"What is cybersex, and how do I get some? If that's what you're asking yourself, you've come to the right place." So begins the 1993 book The Joy of Cybersex, an early guide to the online world of sexual content, right as it was emerging into mainstream consciousness.
Back in 1993, the internet was something of an adolescent, just starting to experiment with its digital sexuality. People heard there was sex out there in "cyberspace"—the online equivalent of porn hidden somewhere in the woods—but they weren't always quite sure how to find it.
Naturally, a "user's guide" emerged; The Joy of Cybersex promised "a peek into the future of cybersex and teledildonics" in a book that came packaged with the games Strip Poker 3 and Jigsaw Pinups while also quoting Winston Churchill in its forward. ("The empires of the future will be empires of the mind.")
Two years before Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller made dial-up seem sexy by cavorting through a luminescent virtual city in Hackers, this online manual promised a world of similarly vivid digital eroticism:
"Just imagine yourself in the near future getting decked out in your cybersensual suit for a hot night on the nets. You plug your jack into your cybernetic interface device, which then enables you to receive and transmit realistic tactile sensations. Suddenly, you are in a strange new world where you can run your hands through virtual hair, touch virtual silk, unzip virtual clothing and caress virtual flesh."
The Joy of Cybersex is very much an artifact of its time; it begins by explaining to readers what a CD-ROM is, before delving into the world of "erotic disks" and sexy computer games, and extensively profiles the individual adult bulletin boards you could dial into with your 9600 baud modem. (As Anthropy notes, this survey is filtered through the perspective of a female author, and "paints a really familiar portrait of what it's like to exist as a woman online.")
It's a fascinating glimpse of the lost, floating cities of digital sexuality, and the early, sometimes awkward forays into online sexual connection that would one day evolve into Tinder, sexting, and well, the entire internet porn industry. It even explores the sexual applications of virtual reality headsets, more than twenty years before the Oculus Rift.
The book—which as you might guess is often sexually explicit—was recently scanned and made available for download by game developer Anna Anthropy. She's been preserving and archiving early internet documents, particularly around video games, for nearly two years now; her "Annarchive, which is supported via Patreon, features scans of everything from manuals for the interactive fiction classic Zork to design documents for the 1986 adventure game adaptation of The Black Cauldron.
While some of the documents are PDFs, others like The Joy of Cybersex are in CBZ format. Anthropy recommends using a free CBZ reader like Cdisplay, "or you can rename the file from .cbz to .zip and open it as a zip archive to extract the images."
Keita Takahashi's 2004 game Katamari Damacy was an unexpectedly brilliant little playground with an inviting, absurd sense of humor. You play a tiny alien prince tasked with rolling all the world's things up into the biggest, most preposterous ball you can ("katamari" seems to mean "clump").
All the while you are lorded over by your father, the dazzling, vain and capricious King of All Cosmos, who sets a distinctive tone for the game and its world. That tone carries over to every detail of Katamari Damacy, even the little print descriptions of items you roll up, even though most players couldn't possibly read them all.
A new Twitter feed called Katamari Collection posts one item at a time from the games (at the minute they're getting through Katamari Damacy, but it looks like they plan to do its sequels too). The tiny, lovely dollhouse graphic models and their descriptions really make one appreciate the game's sense of humor and attention to detail all over again:
The person operating the feed says thanks to Twitter's poor utility as an archival tool, they'll also be attempting to keep up with a Katamari item catalogue Tumblr, which you can follow here.
(Thanks to Andy Kelly for the h/t!)
Imagine Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero without music. You're just pressing the arrow keys at your computer as they whirl past you faster and faster. You start whispering to yourself, you start tapping your foot, your fingers start making hook-knuckled shapes on your keypad. It's too late. We have lost you. Read the rest
Read the rest
Classic Nintendo 64 game Goldeneye 007 is just one of those things: if you were a certain age at a certain time, it was part of your life in some way, the object of lavish late-night dormitory marathons, or glittering in your peripheral vision as you pursued that one guy you liked.
