Jun 27th, 2020 at 17:48:17 - A Mortician's Tale (PC)
Wow, I really liked this. Last time I taught Death, Grief, & Dying, I had students play That Dragon, Cancer. Then I asked them to seek out other games with themes related to the course, and this was one they came back with, along with Gris, which I have queued up. |
So, first thing, the game is short. Like an hour or so. It took me almost an hour and a half because I was trying to win a stupid Minesweeper mini game. But it packs a lot of information and story into that hour. I wouldn't have wanted it to be any longer unless there was a lot more gameplay variety.
A Mortician's Tale is a death-positive game that aims to educate people about the death industry, burial practices (especially eco-friendly types), cultural differences in death and grief, and so on. They obviously collaborated with Caitlin Doughty, who has become quite well known as a...if this is a term...public mortician? Go read her books and check out her YouTube channel if you're interested in the death industry.
In the game, you play as a mortician (who looks suspiciously like Caitlin Doughty) for a mom-and-pop funeral home. You check email (you have a friend, a friendly co-worker, a boss, and a listserv that will email you). The email from your boss always has some description of your next job (who died, what their family wants, etc.), and then you go prepare the body. You have a few tools, and you just follow explicit instructions each time. It's a bit zen in that way. Once you prepare the body, you go to the funeral parlor and can talk to the attendees. I enjoyed this because some will be acting quiet and reserved at the funeral, while others will be sobbing, others will crack jokes, others will be on their phones. They'll discuss feelings, cultural differences, wonder whether they've made their loved one happy, and so on. It's often sweet. The purpose is to show the player that there are many different ways to grieve and that not all funerals are alike (point driven home at the end of the game).
The game's strongest accomplishment is teaching players about alternative (eco, mostly) burial practices, which are gaining popularity in the US. Before I taught this course for the first time, I had never heard of green burials, alkaline hydrolysis, orbital burials, or anything! But most everything I've heard of is in the game, including cremation jewelry. The game also discusses grieving, seeking help, considerations for preparing trans people, wills, religious perspectives on burial practices and corpses, and a major narrative thread shows how small funeral homes struggle in the face of large corporations buying them out.
There are two cases in the game that stood out. The first was when you get an email about a suicide victim. The game asks you (the character, but you) if you want to take the job (the only choice the game ever asks you to make). If you opt out, then you just get another body to prepare. This is nice for people who may be triggered having to interact with a (virtual) person who killed themselves. The second was when you have to prepare a homeless man. When you take his urn to the funeral parlor, there is no one there to see him. It was sad and made me reflect on inequalities related to death.
I noticed as I played that I became desensitized in a short amount of time to the work of preparing bodies for burial. This reminds me of Paul Kalanithi's excellent memoir When Breath Becomes Air, where he discusses this at length regarding his time as a hospital resident. When you get a job, you stand over the body and are instructed to clean it with a sponge. The first time doing it, I did it slowly, like wow, I'm washing a dead person. It was reverent. By the end of the game, I was just like yeah yeah, wash wash scrub scrub, into the furnace you go! It's awful! But that's a main theme of the game, our desensitization to death, our distance from it, the impersonal nature of burial practices especially when they become handled by corporate entities.
Yeah, so I really, really enjoyed this and will definitely create an assignment for my students play this in Death, Grief, & Dying this semester. Perhaps they can choose between this and That Dragon, Cancer. We shall see.
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Jun 27th, 2020 at 12:49:38 - The Witness (PC)
Played this for 4 or 5 hours and am over it. This is a puzzle game from Jonathan Blow of Braid fame. It's set on a big, beautiful island that you explore in first-person. Scattered around the island are a number of "hubs" containing grid-based line puzzles with many different rules. These begin simply enough, but I quickly found myself scratching my head. |
A cool thing about the design is that there are no tutorials. Every puzzle follows some logic and you can figure them out by doing other puzzles and observing the world around you. At least, it's cool because you will have great "aha" moments, but it is also maddening because if you get stuck, there is no help.
The first puzzles just ask you to draw a line through a maze. Then, black and white dots appear and the line must also separate the two types of dots. As you complete puzzles, you will usually see a power cable light up that leads to the next puzzle in the area. Eventually the powered cables open doors and whatnot. So although the island is open, and you are free to explore most of it at any time, it does do a decent job of guiding you through easier areas first. That is, until you discover the town in the middle of the map, which apparently contains the hardest puzzles. When I saw the town for the first time, I was so confused, though based on previous experience, I realized that the answer to "what are the rules of these puzzles" must be in other areas, so off I went to explore some more.
Suffice it to say that there are many, many clever takes on the "draw a line" mechanic. Another neat thing that The Witness does is force you to use the environment to solve puzzles. In one area, I realized that I had to draw lines around objects in the background behind the transparent grid. In others, I realized that I had to trace shadows cast by tree branches behind me, or trace a line to an end corresponding to an apple on a tree in front of me.
