It’s almost impossible to encompass the range of feelings our contributors have been experiencing these last weeks. To be frank, it’s given me (Julian) a pretty intense case of writer’s block. That’s why I asked all of the Outermoders to get together and write a bit about games they’ve been playing that have helped them cope. I’m going to end this paragraph before I attempt to organize a literal revolution in BUZZING RED ALL CAPS GNAR GNARG GNARHGH anyways, here’s the team in their own words:
The cracks in our society have widened into fissures, spraying turd water directly in all our faces. When we haggardly wipe down our eyeglasses and apply handkerchiefs to sopping foreheads in a flummox of genteel naivete, we are reminded that the turd water was there all along, beneath the social concrete, pressure high, waiting, pulsing.
I’ve been playing Overwatch, still. I’ve written about the game on this site before, about the way it is openly designed to be extremely addictive, and also about the strange cultural stereotyping, a global roster clumsily designed through the committee-meeting lens of corporate America. I still think it lacks artfulness and nuance. But you know what? Even though this is still a shooty shoot gun gun game, even though the wooden dialogue often misses the mark on the charm-o-meter (and so shudders the long dormant smarm-o-meter back into life), Overwatch has serious heart.
“The cracks in our society have widened into fissures, spraying turd water directly in all our faces.”
It ain’t perfect but it is joyous, and every update sees some new celebration of its diverse stable of characters. Most recently we saw the addition of the Oasis map, which imagines Iraq as a shiny techno-utopia with a thriving metropolis. Characters from different backgrounds co-mingle and chirp platitudes toward one another before matches begin, and dialogue I’d otherwise decry as awkwardly pandering now feels welcome. The whole thing stands as a palliative gesture of cross-cultural friendship, and even as you’re beating, shooting, stomping the other team, even as your own team bickers amongst itself, Overwatch constantly looks for ways to make you feel welcome, whoever you might be.
The game keeps improving in the inclusivity department. Whereas the initial crop of character designs and alternate skins often tipped into feeling culturally invasive, Blizzard have clearly been listening to the community, and better learning how to act in good taste. Steps have even been taken to make the game more flat-out good natured. Just look at Soldier 76, the run-and-gun poster child for the game, who has slowly softened from violent mercenary to absurdist middle class dad. One of the most recent equippable victory poses for the character has him raising a mug of cocoa as a toast, in another he takes a swing with a golf club. One update even changed the in-game chat so that certain antagonistic messages were replaced with light-hearted alternatives. It’s not just a solid, tightly-wound game, but one going out of its way to create an environment where other people – players as well as characters – are presented as friendly and knowable. Cultural difference in Overwatch is something cool, exciting and colourful. It’s putting pageantry over prejudice, and that’s something I’ve seriously come to appreciate about my time with Overwatch.
Oh, also, yeah, Destiny, just like everyone else on this site.
While all around us the fabric of reality is ripping itself apart as space-time attempts to reject the great orange anomaly that’s sucking up joy and human rights like a dying star, a lot of folks have turned to videogames to cope. Some, like the gentle entries to the self-care game jam, are reminders to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Others, like Handvaska! and a game literally called Jam Fists Into Nazi Faces, are a little more on the, shall we say, cathartic side.
“Lately, I’ve personally been really into games with simple objectives.”
Lately, I’ve personally been really into games with simple objectives. I took up Beglitched again, a “cyberpink” hacking game where you help a computer witch defend her turf. Stardew Valley and Starbound are also favorites because I can just zone out and plant some crops or mine some spaceship fuel. What’s that? The Doomsday Clock is ticking ever closer to apocalypse o’clock? I can’t hear you, I’ve dug into the center of this moon and I’m not coming back out.
When not collapsing under the weight of persistent existential dread, I’ve also been working my way through a gigantic list of games I’ve been meaning to play. At the top is The Witness, an open-world puzzler inspired by Myst. It’s super gorgeous with lush colors straight out of a painting. The developer estimates that there’s about 80 hours of gameplay, so it can probably offer me at least a few weeks of solace. Also there’s something really appealing about being stranded on an island far away from civilization. At least until irresponsible environmental policies sink that island. Then I guess I’ll switch over to Subnautica or something.
