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.


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)!


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


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.