometimes -- but I haven't even seen anything of their game yet, so I have no special interest in whether you watch this lovely art talk or not. I just thought you'd like it, that's all.

How to turn a chocolate bar into a puzzle game

Puzzle games aren't just something you play on consoles, computers and smartphones. They're also something you can play with a chocolate bar.

Next time you're hanging out with your friends, invite them to take the Infinite Chocolate Bar Challenge: try to remove one rectangle or square from a bar of chocolate, and end up with a bar that looks like nothing's missing.

I've seen it work on delicious, segmented chocolate of various sizes, but it definitely works on a regular old Hershey's bar. For the math-oriented among us, here's a more geometric explanation of the solution:

What happens when you don't let players pick their race?


Plenty of people play games to escape their real lives, and the character creators some games offer let us imagine ourselves in whatever image we'd like: realistic or idealized, some version of ourselves. Or someone entirely other -- not just a chance to invent your very own fantasy character, but to live as them, in a sense.

I know a couple where one partner always builds one edition of the other in any game they play that allows for character selection. Isn't that romantic?

I'm also intrigued by the idea a game might take that choice away from me -- where every player has a different avatar, but it's not up to us. Like being born, almost, where we can't choose how we enter the world. Not everyone feels that way, apparently. My colleague Nathan Grayson has just covered the fascinating situation of Rust, where some players are upset to have lost control over their race.

Rust is a popular multiplayer game about surviving in chaos -- I don't play it myself, but my friends tell me haunting stories about scrabbling for resources, fearing one another in the dark. Now, thanks to a recent update, player appearances will be randomized, in order to create a diverse and natural look to the world, and also to make individual players more distinct from one another.

The avatar's physical features will be tied to players' IDs on Steam, the service they use to play Rust, so it'd take a disproportionate effort to attempt to get a new look. Reactions have been mixed, project lead Garry Newman told Grayson -- although apparently most players embrace the interesting change and band together against those who are so against playing with a different skin color that they'd raise problems:

"It makes me wish I'd set up some analytics to record how many times the N-word was used before and after the update," Newman said. "It was used quite a bit from what I've seen." Newman and the rest of the Rust team considered taking action against people who throw around racist language like so many sticks and stones, but then they observed an interesting trend: "We debated internally whether to start censoring it, whether as the curators of the game we should be stepping in," he explained. "What we found was that when someone was being racist they were always in the minority and more often than not the other members of the server stepped in and took action (i.e. they all worked together to hunt him)."
Grayson's reporting appears on Kotaku's channel devoted to issues facing the Steam userbase, itself an interesting area of focus as the platform and community of choice for most computer players (myself included). Also on Offworld: Tanya D. looks at how people of color are represented in the Dragon Age universe.

Virtual reality creator hopes to treat anxiety attacks

New methods for treating anxiety, trauma and mental illness are emerging at the intersection of games and therapyRead the rest

Games that heal

Making games in Twine has helped one woman cope with pain other methods haven't reached, and connected a community Read the rest

A Zelda remix is the hot new song at the club

When I think of Zelda, I think of lots of things: smashing pots, collecting rupees, throwing boomerangs, and dancing to sick beats. That last one is a pretty new addition to my personal Zelda memory palace, but it's stuck there anyway thanks to Hitmane's new mashup of Juicy J's "Bandz That Make Her Dance" with the whimsical "Saria's Song" from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

The song, which has been played over 200,000 times on Soundcloud, primarily picked up steam when the more prominent DJ/producer Ryan Hemsworth started adding it to his shows. It also got played by Qrion at a party during the Game Developers Conference earlier this month, where IGF chairman (and former Offworld founder) Brandon Boyer shared this little Vine:

Nearly 10 million loops later, we're all still dancing. If you're looking for suggested dance moves, you can always go to the source material. Otherwise, this guy has got you covered.

Let's go pioneering

It's fun to feel you're a video games pioneer. The world sprawls out in front of you, in chunks of textured map-land, and you have to make often risky decisions about how to manage what lies before you. Will you spend time and precious energy stripping nearby plants for medicine, or will you make the long trek forward into the unknown, on the off chance you'll find water there? Something about games makes the old-timey cocktail of pioneering exciting -- remember playing Oregon Trail as a child, sorta-learning all about the journeys of early Americans while wagoners named after your classmates broke all their limbs and died of dysentery? Games are fun ecosystems to play relatively fearlessly with risk and possibility. pioneers1 Berlin-based Maschinen-Mesnch's Curious Expedition, which I first saw in a Swiss games festival last year, is a fun and straightforward game of land expedition, where you manage your health and mental well-being as you wander maps in search of temples, villages and good trades (you're likely enjoy it if you enjoyed FTL). The cute thing about Curious Expedition is you can play as any number of great historical pioneers, from Charles Darwin to Ada Lovelace, each with their own special ability. Pioneers, by Eigen Lenk, is another top-down game about forging out into the textured world and wrangling with the forces you find there, in a narrative wrapper that makes you feel like you're a kid again, peeping a musty copy of Swiss Family Robinson from your grandparents' garage cabinet. Its graphical palette is intentionally-dated, adding to the cozy-throwback feel. curious1 Speaking of pioneering, though they've both been quietly underway for a few years now, neither of these games are finished yet. This means they can sometimes be a little unpredictable, as you see in the video at the top of this post. But they're worth a try. The new frontier of game creation and publishing lets players pay, sometimes optionally (Curious Expedition costs $12 for basic alpha access; Pioneers is pay-what-you-want with no minimum), to be part of an early project and watch it take shape. This lets developers offload some of the risk onto their biggest fans, and gives players a chance to be inside the creation process a little. Experimenting with both games is a charming experience, both for their nostalgic feel and for the sense you're watching a new world sprawl out before you in more than one sense.