The Grant Kirkhope tracks, inspired by the Bond source materal, are just as memorable, and now you can hear them purely: Apparently, in order to hew to tech limitations the audio had to undergo certain types of compression back in 1998, and finally an uncompressed version of all seven Kirkhope tracks is widely available thanks to YouTube game music devotees Video Game Tracks:
Sure, we all know what a drinking game is: a game designed to get you wrecked. But what does it look like from the perspective of a game designer? How does it work?
Gaming critic Mattie Brice explores these questions in an article about her experiences at a drinking game jam, where participants set out to create original drinking games, and learn a bit about how these experiences function in the process.
In many popular games like Beer Pong or Quarters, players are given a challenge—say, making a shot—and drinking is the "punishment" for failure. But as Brice notes, it's often ambiguous whether this is truly a punishment or a reward, since drinking with friends is usually the explicit goal of drinking games from the outset.
"Creating a difficult choice between drinking and another action appealed to me, like having to confess an emotion or drink, or some other lose-lose situation," writes Brice. "We also noted that most drinking games are designed for skill level to steadily deteriorate once you’ve started to take some hits and drink, that is, the parts of your brain that is affected by alcohol will be the parts needed to avoid drinking." Of course, it's also important to make (and play) drinking games in a way that won't send someone to the hospital; games without an "ending condition"—where there is no way to win or finish—can be particularly dangerous.
Although some drinking games are simply endurance tests of how much alcohol you can consume, others like the confessional Never Have I Ever, aim to wear down inhibitions and promote intimacy. While encouraging emotional vulnerability and human connection sounds like a particularly interesting objective for a drinking game, Brice says she quickly discovered how hard it is to achieve, especially while keeping the rules simple and the experience low-risk enough for strangers to feel comfortable playing together.
Read the full article for more, including the rules for five original drinking games based around the theme of "mischief and subterfuge." Personally, I think Speed Fist sounds pretty fun.
Mainstream video games tend to focus on mechanics of destruction—shooting,fighting, generally blowing things up—with far less attention paid to the mechanics of building relationships and connecting to other human beings. The recent International Love Ultimatum game jam, spearheaded by AM Cosmos, challenged game-makers (both experienced and aspiring) to create experiences that centered on "relationship system"—which for the most part, translates to romance and dating.
The submissions are in, and they're mostly short and free to play—many in browsers, and a few through downloads. If you're into dating sims and want something to mess around with a few short, DIY games, here are five of my favorites:
This visual novel follows three women (and you) after they get stranded on an island where strange things are afoot. There's a bit of a LOST vibe to Beach Island, and while there are no inexplicably polar bears or smoke, it's possible you may encounter robots, mind-bending caves and perhaps even... romance.
Built in the interactive fiction tool Twine, this illustrated tale involves choosing which book to read at the library, reading it, and meeting new people in the stacks. This will either sound very boring or very interesting to you; play it accordingly.
The description for iseekyou is concise: "Click on a field to type into it. Be patient with your old friend." Rather than a visual novel or text adventure, this game examines relationships though a chat simulator, as you catch up with an old friend online after drifting apart for a decade. Windows only!
In Amity Bound, you're an entertainer with a traveling troupe, and when your caravan stops in a remote village called Sawdust Springs, you get tasked with searching the town for talent, and end up finding more than you bargained for.
You're an art major named Eulia who's insecure about her drawing. She's a cute athlete named Mel who looks amazing in soccer shorts—and for some reason, she's talking to you. The Draw is a very short game, and one that revolves around one or two nervous interactions between two people who might just be in like with each other, but it's still pretty cute.
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)
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.
By Robert Yang (Play here free)
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.
By Turbo Button (Coming to VR platforms later this year, play browser version here free)
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.
By Nina Freeman (Play here free)
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.
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).
