Category Archives: Video Games

Night In the Woods

Publisher: Infinite Fall

Writers: Bethany Hockenberry, Scott Benson

Release: 2017

Recommended? Yes.

Review of Night in the Woods by Io


Capitalism: just one more greasy tendril of the eldritch horror at the center of reality

“It’s the most peaceful societies which are also the most haunted, in their imaginative constructions of the cosmos, by the constant specters of perennial war.” – David Graeber

I kept an eye on Night in the Woods over the last 3 years because I liked the artists involved and it was sold to me as a platformer where a cat parkours around a haunted town and sometimes says ACAB, which sounded pretty fresh. And once I got it I became a bottomless well of feelings. I’m what professionals call a “casual” or “fake gamer girl”. I don’t often get to play video games. The ones in my house’s living room are all simple power fantasy simulators, overthrowing this or that authority, going on crime sprees, crashing helicopters into the racist players on the online chat. Not often does a game speak to my reality as a neurodivergent, lower-class radical who despite occasional delusions of grandeur does little more than take petty pot shots at the causes of my misery. Night in the Woods, though populated by anthropomorphic animals, puts you in a somewhat familiar world defined mainly by the crisis that propels it. It does a remarkably good job of gamifying an eerie atmosphere of dissatisfaction that should not be totally unrecognizable to anyone living in poverty, dealing with depression or who sometimes feels as if life’s only moments of rapturous joy in the face of this cartoonish amount of alienation come in the form of breaking things for no reason with your friends. You may think this sounds like a bummer of a game, and I wouldn’t argue against that, but I cannot recommend it enough. Night in the Woods is so fun, funny, immersive, and accessible. I have talked it up to so many of my friends who don’t play video games but who love comic books and good fiction because it plays like an interactive novel with absolutely gorgeous art & sound direction, and you don’t need a very fancy laptop to run it. It just makes it rain emotional investments and it is hypnotically cool to run around jumping up/on/off buildings/telephone wires/cars in this deeply fleshed out world of a formally prosperous mining town in Pennsylvania named Possum Springs.
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Endless Space and Why Can’t We Have Anarchist Strategy Games

Publishers: Amplitude Studios, Iceberg Interactive

Release: 2012

Recommended? Yes.

This morning I conquered an entire galaxy as a race of spacefaring, pacifist-ish, ecologically-focused anarchist robots. I won an economic victory. There’s probably some irony there.

Endless Space is a damn good game. I’ve played its non-space-based sequel Endless Legends a couple of times, and I think I actually like this spacey one better. I play strategy games to lose myself for a day or three after too much bullshit like work and the world being a garbage fire, and this is now one of my favorites. I’m sure I’ll sacrifice more of the finite hours in which I’m alive to play this game.

It’s a “4X” game, which is like some weird acronym for things that don’t start with the letter X [editor’s note: “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate”]. Basically, it’s the genre of turn-based games in which you construct buildings, research technologies, extract resources, colonize territory, negotiate trade deals, and go to war.

Which doesn’t sound very anarchist now that I’m typing it out.

Why am I addicted to these fucking things?
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Everything I Need to Know About Trump I Learned From Playing Skyrim

If you’re anything like me, this is what happens when you first load up the game Skyrim.

You’re a prisoner on board a cart. Everything is dark. Why is everything dark. Is it everything supposed to be dark? Does your character have a blindfold on, or is there a problem with your pirated copy of the game?

Oh, it’s the latter.

Re-install, try again.

You’re a prisoner on board a cart. The Empire is planning to execute you for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (and for illegally crossing a border). Fuck the empire. Your name isn’t on their list of prisoners to be executed, but what the hell, they already have you, might as well cut off your head. Fuck the empire.
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Final Fantasy VI


Final Fantasy VI

Released in the US as: Final Fantasy III

Squaresoft, 1994

Recommended? Looking for an outlet to satisfy your craving to join an anti-Imperialist, anti-technology, underground resistance movement? Then yes. Like games with interesting stories and challenging, unique gameplay? Then yes. Seeking deep political analysis, insight into intersections of oppression, or some straight-up anarchy? Then maybe, maybe not.

Final Fantasy VI (FFVI) — originally released as Final Fantasy III in the US — is a legendary roleplaying game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It is considered by some to be the best RPG of all time, and I can see why. It’s got a fun, dynamic story; over 14 playable characters, many with their own unique attributes; unforgettable music; character and gameplay customization that allow for new experiences in every playthrough; and some righteous, though mostly superficial, politics.

Because this game has been glowingly reviewed so many times for its gameplay mechanics and character development, I’m going to focus on the aspects of the game that you all came here for: resistance to government oppression, and anti-civ fanfare.

Warning: The rest of this review contains hella spoilers.
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Niantic Labs, 2013

Recommended? Yes, and it’s complicated.

Observation and Analysis of Revolutionary Tactics Being Unintentionally Transmitted via Video Games: Ingress as a Tool

While I have observed many useful skills and tactics being transmitted through games, particularly tabletop RPGs, I’m focusing in Ingress in this piece.

