Choice and The Stanley Parable...

Seeing how different game creators attempt to make a believable world fascinates me. I mean “believable” in the sense that the world gives the player real choice; where there’s a sense of unpredictability. There are board games, like Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne, where the board changes each time you play, or open world adventures, like Skyrim or Fable, that allow you to choose what quests to complete. However, there is always a limitation to the player’s choices (an exception is Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop role-playing games where the dungeon master writes narratives on demand. But even then, the DM is limited by setting, characters, and background if she wants to create a realistic experience). Perhaps this limitation of choice reflects reality. Maybe, regardless of what we do, the world is destined for the same fate. Perhaps Fable has it right; the final fate of the world is destined and all we can control is our own morality. Not long ago, I was introduced to the video game The Stanley Parable. In the game, you are Stanley. You work in an office where you are tasked to monitor data on your computer and press buttons as you are told. The game begins by telling you that you’ve done this diligently for quite some time, but you notice now that no information is being sent to your computer. A little puzzled, you get up and leave your desk to investigate what’s happening, and that’s where the story begins. If our actions didn’t matter, what would be the point be of acting? I should say the stories begin there. The game attempts to give the player real choice by regularly offering options for action, each of which changes the storyline. As you walk through the...

Who Pays for My Choices? The Cost of Sacrifice in Final Fantasy XV...

Be ye warned: this article contains spoilers for Final Fantasy XV. Most video games expect us to sacrifice something to save the world, rescue a princess, or stop an evil dictator. Sometimes we must sacrifice some of our resources, sometimes we have to make the choice to back one country over another, and sometimes we are asked to give up our very lives to save the ones we love. I’ve played a lot of games and come to expect at some point that there will be some sort of sacrifice, although there is one franchise that has consistently made sacrifice uncomfortable and cut through the familiarity: Final Fantasy. I have a vivid memory of the moment Sephiroth appeared behind Aerith and impaled her on his Naginata. I can even smell the carpet I was sitting on the first time I witnessed that death. And I remember wondering how she was going to come back or who they were going to give me to replace my main healer. Once I realized there was no replacement and I’d have to make someone function less effectively to make up for the loss, I was infuriated. It was frustrating and angering and maybe the first time I really felt the loss of a sacrifice (in game or otherwise). I’ve played a lot of games since then, experiencing the pattern of sacrifice in their stories. I’ve shed a tear for a lost brother escaping the locust and I’ve been furious watching a valiant warrior give his life for people who don’t even realize their freedom has a cost. To a certain degree, I’ve grown tired of sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake and find myself annoyed that a hero can’t just win without giving something up. Does everyone always have to...

7 Indie Games to Play in 2017...

These days, bigger budgets don’t necessarily mean better games, and we love seeing the creative projects that independent developers are coming up with. Here are seven of our most anticipated indie games of 2017: 1. Tacoma “Tacoma is the new game from the creators of Gone Home, set on Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma where, 200,000 miles from Earth, you must uncover the mysteries of the station.” 2. Rain World “You are a nomadic slugcat, both predator and prey in a broken ecosystem. Intense, bone-crushing rains pound the surface and make life almost impossible for most of the year, but the dry season has just arrived. Grab your spear and brave the industrial wastes, hunting enough food to survive another hibernation cycle, but be wary—other, bigger creatures have the same plan… and slugcats look delicious.” 3. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice takes you on a journey into savage viking heartland with Senua, a Celtic warrior struggling with trauma & psychosis.” 4. Perception “Perception is a first-person narrative horror adventure that tells the story of Cassie, a blind heroine who uses her extraordinary hearing and razor-sharp wits to unravel the mysteries of an abandoned estate that haunts her dreams.” 5. Aer “An adventure among the clouds. Turn into a bird and fly to explore a shattered world of floating islands, nomads and secrets of old.” 6. Frostpunk “Frostpunk takes on what people are capable of when pushed to the limits. What interests us is what society do to survive and how it changes in the process. How survival in the end leaves us different beings.” 7. Below “Explore. Survive. Discover.”...

Stardew Valley and Avoiding Community...