Porpentine's interactive fiction games have won a lot of praise since she made headlines in 2012 with Howling Dogs, a metafictional text experience that leapt between lush virtual reality worlds. She's since become one of the most critically-acclaimed and prolific creators using the interactive fiction tool Twine—so profilic that at times she had trouble tracking down all of her own work. They remained scattered across the internet like bits of seaglass—a sharp fragment of blue on Tumblr here, a smooth piece of amber there.
But her newly new games compilation Eczema Angel Orifice finally collects all of her greatest hits in one place at the price of five dollars, along with over 5,000 words of director's notes and a guide that can recommend games based on mood, length and content.
"Basically it's a good way to introduce my work to someone new, without the stress of tracking down all the trash I've scattered across the net," says Porpentine. There's a full list of the games included in the compliation on her site, but highlights include Howling Dogs, With Those We Love Alive and Ultra Business Tycoon III. The creation of Eczema Orifice Angel was supported by Porpentine's Patreon account, and there are demos for Mac and PC as well, if you want to try before you buy.
Porpentine also recently released a free game called This World Is Not My Home with co-creator Brenda Neotenomie, which uses images and music as well as text. Although it feels like a guided relaxation program propelling you down a soothing waterway, Neotenomie says the darker subtext is that it's a soporific video created to calm of the workers of a malevolent coropration.
"I used to do web and video stuff for companies that were so sprawling that they had elaborate internal marketing campaigns, down to hiring graphic designers for their PowerPoints," writes Neotenomie. "So these companies felt like their own little worlds in a way that was a bit depressing. It didn’t seem that hard to imagine a huge company where everyone’s stressed out producing a chintzy CGI video or desktop application in the name of helping, instead of actually fixing anything."
Developer Ryan Trawick was so into Midnight Juggernauts' remix of Dragonette's "I Get Around" that he made a whole sort of-game video about it. It's odd—you wander around a parking lot with a baseball bat, smashing old TV sets while a neon yellow dog follows you around—yet as an experience, it's altogether perfect.
The premise, according to Trawick, is that you've just been invited to a magic 4AM parking lot after buying a Big Gulp from 7/11 (the Dragonette lyric "Here I come when I better go" sure does sound like "Here I come, with a Big Gulp" on the remix). And there you are, amid the manic joy of the six-minute song's insistent surges, bat in hand, bashing televisions to brightly-lit, utterly arbitrary scores.
The yellow dog stays close by, always behind you, and each area of the dark lot gets a Grand Theft Auto-style cursive caption. That single nod to our subconscious vocabulary for game space makes the music video parking lot feel suddenly bizarre, illicit, celebratory at once. The original song "I Get Around" seems to be about a narrator who can't help herself from having sneaky one-night stands, but the distinctly-dudely DOG WOLVE has fun with blunt perversions: beyond just hearing "better go" as "Big Gulp," it seems to imagine that "get me back down to street level" is about a parking garage, and sets the "tiptoe out of this mess" incongrously against the armed smash-em-up.
It's not an official video or anything, though I wish it was: it all just comes together with the song in a way you kind of have to try for yourself. It's free. Wear headphones.
Dreams can be impossible to explain, but still make a strange kind of internal sense. So are the sentences you make in Sleep Furiously, a language game where the fun is in threading increasingly absurd sentences together, obeying grammar rules but few others.
"The results are really silly and can be totally absurd," Jen Helms of developer Playmation Studios tells me. "The name comes from the concept Noam Chomsky coined to demonstrate the linguistics concept our game explores: 'Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.'"
The game has a few modes: One in which you're challenged to get the highest score within a certain number of moves, and one where you chase the highest score within a time limit. There's also an "endless" one with no restrictions.
I really like this game—it's a playful expression of a linguistics concept that fans of word games will love. I actually think the developers can go a little bit further with it—because the boards randomize, increasing your scores tends to feel like it has as much to do with luck as skill. Sleep Furiously could learn a lot from Bookworm when it comes to how special tiles, multipliers and secondary goals can increase depth for the player.
But maybe the developer will be able to expand the game if this initial version is a success, and it's still a great, thoughtful way for word game fans to pass their time. You can get it on the App Store or on Google Play for $2.99.
