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    Night in the Woods (Switch)    by   dkirschner       (Oct 29th, 2020 at 11:49:55)

    Watch my girlfriend play this off and on and "we" beat it. The story was really cool, tacking mental health issues and that weird time of life--perhaps a quarter-life crisis--when people come back from college (or part of college) to their home town and find that they are changed and everyone else is still the same.

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    Gris (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Oct 29th, 2020 at 11:47:08)

    I was less impressed by Gris than I thought I would be, and no student chose to purchase or play it, so it'll be off the list for next time. I had read that Gris was about sorrow after loss, and it did depict this theme well through beautiful art. That's what I'll remember Gris for the most, the aesthetic. Otherwise, Gris is a fairly dull puzzle platformer with just enough satisfying puzzles to keep me interested for a few hours.

    Gris features some pulse-thumping "boss fights" (aka hold "right" on the joystick and experience the illusion of danger...and there was even a legitimately unexpected jump scare that caused me to yell), but my favorite part was a too-brief puzzle mechanic. In this part, a light shines from above onto the ground, which is made of crystals. If you stand in the light, you too turn into a crystal...but the crystal is just an imprint of you. You can still move around. So basically you have created a block that you can use to jump on to get to higher areas. I thought this was really clever, but you use the trick like two times.

    One part that I thought was awful is an obstacle for deaf players or anyone who happens to have the sound off. In the environments, there are rocky patches of ground that you can pound to drop down below. When you walk over these patches, an audio cue triggers like gravel gently shifting. Normally you see the ground shift too, but in this particular case, the area was pitch black. I ran back and forth in the dark for a few minutes before noticing the subtle sound of gravel in one spot. Ah! Jump, slam, escape! And I thought, "Wow, that is really inaccessible." Not only would a deaf player have extreme difficulty passing this part, they would not be able to experience the outstanding music in Gris that really works with the visual style to evoke feeling.

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    Apart of Me (iPd)    by   dkirschner       (Oct 29th, 2020 at 10:49:00)

    Most students chose to play this for the assignment because it was free and accessible (they could play on their phones). Truly, no wonder mobile gaming is such a big industry. I give them options of much more "gamey" games and they all go for the free mobile game!

    Nevertheless, this was a cool experience. Apart of Me was designed specifically to help youth cope with loss. It's like a virtual guide through emotions and coping behaviors. It's set up, very basically, like an RPG/simulation and has strong Animal Crossing vibes. You land on an island and are greeted by The Guide who tells you to explore, meet the island's inhabitants, and do quests for them that will help you with your loss.

    Off you go exploring the little island. NPCs do give you quests (catch butterflies, explore a cave, etc.), and the reward is narrative or information about grief. For example, the first thing you do is explore a cave, wherein you have a sort of home, that contains stories of real people who have suffered loss. These stories are audio logs spoken by the survivor. You unlock more as you do more quests, and the idea is that you listen to these other young people talk about what it was like having their parent or whoever die, and you empathize and see similarities and differences in your own loss; you don't feel so alone.

    By the cave is a reflection pool and meditation rocks. It's calm, tranquil, and you can actually do some guided meditation there. Students reported very much enjoying that. Another NPC tasks you with capturing butterflies with a net (hello Animal Crossing!). You are supposed to return a butterfly to the NPC, who keeps them bottled up, but you accidentally release it. When you tell this to the NPC, they say something like "Ah well, it's probably better to release them than to keep them bottled up." The butterflies are different emotions; each one you catch tells you that what you're feeling (sadness, anger, loneliness, guilt, etc.) is normal and that it's okay to feel it. Again, very cool.

    There are a number of other things like the above, where good therapeutic information and advice on coping with loss is embedded into the game. The Guide even gives you exercises to take into the real world, such as writing down your best memories with the person you have lost (or sharing your favorite memories of them with another survivor). The one thing that I didn't like about this is that NPCs will repeatedly tell you that they know what you're going through, that other people have the same experiences of loss as you. This is not best practice for talking to survivors. All losses are experienced differently, despite similarities between them. If you tell someone whose mom has died, "I know how you feel," they will say or think, "You can't possibly know how this feels" because their mom was their mom and they had a relationship with her that you did not have. So, I'm not sure why this was included in the game. But, I will definitely use this one again next time, and if you're interested, it's totally worth 30 minutes of your time to see what it offers.