Ingress is an alternate reality game based on Google Maps. If you are interested in a more detailed description of the game itself that includes some of the lore I recommend checking out the wikipedia page. The game mechanics depend on visiting real-world locations, called “portals” in game, and interacting with them within the app on your phone. There are two teams competing for control of the portals physical turf along with magical in-game “mind units,” or how many human minds you are controlling within the territory you have claimed. Ingress is a massively multiplayer game with a lot of social and technological aspects I will get into in a bit here. The two teams are cleverly labeled, with the Resistance being the over-populated team with conservative leanings and the pretentiously-named Enlightened being the smaller, more agile, forward thinking early-adopter-of-alien-technology team (that is also possibly serving as alien overlord snack foods / tools / skinsuits). I’m going to split this piece into two sections; the first on the useful skills unintentionally taught and how they relate to revolution and horizontal organization, the second on the dangers and wider consequences of the game itself.
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Vampire: Bloodlines

Vampire: Bloodlines

Vampire: Bloodlines

Troika Games, 2004

Recommended: Yes, despite it all

I’ve been getting back into playing the tabletop roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade recently, and a growing obsession with the World of Darkness (as the setting is called) had me pick up a computer game I haven’t played in years: Vampire: Bloodlines.

A decade old at this point, Bloodlines has been reviewed plenty. Suffice it to say that: it set a new bar for roleplaying games; it’s immersion and writing are spectacular; it was rushed and buggy because capitalism is an awful economic system for creators; and the game’s, uh, not so perfect from a gender point of view.
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Wasteland 2

Wasteland 2

Wasteland 2

inXile Entertainment, 2014

Recommended? Maybe

Wasteland 2 is probably the longest RPG I’ve ever played, and it doesn’t really have the payoff I feel entitled to after investing so many hours into play. I bet someone’s already come up with some great pun off the name, like “waste-your-life too.” If someone didn’t beat me to it, then I just did.

Still, it’s a game up my alley and I enjoyed it. It’s got tactical, turn-based combat, lots of skills and attributes, and it’s got a good immersive world to play in.

In Wasteland 2, you play a post-apocalyptic cop, one of the elite saviors of humanity known as the Desert Rangers. You’ve got a badge and a gun and you shoot a lot of “raiders.”

Why is it so important in video games that you can buy sex?

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Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

2k Games, 2012

Recommended: Yes

What always stands out to me with Spec Ops (which is, I have to be clear, one of my favorite games of all time) is how distinctly no fun it is. My first introduction to the game, as I wrote over at The Border House, came from playing it in my Brooklyn apartment during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and in my Border House essay I wrote at length about the strangeness and guilt of playing a game about a virtual disaster while an actual disaster raged outside my door. I think the situation played a lot into how powerfully the game affected me, especially in regards to these tragic notions of helping and guilt–Walker and his squad go to Dubai to help and basically end up killing everyone. They can’t not kill everyone; it’s a game, after all, and the main actions you have at your disposal are “shoot,” “pick up new thing to shoot,” “lob things that are basically variations on shoot,” and “cower behind a wall while you think of new ways to employ shooting.” I usually don’t mind these actions, especially when I’m looking to a game for some mindless fun, but in the narrative and emotional context of Spec Ops and my frame of mind when I first played it, I had never wanted to shoot less. I hated shooting. I relished the moments when my character would auto reload so I had an excuse to not be able to shoot. My initial experience with the game became a breathless, miserable slog, where every new arena had me whimpering “no no no” as I heard the AI gear up for another battle.
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BioShock: Infinite

Bioshock: Infinite

BioShock: Infinite

Irrational Games, 2013

Recommended? Not for what it’s got to say about the world, no.

I’m not too much one for first-person shooters but I’m an anarchist and I’m into steampunk and videogames so it was pretty much inevitable that I was going to give BioShock: Infinite a try.

This game is completely full of class war and anti-racist tropes. I mean, like, completely full. So full it’s overflowing and honestly the tropes are starting to smell and shouldn’t someone clean this thing out before they start to rot?

In BioShock: Infinite you play a disinterested white savior with the higher moral ground who runs around killing first racists and then the anti-racist revolutionaries. The moral of the story is that anyone who wants to solve problems like institutionalized racism and classism with revolutionary violence is a bad person who is going to take things too far. Unless you’re the protagonist, an ex-Pinkerton agent who kills hundreds of people over the course of the game in the name of a paycheck. In which case, you’re in a good place to judge.
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Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall


Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall

Harebrained Studios, 2014

Recommended: Without question

Summary: Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall is a fun, incredibly well-written computer roleplaying game that takes place in a good-guy-anarchists-against-evil-megacorporations future. It nods to punk anti-fascism; it makes fun of state communists; there are multiple, non-sexualized homosexual relationships; and there’s awesome German graffiti everywhere in the background. So yes, I like this game. It didn’t get everything perfect, but it got a hell of a lot right.

There’s always going to be a place in my heart for Shadowrun. I think I was in fourth grade when a friend introduced me to the world for the first time, handing me the second edition core book. There on the cover were a bunch of punk humans and elves, hacking a computer terminal in the middle of a gunfight.
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