Sidney Fussell brought us an article on the myth of "white neutrality" in video games, and how often we're given fantasy worlds where anything is possible—except, apparently, black people. Fussell looks at a recent example: The Witcher 3, which apparently has no people of color in it because it's a tribute to Slavic culture. And in his piece, he handily explains why that's an insufficient explanation: Games could do so many more interesting things with their themes if they weren't so totally focused on the comfort of the white male player at all times.
Tanya DePass previously did a piece for Offworld on a related theme, on the portrayal of people of color in BioWare's Dragon Age. Every game can muster a different excuse, but the conversations must continue—writer Tauriq Moosa was recently hounded off Twitter by harassers for raising the topic of race in The Witcher 3, a game which, come on, is fine and all, but is not such great art that criticizing it should warrant such consequences.
Katherine Cross has also done a wonderful Offworld feature for us on Microscope, a pen and paper game that helps players deliberately challenge roles and prejudices in the real world.
On a positive note, indie developer Catt Small joined us at Offworld this week to talk about how she developed a black woman protagonist as part of a jam team for an alien-shooting action game for mobile. What's interesting to me about her work with Prism Shell is that usually people assume that diversity work in games should generally stick to those genre where "story" and "characters" matter. Small's experience shows that even consideration for the identity inside the tiny ship can be refreshing and inviting to players.
My personal favorite game I played last week was Maquisard, a lovely, ornate little jewel-box of a hotel where you, as the attentive and unseen porter, must use your skills to sniff out an undercover agent. It's a fun subversion of stealth games, and it offers aesthetic credit to Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Thanks to the exciting launch of Google Sheep View, Laura offers us 7 games you can play with Google Maps. She also chose last week's Mobile Game of the Week (hey! That's a thing we're doing now, too!), which was You Must Build a Boat, a puzzle game that's not brand-new or anything, but that we thought deserved a shout-out (slavish devotion to the primacy of newness is killing games and games culture).
Our 'Play it Now' tag exists to help you quickly find new, free little games that you or anyone else should be able to play without prior literacy and without leaving your seat. Go visit it, because this week we found some new ones: An amazing online game world where you make your own levels out of emoji, a unique and crunchy arcade-style game about OCD, and a nostalgic watercolor platformer set inside a woman's head, among others.
Transmissions from Elsewhere
Sometimes Offworld receives transmissions from back on Earth, from those that are still left living. Kotaku boss Stephen Totilo decided to talk to Daniel Vavra, a "pro-Gamergate" (yes, there's such a thing among actual grown-ups) video game maker whose primary contribution to the canon of game development seems to be joining angry kids in complaining about how "social justice warriors" are stifling his creativity. Here he is grinning with famous knob Adam Baldwin, boasting that they do not at all understand the phrase they are making fun of.
Totilo had close to the seed of something interesting with his Vavra interview: Reading it, it's like, oh, obviously this guy has a mortal terror of censorship, he grew up under actual communism. I see what he was trying to do. But Totilo allows Vavra to repeatedly insist that "he just wants a conversation", when he joins a group that literally harasses people at their jobs constantly for trying to have conversations about representation, or women, or anything outside the status quo. The idea that what progressives want is to language-police or to stifle debate is a frequent straw man that Totilo allows Vavra to put forward with only the occasional reserved "I disagree." The fact that all the folks Vavra thinks are the most censorious offenders are all women (myself included) is something Totilo notices but does not interrogate.
The editorializing, the "I see his point" and other obeisances to neutrality Totilo makes in the piece actually seem to make it less neutral, and more the sort of placating "let's hear from both the sexist harassers and 'the other side'" rhetoric that's been so damaging. "I sort of get his issues with Sarkeesian" is a pretty destructive half-thought to leave dangling there—yes, it's easy to understand why a lot of people misinterpret and feel threatened by the rhetorical tools Anita Sarkeesian's videos offer people, but that's all they are—discussion tools. Anyone who claims they want discussion but suggests their "issues" are "with Sarkeesian" herself isn't helping.