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    The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Oct 27th, 2020 at 19:30:21)

    Woo! Played some games! Last time I taught Death, Grief, and Dying I came up with a two-day activity for students to play That Dragon, Cancer and do some thinking about the role of games and play in representing/coping with loss. I couldn't do the exact same game-based learning lesson virtually, so I modified the activity by using a variety of games (actually sourced from having students dig for them last time!) to give students options and broadening the questions. The variety overcame financial and technological obstacles, which I'm really happy about! I had two free options and games that could be played across PC, console, phones, and iPads: That Dragon, Cancer; Gris; Apart of Me; and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.

    This game was a nice surprise, a short slice of compelling story tackling tough themes of death, alcoholism, and child abuse, as well as more uplifting ones like imagination and fantasy. This is an "in between" sort of episode of the Life is Strange series. I don't know how (if) it relates to the first game, and apparently it is a prequel of sorts to the second. You play as a young boy named Chris who lives with his alcoholic dad. Chris's mom/dad's wife has somewhat recently died and dad isn't taking it too well.

    As Chris, you spend a morning playing in your room, eating breakfast with your dad, exploring outside your house, mourning your mother, and hoping that your dad will take you Christmas tree shopping like he promised. He gets busy drinking early and watching basketball though, so it's unlikely they ever go tree shopping. No matter. There is plenty to do around the house for an hour-and-a-half. Most of these things have the potential to piss off your drunk, angry dad.

    Which is what I found so compelling about the game. Normally in videogames, I poke and prod characters, try a bunch of dialogue options, have fun pissing off NPCs if possible. In this game, I did not want to piss off the dad. I didn't want to call and order a pizza, I didn't want to pretend to zap his whiskey bottle, I didn't want to compare his cooking to my mom's cooking, I didn't want to wake him up after he passed out, I didn't want to play with a dinosaur toy on the floor in the den where he was watching TV. The game succeeds in making you think your actions will bring literal harm to Chris. It effectively establishes an abusive relationship in a realistic setting.

    After I finished the game though, I did go back and see what Chris's father would do in response to some of these behaviors. Surprisingly, he doesn't do anything except be irritated with you. There is one funny interaction I found. When he is watching the basketball game (and here, I thought back to my own childhood), if you stand in front of the TV, he will make comments like "Chris, I can't see through you, you know." My dad used to say, "You're a door, not a window." But he never really yells and doesn't get physical, even though it's clear that he has before.

    This was absolutely worth the 90-120 minutes it took to poke around and, although none of my students actually chose to play it, I'll keep it on the list for this assignment in the future.

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    Bee Simulator (PS4)    by   jp       (Oct 24th, 2020 at 17:46:02)

    Finished!

    I'm not sure I have all that much more to say - the game isn't that deep but I did have a bit of extra fun picking up some trophies and finding some easter eggs - a literal one in this case (there's an easter egg inside the hen house in the zoo, if you sting it, it turns red and unlocks a trophy). Perhaps the neatest was finding a ring in the seal pen, stinging it, and an inscription appears! (like in the Lord of the Rings movie). It has a code that you then need to enter in a laptop. WHAT?!

    Anyways, light, fun and totally charming game.

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    4 : dkirschner's Apart of Me (iPd)
    5 : dkirschner's The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (PC)
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    Random

    KAMI (PC)    by   dkirschner

    Meh
    most recent entry:   Saturday 9 August, 2014
    It’s a paper-folding puzzle game. It’s not origami, nothing as interesting as that. Rather, you get a pattern of different-colored paper. You select what color to change some block of paper to (like flipping Othello pieces) and click the block of paper you want to change, and it flips color. The goal is to get all the paper to be the same color in as few moves as possible. That’s the game.

    Each level has a ‘perfect’ rating if you achieve the goal in x number of flips. If you go one over perfect, it’s ‘ok,’ and anything more than that is ‘fail.’ I beat all the normal levels, about 1/3 of them perfect (oddly, the highest % of perfects was the last chunk of levels). It was pretty easy. There are some additional premium levels but I don’t really care. No achievements, no other features.

    The game describes itself as having a Japanese aesthetic with comforting music. It’s really not as cool as it might sound. There is one paper noise and one little harp chord that plays when you win. The claim to Japanese aesthetic is…wait for it…paper thin. Zing! Just because it’s a game about folding paper and has an Asian sounding chord doesn’t make it some zen-like experience.

    To be fair, I did enjoy playing it for a while. I think it's cool that the art is real paper. And I do appreciate that there are multiple ways to solve many of the puzzles.

    [read this GameLog]

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