Despite being periodically like "wooow" and impressed with the puzzles, like I said, they were also maddening because I could not figure out for the life of me how many of them worked. What are all these colored shapes? What do I do with the tetris shapes? I sort of figured out the latter, but only on a surface level because more advanced tetris shape puzzles stumped me. My previous "rules" didn't work, so they must be incomplete. The island is so big that finding where to find a rule can be quite the challenge. Eventually, I discovered a boat, which enabled me to zoom around the island faster and see some things I had not previously seen.
So, that's about where I stopped, just aimlessly looking at new places in the boat and not feeling like I was making progress. Progress toward what? You would expect a puzzle game in a 3D world to have some sort of story, but although I had the feeling that there was a story, I can't tell you what it is. I don't know who I am, what this island is, why there are line puzzles all over it. If someone said what's the story like, I'd say I don't know. My motivation to continue a difficult or drudging game is often bolstered by wanting to know what happens next, but that doesn't happen here. So I quit.
Then I watched this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZokQov_aH0
First, this guy is phenomenal. I will be watching more. But, most importantly, this video confirmed that I made the right decision to stop playing. Watching it, I am certain I would have made some more discoveries, but also certain that I never would have finished because the game is so obtuse. While I appreciate Jonathan Blow's work here on an intellectual level, actually playing it through is not something I would subject anyone to. It turns out that you get no story until you beat the game, and that it's a game about perspective. Like, to get you to think about perspective itself, both in terms of observation and epistemology. Oh man. I don't want to play a 30-hour difficult puzzle game to think about perspective. I'll just think about it!
If someone was interested in the game, I'd suggest playing it, but not pursuing it too hard. Struggle a bit, but if you really want to stop, stop and listen to someone smart talk about it.
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Jun 24th, 2020 at 19:28:13 - Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (PC)
This should be the last log I write for a minute! My Microsoft Game Pass subscription is lapsing in a couple days and I managed in two months to play most everything on there that I was interested in (that my computer could run, and that I didn't want to own). 2 months, 15 or 20 games, and...$5.99. Frugal victory! I no longer feel compelled to play games with all my free time. Just finished this one up because I had started it before I realized that Wolfenstein II was removed from Game Pass. |
This one isn't as good as The New Order, but it's got some neat tricks. You get a new weapon/tool, a pipe that can be taken apart. Whole, you can pry things, pop off heavy enemy armor, and execute enemies. In parts, you can execute enemies and climb some walls using them like ice picks. The story is a direct prequel. Some new enemy types include flaming zombies (which only pose a threat in two sequences near and during the final boss) and giant mechanized supersoldiers that are on rails. It's funny. They're the technological precursors to the armored dudes in the first game, but the Nazis haven't developed the technology to power them free of power lines.
The neat perk system is still here where you unlock permanent upgrades by doing things like "get 50 kills with the shotgun" but there are fewer than in the first game and it was less fun for some reason to try and unlock them all. I think that's a summary of the game really. It's basically The New Order again, but everything is turned down a notch.
EXCEPT the final boss battle. I remember complaining that The New Order could have used more memorable fights. Well, good job Old Blood! There are two boss fights, one against a character I very much enjoyed killing, but the fight itself was easy and not memorable. But the second, it took me 20 tries. I figured out one little trick after another and finally won. And like the last boss in The New Order, there are no tells for how injured the boss is (well, the gutters of flame might be, not sure), so I never had any idea if I was really on the right track or not. Then finally, one time, he died. Yay!
Looking forward to The New Colossus at some point. I'm sure it's a romp.
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Jun 24th, 2020 at 15:43:53 - Goat Simulator (PC)
I do not know what I expected. This game doesn't need to exist. It amused me for 5 minutes, then I rounded out the half hour trying to find some hidden depth or meaning and, well, it's not there. |
You're a goat. You can sprint, headbutt things, lick things, and do flips. You're given two tiny levels with some people, cars, houses, a Ferris wheel, and all sorts of silly set pieces (Stonehenge, an art show, a castle where goats worship you, etc.). You run around and cause mayhem. Get points for headbutting things and blowing up things. Cross off a list of achievements for doing double-backflips or headbutting something really far or destroying Stonehenge.
The game was released on April Fool's Day and it's clearly a joke. Coffee Stain Studios made the excellent Sanctum FPS/TD hybrids and, I just read, surpassed all sales of Sanctum 1 and 2 with Goat Simulator. I just remember it being hyped. Now I think it must not have been honest-to-goodness hype but like joke hype. Like it's-so-bad-it's-good hype. It's purposefully buggy and the ragdoll physics are exaggerated, and it can be kind of funny flying, twirling, through the air after getting hit by a swerving car, then landing and headbutting through the glass of an art museum and disrupting the hipster show going on. People must love it because aside from the two levels, there are at least 5 paid DLCs. Is there anything substantially more interesting in there? I wonder.
I think that Untitled Goose Game must have gotten inspiration from this. Also, I was thinking about Mister Mosquito the other day, which is a bizarre old PS2 game where you are a mosquito who harasses a Japanese family. Is there a long line of "animal harasses humans" games? Should this be a genre?? I wish.
Anyway, weird. Glad this was on Microsoft Game Pass so I could check it out, even if it seems pointless.
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