We know it's challenging to have grown-up conversations at a popular gaming outlet and the Kotaku team is comprised entirely of rad people. If we ever moved back to Earth we'd want to hang out. But this transmission was a little too irradiated to pass our airlock.
Because you need to do other stuff besides games
Mare Sheppard, one-half of N++ developer Metanet Software, has unveiled a beautiful and unusual "marketing project" about fashion and body movement.
Mare Sheppard, half of two-person development team Metanet Software, has unveiled an unprecedented art project around the upcoming release of Metanet's long-anticipated N++: A photography series of dancers wielding vivid scarves designed in the image of the game.
Although it's a sort of "campaign" for N++, the expressive goals of the project, called Motion++, are higher, Sheppard tells us. "I want to convey the influence of dance and movement and art in my platformer, and show how Raigan [Burns, her collaborator at Metanet] and I really see N++, to abstractly demonstrate some of the characteristics and depth this game has. I am trying to show instead of tell, and in an unexpected way."
For Sheppard, Motion++—a gallery of striking images that communicate the spirit of the upcoming game, where players can even buy one the fashion scarves depicted (starting at a very reasonable $35)—is more than marketing, but an assertion of her values into a space that's often constrained by insular commercial aesthetics.
"I am trying to be the change I want to see in the world and in the game industry, in everything I do: I want the future to be diverse, abstract and creative, influenced and inspired by a wide and surprising range of things," she says. "I want games to be a vibrant, layered reflection of time and place and personality, made possible by a variety of people and collaborations. I want people to see the beauty of games with much more depth -- I want to help expand what games are and what they can be, who they speak to, and what they say. And how they say it! I hope this project is even one small step towards that future."
Although Motion++ was inspired by fashion editorial, ballet and the diversity of beauty and bodies, it's fundamentally an expression of how Sheppard and Burns feel about their game and the experience of playing it.
It seems impossible to believe the first release of Metanet Sotftware's N was in 2004. The simple but impossibly-elegant free game became widely loved and often-imitated over the years, culminating in 2008's N+ release on Xbox Live Arcade and other platforms. Metanet's "definitive and final" N++ will release on PS4 in the near future.
I am a partially-conceived polygonal body floating through a green field toward acid mountains. The kind of bright orange hoops I swim toward put me in mind of childhood Sega games. I become so attracted to the hoops that I forget my main goal, which is to collect cash that hangs dully in midair and whispers when I grab it.
In the end I collect $2100 of my $77,436 in student loan debt. I don't think I could have done much better. Interestingly the Sunny Delight-colored hoops gave me nothing.
"This is a demo of a piece I'm working on for my thesis," the game's creator, Aquma, writes on Project: Code Glitches, Get Money's page (the game is free). "Picture me on a stage, this projected onto the wall. I have a volunteer play the game, and while they do, I rap about making video games for money. There's more to it, but that's the gist so far."
That actually sounds pretty effective, to me. Phrases like "making video games for money" and "thesis" are increasingly unnerving these days, even moreso when paired.
The Hole Story, a funny fantasy game about a girl and her trusty shovel digging their way through a mysterious land, recently launched and is now available to buy—you can show your support for a new generation of young developers (and be inspired by their talent) with just five bucks.
Last year, the Girls Make Games summer camp series took off for the first time, aimed at teaching programming, design, project management and other skills to girls ages nine to 16. The inaugural program saw teams compete to have their game demos judged by industry leaders like Kellee Santiago and Tim Schafer, and the demo that would become The Hole Story was the winner.
Young developers The Negatives, a team of seven girls, raised over $31,000 on Kickstarter to finish the game, and have released it just about a year later, which is better than most indies do with Kickstarter these days.
The Girls Make Games program, aimed at addressing the gender gap in the video game industry, is led by LearnDistrict and is funded by the kids' camp tuition, corporate sponsors and individual donors; learn more at the official site.