Astonishing comics that 'save your game' when you turn the page

Jason Shiga's ambitious projects leap from one medium to another—and unite them.Read the rest

Fall in love with one special freeware arcade

Tetrageddon Games is a multifaceted and delightful project from Nathalie Lawhead, one of the participants in my feature about digital mysticism yesterday.

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Liz Ryerson is one of my favorite game critics -- she has a great eye for the alien and oddly-beautiful design harmonies of game landscapes, and she specializes in the 1993 classic Doom, particularly its mods and maps.

Read the rest

Play it now: Monologue


You, the mustachioed Wild West villain, have just tied your nemesis to the train tracks. Can you recite your entire evil monologue before the locomotive comes barreling down? You really need them to hear this.

Read the rest

Play it now: The Glorkian Warrior


Several years ago, cartoonist James Kochalka doodled a picture of an alien on a piece of paper. Now the Glorkian Warrior is the star of two graphic novels as well as a new video game created by Pixeljam, where the three-eyed hero must defend an asteroid with the help of his sidekick Super Backpack, a sentient knapsack who is both weapon and friend.

The Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork combines Kochalka's distinctive, cartoonish art style with gameplay reminiscent of the 1980s space shooter Galaga: most of your time is spent running back and forth across an asteroid, shooting up at increasingly powerful alien invaders while acquiring increasingly powerful weapons. But every layer of the game is also packed with charm, from the introductory sequences where the Glorkian Warrior chats with his backpack to the moments when your weapons power up and a chorus of children shouts "DOUBLE LASER!"

The trailer promises that "you will die a lot," which is both true and less punishing than it sounds. When the alien invaders do you in, the points you've acquired will often earn you both practical and playful new additions to the game, from tennis ball guns to exploding birthday cakes. I'm still not sure what it means to become "The President of Everything," one of the final goals that still awaits me, although I'd like to find out. There's a free demo that gives you access to the first four levels of kickable basketballs and cracker vacuums, although the complete version offers much more, including two unlockable comic books by Kochalka.

I've been reading Kochalka's comics for years, which include both kid-oriented graphic novels like Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher and autobiographical strips like American Elf, all in the same cheerful, easy style. Much like those comics, The Glorkian Warrior game is so simple that it's easy to underestimate, but it has a way of getting inside your head. When I first opened it, I felt sure that I'd play a few rounds on my laptop and then go to bed. But an hour later I was still there, trying to earn enough points to unlock an exploding ceramic cat.

Kochalka's talked a lot over the years about how passion and joy is far more important than doing things perfectly, but The Glorkian Warrior is proof positive that putting fun first doesn't have to mean sacrificing craft, and that polish is often the ally—and not the enemy—of imaginative play.

(You can play the demo version here, or download the full version for Mac, PC, Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Steam. It's $2.99 for a mobile version, and $3.99 for desktop.)

The divine witches of cyberspace

Fortune-telling games help us fumble toward deeper truths, at the junction of technology and mysticismRead the rest

Tell these games what's wrong


New text-based browser games by Caelyn Sandel and Lydia Neon ask searching questions we may prefer not to answer. I have a hard time being honest with these bots, even though they promise to help.

For lots of us, digital space is more than just a practical tool -- it's a sense of home. When younger many of us were drawn to games, technology and other interactive experiences because of the magic and mystery about who might be sharing those spaces with us. A blinking cursor is like a living thing; our 1990s were lush with weird virtual spaces.

It's now a place where we consistently explore identities and boundaries in nebulous online groups, which can be complicated depending on who you are. If you ever need help with that, Caelyn Sandel's BECCAA 0.8 project is there -- you seek BECCAA out if you're having feelings about something someone made or did online, and it asks you questions and gives you responses that help you process your mood. In between, it offers provocative quotes on feminism, which in itself offers interesting context to consider the structures in which we need support.

Lydia Neon's Player 2 is a forgiveness engine -- you tell it about a specific person and your interpersonal conflict with them, and, among other things, Player 2 helps you decide how you feel about the situation and what, if anything, you want to do about it.

There's something incredibly poignant and disconcerting about having a game talk about a person with you. It challenges your trust in a system, to lay it all out like that -- even though Player 2 promises utter privacy, BECCAA does remember a few of your responses and gets to know you.

Do you trust games with your deepest fears, and to keep your secrets? Try them.

You can't 'just keep politics out of it'


Only in consumer video game fandom would there even be a debate about whether or not content "should be" political.

