As expected, a very deeply personal bit of artsy expression. It honestly didn’t work terribly well for me — but this one’s so achingly sincere that I really can’t go too hard on it without feeling like a colossal douchebag, so here we are.
Page 6, Game 21: Memoir En Code: Reissue by Alex Camilleri
This is a series of minigame vignettes representing various times in the developer’s life — the short description says it’s a “game album,” and having played it, yeah, that’s what it feels like. It’s a series of tracks, each one unique and representing … something.
Each little mini-game feels very different from what came before (with the notable exceptions of the two desktop bookends), but the minimalist art style and chill, ambient soundtrack all work to give the whole thing a unified feel, which I definitely appreciate.
You can interact with the vignettes in various ways; each mini-game helpfully lays out which keys are relevant at the bottom of the screen. For the desktop “levels,” you just mouse around and click things. There’s one where you’re in a train saying goodbye to your girlfriend; you can choose what to say, but I think it doesn’t much matter. The most gamelike of the mini-games is probably the one where you have to find the best place to study in an apartment full of inconsiderate dickbag roomies who keep turning the TV on and stuff.
But the problem with this game is that you need to find a good place to study and then … wait. Do nothing. Watch the bar there on the right creep slowly upward while the bar on the left creeps slowly downward. Maybe turn off the TV or whatever a roommate turned on. But otherwise, the way to “win” this game is to basically do nothing.
I consistently had that issue. These little games are very pretty and pleasant, but they’re not particularly interactive — and gaming is an interactive medium, god dammit. The worst offender was the hair-growing “game.” I found a button on the left that turned on the “Director’s Commentary,” and it explained what the hell was going on. Basically, the dev felt very self-conscious about his large ears growing up, and feared that everybody was staring at him. So, he wore his hair long to hide them. But sooner or later came the inevitable haircut, and the whole cycle would start all over again.
That’s all well and good. I’m quite sympathetic. Those sorts of micro-traumas can leave their marks, you know? I can see mining that for some good art.
But the way he turned it into a “game” was there’s a section where you can approach the mirror or … not. Then you can push a button that will make your ears grow, or you can … not do that. Then there will be eyes, which will stare at you balefully when your back is turned. Then you can push the button that will make your hair grow, or you can … not do that. Then there are more eyes, but this time, they’re not looking at you. Then the haircut happens, and you’re back to the beginning — no matter what. The “game” is deliberately an infinite loop, and the only way to “win” is to stop playing it by pressing the “skip” button.
That’s not fun. That’s not engaging. That’s just fuckin’ annoying.
This reminds me of some other low-key “Click around, see what happens” style games, the most obvious being Islands: Non-Places. When they work, they have a kind of dream logic to them. You explore, you see what happens next. If the game has me hooked, it’ll be something I find interesting.
Memoir En Code just didn’t keep me interested. I’m sure everything in here was deeply meaningful to the dev, but the mark of good art is that it retains some sort of meaning, some ability to evoke an emotional response, even when the viewer has only a fraction of the context for it that the artist had. Memoir En Code falls short of that. While I’m sure a mini-game about wandering aimlessly around a beach kicking stones evokes a very specific and charged set of memories for the developer, there just wasn’t anything in it for me. There really wasn’t anything to explore, and if there were any surprises, they eluded me completely.
By far the rawest track had to be the finale, which was a reprise of the first bit of desktop exploration. You click around, you see what happens … except this time, when you click on the picture of the guy and his ex girlfriend, you don’t just get a repeating cycle of two text boxes. You get an ongoing plunge into hurt and loss, represented by the game fake-glitching out. That engaged me. That felt immediate to me in a way that most of the other stuff simply didn’t.
As I have often mentioned, I am one seriously basic bitch. Gimme some zombies and spaceships and shit blowing up. I’ve found I can enjoy artsy games like this if they’re done well, but Memoir En Code just doesn’t clear that bar for me. Still. It’s far from being a total waste of time, and there is a lot to recommend it. If you enjoy games as experiments in personal expression more than I do, it might absolutely be worth your while.
Also, at entry #174, this game represents me getting 10% of the way through the entire Bundle. I was kinda hoping for something I really loved to have that distinction … but honestly, I’m hoping for that every time I roll the dice for the next game. It wasn’t quite for me, but for this milestone, I’m totally find with stumbling across something weird and deeply personal that I otherwise never would have taken a second look at. Feels right, somehow.
Will this next game feature a level where I’m tempted to draw dicks in the sand and then at the last minute choose not to screenshot it because nah I don’t want to be THAT basic?
Page 33, Game 11: Penicillin Issue #3 by Micah Anderson
“The third issue of the World’s Other Only RPG Zine”
Hmm, I think I’ve encountered other issues of Penicillin. What did I think of them?
Looks like I’ve reviewed issue #2: “[T]here’s some really fucked-up shit here. I can definitely recommend it for GMs looking to make their fantasy worlds less rote and more creatively dark.”
Oh, yeah. That one. So in all likelihood, less drawing of dicks, more clever existential dread. I’m down for it.