On its surface, Stardew Valley is a game about farming, crafting, and collecting. These tasks can easily take up most of the players’ time but they aren’t the point of the game, because Stardew Valley is really a community simulator. The game begins as many pastoral fantasies do, with the romantic promise of escape offered by a return to the dirt—our collective roots. In Stardew Valley, the promise is a deed to a small farm in the game’s namesake town, where I was greeted by a field overgrown by weeds, rocks, and a forest that has taken advantage of years of neglect to encroach upon my one-room shack. I got straight to subduing the land and started dreaming of upgrading my hovel and how I would build a nice fence for the cow pasture I didn’t have yet. Then my old-fashioned mailbox started blowing up with messages. First with words of welcome, but soon people were dropping by in person—with requests. I decided it might be tactful to go into town and actually figure out what kind of person would pay 150 gold pieces for three dandelions. By the time I made it back home, I’d been taught how to fish, met a fellow urban refugee making art just outside of town, and realized that most of these digital people had their own challenges. I wasn’t the only person living in the valley. I can barely give a turnip to a pixel-person without working out how it benefits me. This kind of self-centredness isn’t just a feature of my gaming, it’s a feature of me. I find it startlingly easy to put on blinders; to go my way and tend to my patch of land with little thought to those around me. I can...

Taking Over Artemis

The multiplayer LAN strategy game Artemis might as well be titled Enterprise. The only thing preventing this is trademark law, since the creator of game and titular ship is in no way affiliated with Star Trek. But as my friends and I opened hailing frequencies, sounded alerts for enemy ships, and fired torpedoes, the name of the ship we ran stopped mattering. Artemis lets players become crew members on a ship tasked with protecting the galaxy from invaders. It’s a video game and a LARP at the same time, if you do it right. And by right, I mean yelling, “I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain!” in a Scottish accent and punctuating all commands with “Make it so.” My first time playing was in a dimly lit basement, sitting at a row of computers with the captain nearby, giving orders while looking at a giant projection of the ship’s movements on the wall. “Give me visuals,” “Do a long-range scan,” and “Fire when ready” were actual commands given, Captain-Kirk style. I was in Trekkie heaven. “I have been and shall always be” a Vulcan at heart, so the science officer position was a natural fit. I plotted jump calculations and scanned enemy ships for weaknesses. But during occasional downtime, I learned how communications, navigation, engineering and the other stations worked. And due to my type-A personality, I found myself trying to do them too, even when I was already occupied: How well would the Enterprise function if Chekov began telling Scotty how to run his engines? “Communications, offer terms of surrender to those two enemy ships on our tail,” I would order, even though Communications can see the enemy ships just as well as I can. “Helm, we need to be set on bearing...

Her or the World

Many people joke about the end of the world, but the concept of an apocalypse frightens me. I shudder at the thought of humanity falling into depravity. I cringe at a devastating loss of cities, nations, and people. I feel empathetic towards the pain humanity will experience. The human race is a confounding, yet beautiful thing, which is why the ending of the Last of Us made me stop and think. Joel witnesses an apocalypse firsthand. As a disease that turns humans into fungal monsters plunges the world into ruin, his daughter, Sarah, dies in his arms, and humanity degrades. He becomes bitter towards humankind until he meets a girl named Ellie, who is about the same age as Sarah when she died. A woman hires Joel to deliver Ellie to a group called the Fireflies. Over the course of their journey battling infected humans, cannibals, and murderers, he begins to see Ellie as his own daughter. If we force someone else to give up her life to save ourselves, are we worth saving? When Joel and Ellie finally reach their destination, Joel discovers that to acquire a cure for the disease that plagues the world, Ellie must die. After hearing this news, he breaks Ellie out of the operating room and escapes, but not before killing all of the Fireflies to make sure they can never come after them. When Ellie wakes up, he lies to her; he tells her the cure wouldn’t have worked. Later, she asks him to look her in the eyes and tell her the truth. He swears that it was the truth, and she accepts that. The game ends there. This finale took me aback. I was appalled at Joel’s actions. He left humanity to die? That felt...

It’s the End of the World and I’m S.P.E.C.I.A.L....

Sirens rage and people flee, the moment feared as come to be. Pack up the kids don’t take a thing for death is coming on steely wing. All seems lost as bombs descend, the nuclear fire swells. But for the few steel doors roll shut and inwardly life dwells. 122 vaults are sealed in the Fallout universe as nuclear bombs fall across the USA. As far as humanity knows, those vaults host the only survivors. Humanity has ruined the planet with wars, aggression, and violence, and now the only hope for the species is to lock itself away until the consequences of their evil abates and the surface is safe. Decades go by, generations are born and die, and finally as vault systems begin to break down or fail, lone wanders, merchants, and survivors venture out into the wasteland in hopes of finding a way to sustain life and begin again. As the locks cycle and the door slides away breaking the 200-year seal, I’m struck with the harsh colours and unfiltered lights of a changed world. Dust blows and something ominous howls in the distance… its clear I’m no longer in the safe arms of Vaultec™. But it’s okay. I took the Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test (G.O.A.T.) and it said I was handy with a pistol, knew my way around an IED and could probably sweet talk my way into an extra couple caps for that old junk I found. I made sure my Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence and Agility complimented my G.O.A.T. and I even threw in a little Luck, well, for luck. Knowing I’m S.P.E.C.I.A.L. gives me total confidence that as a survivor of the war I’m ready to go out, blaze a trail of glory in the empty wasteland,...