Lately I’ve been playing to cope. That’s why it’s so interesting that these (end) times would coincide with my first major fling with the poster child for ‘addictive’ games — World of Warcraft. I’ve played a half dozen classes over the course of hundreds of hours of game time, but my main character is a female orc warrior by the name of Kamehå. Partly because I secretly fantasize about someone like her chopping a certain somebody else’s head off, partly because I always pick a warrior, and partly because yeah, I’m a fan of Dragon Ball.
“I’m pretty sure I finished The Brothers Karamazov.“
I’ve been playing a lot through sadness, fear, and rage. Turbulent thoughts and feelings of utter powerlessness. It’s hard to call the kind of playing I’ve been doing “fun”, but hey, it’s hard to call reading Dostoyevsky “fun” and I’m pretty sure I finished The Brothers Karamazov. I suppose there are valuable things to learn from “un-fun” experiences. At the very least, my repeat trips to Azeroth allow me moments away from my phone’s newsfeed, which as of late seems to be an illustrated guide to pulling off a coup d’etat. Being a visa-holder myself, I feel held back from going out into the streets and protesting as much as I’d like, for fear that an arrest might lead to deportation. I know that might sound crazy, but a lot of ‘crazy’ things have materialized into realities in the last week.
I’ve also wandered back to my comfort food: Destiny. I have a few real-life friends playing it right now, and I’ve been treating the gorgeous, well-designed, just-a-little-queer MMOFPS like a social area that just happens to involve shooting aliens. So far so good.
Hmm. Upon reexamination, both of those games are about endless wars. Fuck me with a pretzel, I guess I might be part of the problem.
Look, I’m going to be honest, I’m basically only playing Destiny right now, and have been for weeks. All Destiny, all the time. My PS4 is now just a glorified Destiny box, and I spend every waking minute either shooting aliens and collecting loot or thinking about shooting aliens and collecting loot. When I’m travelling I’m reading Grimoire entries on the companion app. When I’m at work I’m researching the game’s intricate, overlapping progression systems. I’ve turned down plans with my girlfriend (who’s hopefully not reading this!) so that I could play a few strikes or improve my Light Level.
“Just simple, mechanically satisfying violence.”
I don’t know if this is all some coping mechanism brought on by the rise of America: Fascist Super State or just the fact that Destiny is really fucking addictive, but it’s easy to see why the game is so soothing right now. Problem solving is straightforward: I shoot just about anything that isn’t me. See a problem? Shoot it. Problem gone. No mess, no complexity, no moral grey areas. Just simple, mechanically satisfying violence. Enemies don’t even leave corpses behind, so my problems literally disappear.
Plus, since there’s no gear degradation system, things are constantly improving. In any given play session I can trust I’ll complete a few missions, clear a few bounties, collect some gear, and inch my Light Level up towards 400. Progress may be slow, but it’s also inevitable, so even as the wider world gets worse and worse, my own tiny, personal, Destiny-flavoured bubble is on a constant uptick. Maybe that makes me selfish. Maybe it means I’m part of the problem. But these SIVA Crisis Strikes aren’t going to complete themselves, and I haven’t even tried any of the Raids yet, so you’ll find me at the Tower.
I’m going to be honest. I am not experiencing the same fear and terror as most of my friends. I feel like I should be? The news, and all my facebook friends are telling me that the world is ending; of this they are certain. That I should be performing self-flagellation to cope with this vague white guilt for past (and future) crimes against humanity. That my opinion is no longer valid. That my people will be rounded up (a-fucking-gain) and sent to the camps. That the leader of our on-again, off-again adversary, Russia, has hacked our Democracy and delivered us a false idol with the sole intention of dethroning the United States from its comfortable place at the top of the food chain. Don’t get me wrong, I am upset that my values are no longer represented in the White House, but I am not surprised. Trump is doing exactly what he’s been promising his whole campaign.
