(This is Part Two of a series on Soft Chaos's latest SCO, an as-of-yet untitled project that you can read a bit more about in Part One, here.)
Games as Gemstones
All summer, we encouraged our workshop students to scope small and polish well. As part of that, we had a guest talk by Droqen, who came to talk to us specifically about small games and their power to communicate moments and ideas to other people. Droqen explained that a tiny game is something that you can share with another person and then talk about immediately, as compared to a big open-world game where you could both play for hours and have entirely different experiences. Among other things, one metaphor that Droqen used that stuck with me is the idea of tiny games as gemstones — small experiences that you can polish and carry with you.
When we were thinking about the structure of this new project, I wanted to make something a bit more bite-sized, where even making a bit of progress on the project could potentially make a big difference to the experience. I also wanted to stretch some of the skills that I don't get to use as often in client work because they're not my specialties. For example, with client work, it's much more expedient (and wise) to have Squinky handle the programming tasks, because they are a trained programmer and will be able to do the job much more quickly (and better!) than me. And lastly, I wanted to make some solo games (again, to stretch my skills and make something according to my tastes and abilities) and some games together with Allison and Squinky.
That's why I suggested that, inspired by Squinky's Second Puberty and Droqen's 31 unmarked games, we should make an album of games!
The cover of Droqen's 31 unmarked games, photo by a pixabay user named Bru-nO
An Album of Games
When I spoke to Squinky and Allison about album games, Squinky said that Second Puberty and their interest in album games was in part inspired by ceMelusine's east van EP. One of the lines in the description of this project is this: "I think videogames, as a concept, should be more like music, so I've decided to pretend they are."
The great thing about music albums is that songs are arranged in a particular order for the listener to enjoy. Oftentimes, songs are positioned on the track list with some thematic resonance or pattern that the artist wants to communicate, but you can also listen to the songs in any order, or just pick out one to listen to on repeat. Songs on an album are in conversation with each other by virtue of having been chosen for the album, and the choice of ordering principle reveals something about how the artist thinks about the songs. Are we being taken through an emotional arc or even an explicit narrative arc? Are the songs grouped by theme or by tempo?
My hope is that, by making an album of short, polished "gemstone" games that explore a single idea, moment, feeling, thought, or experience, we'll be able to create some interesting juxtapositions, particularly around the theme of...
Joy and Dread
When we were discussing themes to help guide our work on this project, I started to reflect on the kinds of emotions that were coming up for me. As we spoke together, the twin themes of joy and dread emerged.
The world can be incredibly demoralizing and scary right now. [...] Let's pretend that in that ellipsis, I listed all of the many, many ways that the world is demoralizing and scary right now. I think you probably know at least some of the things that I would say. Fill in some of what you'd say is scary.
At the same time, moments of joy that may seem small in comparison to all of the capital D Dread. That joy is so, so important, but it's also not uncomplicated. Allowing ourselves joy can be a fortifying act of resistance that helps us be resilient, but in some cases, it also comes with guilt and worry. Are we allowed to feel joy when there is so much pain?
Obviously, my opinion is yes, but it might not feel that way.
When we were talking, Allison described an image that struck me and that I haven't been able to get out of my head. Over the summer, Allison booked cabins in nearby Quebec cottage country to prepare for her wedding next year. Almost as soon as she booked them, Quebec was on fire in a way that it has rarely been. She described picturing her wedding next year — her and her fiancée getting married at a beautiful lake while the forest burned behind them.
And in many ways, that's what life under late capitalism during a climate crisis feels like, as both of those interrelated crises magnify instability and inequality across the planet. (Whoops, I guess this is part of what would go into that ellipsis, huh?)
But resisting and making lasting change is a marathon...or maybe a relay race? We need to stop and take breaks. Rest and leisure are human rights for a reason. They have intrinsic value, and so does joy for its own sake. But they also help us continue on.
So, these are some of the thoughts that I'm bringing into this new project with Allison and Squinky. Stay tuned for Part Three from Squinky in a few weeks!