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In fantasy worlds, historical accuracy is a lie

The mythical realms of Dragon Age grow beautifully with the telling, including their representation of Earthly minorities. Even so, something's missing...Read the rest

Finally, a chainmail bikini you'll want to buy


The chainmail bikini has long been a symbol of the absurd ways women are depicted in media, but cartoonist Hazel Newlevant has transformed it into something unexpected: the title of a new anthology of comics about women in games.

"Once you've identified something as a 'chainmail bikini,' you've noticed that it's laughably bad," says Newlevant, who is both editing the book and contributing comics of her own. "Since exploring gender and sexism in gaming is our whole deal, I figured the name Chainmail Bikini would be appropriate."

The book is already finished—and funded—on Kickstarter, where you can preorder a copy before the campaign ends on April 2. It features comics from feminine voices both familiar and new, including Anna Anthropy (ZZT), Merritt Kopas (Forest Ambassador), Molly Ostertag (Strong Female Protagonist), M.K. Reed (The Cute Girl Network), and Elizabeth Simins (Manic Pixel Dream Girl), with a cover by Hellen Jo (Jin & Jam).

"It seemed natural to focus on women gamers, because we're considered the exception," explains Newlevant. "These are stories you haven't heard before. Right now, the long-held assumption that games are a 'guy thing' is seriously being challenged, and Chainmail Bikini aims to be part of that challenge. Sharing our perspectives on games and gaming culture can be entertaining, enlightening, and even radical."

The comics also explores the wide range of games their creators enjoy, from Animal Crossing and The Sims to fighting games like Tekken, tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, card games like Magic: The Gathering and live action role-playing. Many of the comics touch on the personal ways that games can intersect with heartbreak, gender identity, mental illness and growing up.

"All of these games involve taking on a character and entering into some sort of fantasy world," says Newlevant. "That action serves different purposes for different people, but it's hugely significant. Overall, Chainmail Bikini has gotten me excited about the uplifting and transformative power of games."

For many of the women in Chainmail Bikini, it's a power they've had to harness and redefine on their own terms, regardless of whether or not they were accepted by the gaming culture around them. "These worlds weren't meant for us," writes Kopas in her short comic I Choose You. "But we have made them ours."

From "Here Comes a Challenger" by Kinoko Evans

From "Here Comes a Challenger" by Kinoko Evans

Lo-Fi Let's Play: LOOM

Come along with me and revisit a classic Lucasfilm Games experience. There's a lot special about LOOM, which recently went on sale at the DRM-free digital store Good Old Games.

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We are not colonists

Minority voices in games and tech present a necessary challenge to our imagined community.Read the rest

Play it now: Bus Station Unbound


The ideal of "getting home for Christmas" is tinged with romance, conjuring images of rushing through snow and the chaos of transit to that ultimate family seat. For most of us, though, that holiday-card vision is a lot more complicated, and it's that painful, conflicting space that text game Bus Station: Unbound aims to evoke.

In Bus Station: Unbound, you can't rely on weather or the logic of whimsical urban transit any more than you can rely on your own family or the inexplicable magnet that suggests you ought to return to them. The transit hub you wander, lonesome and hungry and cold, is haunted by its own ghosts, other people whose pangs and circumstances will draw you into their orbit. Intellectually you have a goal, but your heart and spirit have manifold others, and they are sometimes at odds.

It's a text-only game made with Inklewriter, an incredibly simple and readable tool that even I can use (I once made a game about saving a pig, Bushwick, foodie culture and wild nights). If you can read and make choices, you can explore Bus Station: Unbound, and its incredibly piquant prose that conjures all the spiritual weight of returning to your hometown in the dead of winter.

Bus Station: Unbound is developed by Curious Tales and is free to play in your browser, but the developers would appreciate donations if you appreciate the experience -- a fair ask, given that there are some 100,000 words contained therein.

A kids book about princesses who save themselves


If there's a kid in your life who loves princesses, consider getting them a very different sort of children's book: The Princess Who Saved Herself.

As per the book description, it is "the story of an awesome kid who lives with her pet snake and plays rock 'n' roll all day to the huge annoyance of the classical guitarist witch who lives down the road. Hijinks, conflicts, and a fun reconciliation ensue, all showcasing determination, bravery, and understanding."

This fairy tale about a kickass and compassionate princess was scripted by comic book writer Greg Pak, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa, and based on a song by Jonathan Coulton.

"Very early in her life my daughter developed a taste for pink taffeta and princess gowns," says Coulton. "I then became much more aware of those little messages in the things she was interested in: Barbie, Disney movies, video games. So when I wrote this song, I really wanted to create a princess character that was as self-reliant and internally referenced as most kids start out, before we ruin them with our dumb ideas. When this princess encounters problems and mean people, she just rolls right over them in this practical and compassionate way. It's an attitude I aspire to instill in my own kids."

If you want a copy, grab one via Kickstarter, where the book has already been funded. Excellent princess shirts for people of all ages and genders are also available here.

All you have is video of a woman talking to the cops. Is she guilty?

Sam Barlow's VHS-styled Her Story is a game about true crime, voyeurism, and the monstrous specter of women who kill. Read the rest