Usually, I’d be the one trying to convince an underwhelmed acquaintance I’ve cornered at a party of such conspiracy theories… but alas, even calling them conspiracy theories is about the most unpopular thing one could say. The optimist in me wants so badly to try and help my friends ease their fears; to present a differing point of view that maybe makes the state of our country seem not-so-fucked. But any time I try, no one will listen; just as they didn’t listen when I suggested months ago that Trump had a good chance of winning the election. Instead, they are outraged I would even try to be optimistic about anything right now. They tell me, “careful what you say” in a manner that if I didn’t know better, feels like a threat.
“This time, I’ve chosen graphics over friends.”
I hate the extreme opinions on both sides. I see two echo chambers, a thousand miles apart, with neither side willing to even look across the aisle. So I retreat. I retreat to my little island, in my little dinosaur game: Ark: Survival Evolved on PS4. This time, I’ve chosen graphics over friends, which some might say is telling of my current mental state. Alone on a deserted beach populated with noisy little Dodos, I chop down log after log. It’s a primitive plus server, and I’ve found that I’m attacked less here (literally, not figuratively). The chat seems friendly enough, and I’m not sure if anyone has discovered my somewhat impressive base built into the side of a cliff. It’s peaceful. Sitting on my balcony as the sun rises over the winding river, watching the Brontos lift their heads to reach the highest tree tops provides a sense of comfort that is scarce in my daily, IRL life. Maybe I am scared? Maybe I’m terrified and my stubbornness to see what’s happening is merely a disappointing combination of selfishness and denial. I’m not sure. We’ve been the ones “winning” for so long, I had never given much thought to what might happen if the other side got their way. There’s a quote, “May you live in interesting times,” that initially sounds like a blessing, until you discover that its originator meant it more as a warning. Either way, my base still stands, but I am united with no one. I’ve thought about reaching out to the strangers in chat, to search for a friend; any digital companion really. But that would complicate things, I tell myself. Best to go it alone, for now.
Despite the profound, global and existential threat The Donald represents to the human race I can still make this about me and how my FUCKING INTERNET DOESN’T WORK. I’ve mostly been playing mobile games.
Pocket Mortys is a pretty free-to-play skinner box with just enough Rick and Morty seasoning to make me forget that it’s slowly killing my soul. It’s got voice barks by Justin Roiland, Bird Person rescues you when your squad of Mortys is knocked out, and there’s a chiptune version of ‘Can You Feel It?’ by Chaos Chaos (the heart breaker from the end of Season 2’s ‘Auto Erotic Assimilation’.) Apparently that’s enough to make me play a barebones Pokemon clone with meaningless crafting. I collected a Fleeb and then I purified it! I don’t know what that means, but when I work out how to make a plumbus I know that I’m fucked. I need a plumbus.
“Painting Warhammer figures is an obvious regression towards my childhood.”
Dumb Ways to Die 2 is better. Which is weird because it’s an adaptation of a viral edutainment animation made by the Australian railway safety board about not getting yourself killed on the rail-line. It’s a really cute little WarioWare microgame compilation; prevent cows being abducted, balance a giant weight, outfish a bear, launch a rocket, don’t get doused in acid. Each game lasts less than ten seconds and requires a distinct touch-screen or balance input. Failure has a cute death animation, success has a cute survival animation. To navigate between groups of games you take a little train and can complete a rail-safety-themed microgame for a points bonus on everything else. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s disposable, it’s free and in our horrifying new reality at least I can feel rail-safe. This is much better than it should be.
I’ve also turned to my painting desk, using the “Slap Some Fucking Paint On It” method to advance my armies of toy soldiers towards battle readiness. Want a game Dominic? You can’t have one. I have a child. I do all this game stuff while she sleeps. She sleeps so little, Dominic. Painting Warhammer figures is an obvious regression towards my childhood, but it’s not new – I returned to the hobby at about the start of the 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat parliamentary term and have continued since. With the way things are going the only thing that will get the paintbrush off me is the arrival of the Miniluv Thinkpol.
Hey reader, what about you? Let us know what games you’ve been playing in the comments below. Or you can send them to us by messaging us through our Facebook page. We’ll probably read them on the podcast.