Our Response to Fear and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided...

In 2027, Hugh Darrow activates a signal that sends augmented people into a hallucinogenic rage. This results in the Aug Incident in the video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Though the signal lasts for mere hours before being shut down, the damage is done. With a push of a button, Hugh Darrow has created a rift between augmented (people who have been “improved” by using cybernetics, nanites, and implants) and naturals (people with no augments). There was already mistrust of the power wielded by the mechanically augmented so this act of violence across the world creates such fear that a mechanical apartheid is put into place in Prague. The first time I took a train in game from one of Prague’s boroughs to the next, there was a cut-scene where police ask for identification. Two minutes later, when I was walking between sectors of the town, I was again subjected to a short cut-scene demanding identification. The second time I took a train, I was accosted immediately after exiting the train, threatened amidst derogatory terms like ‘clank’ or ‘hanzer,’ and informed that if I kept using the train they would take more drastic measures. That was the first moment I looked around and realized that I’d been using the norm’s entrance/exit to the train and not the aug’s. I pushed it one more train trip and the police were extremely rude and promised violence if I didn’t shape up… Suffice it to say, I didn’t use the normal entrance again. Fear creates a perfect environment where attacking first seems like the only way to survive. I started paying more attention to my surroundings after that. I saw an uninviting walkway surrounded by an electric fence, the entrance for augmented people. When I used this...

Removing the Mask of Loneliness with Majora’s Mask...

The beginning of Majora’s Mask stands in stark contrast to its predecessor, Ocarina of Time, and it leaves me unsettled. Instead of waking up in a village surrounded by colorfully dressed Kokiri children amongst sun-kissed trees, Link is riding his horse through a dark forest. “At least he’s got Epona,” I think as the scene plays out. The background music is hesitant, quiet, then turns dark as the Skull Kid laughs creepily, curses Link into Deku form, and steals Epona. Never mind. Link is now truly alone. The script at the beginning of Majora’s Mask tells us that this boy, “after battling evil and saving Hyrule, crept away from the land that had made him a legend” to embark on a personal journey and find a lost friend, Navi. Link’s isolation becomes even more heartbreaking when you connect it to his journey in Ocarina of Time. As much as she might annoy me, Navi is the only one who knows what Link experienced in Ocarina of Time; since the timeline was reset, no one else in Hyrule remembers the Hero of Time and what he sacrificed for them. All of the friends that he made have forgotten him. It’s no wonder that he wants to find a companion who understands what he’s been through. Holding onto loneliness out of spite seems foolish, but when the alternative is recognizing that I’m the problem, it’s hard to let go. Termina, the land Link is thrown into when he chases the Skull Kid, is surreal, almost dreamlike, especially since a giant moon with an angry face is about to drop down and destroy the world. Plus, there are many characters who look suspiciously similar to the ones from Hyrule; in Hyrule Historia, Termina is described as a parallel world....

Pokémon Go to the Eighties...

There is a certain segment of the Earth’s population that is entirely incapable of hearing, seeing or experiencing any random thing without relating it to a completely unrelated cultural reference. For those individuals (many of whom are probably Generation X-ers), I offer to you Pokémon Go characters worked into the titles of five eighties and nineties songs. Can you guess the originals? 1. We Don’t Need Another Spearow “We don’t need another Spearow, we don’t need another Fearow, all we want is one small Ditto, Pokémon Go.” 2. Caterpie “Caterpie… on the trail to butterfree.” 3. Pik-A-Chu “Pik-a-chu, pik-a-chu; Golly jeepers, where’d you get those creatures, Kanto? Johto? Where did you get those guys?” 4. Pop Goes the Weedle “Pop goes the Weedle, ’cause the Weedle goes pop!” 5. Kakuna Rattata “Kukuna rattata! They’re two common guys. Kakuna Rattata! They will make you crazed. And they will plague you all the rest of your days! They are all you see, them and Caterpie. Kakuna...

Gaming Symphonies: A Reawakening...

The holy trinity of Video Games Live, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, and Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY should be on every gamer’s bucket list. I’ve attended them five times, collectively, and I’d rather take an arrow to the knee than miss one of these symphonies next time they tour in my area. Video game concerts are part performance and part classical orchestra, with a bucketful of nostalgia on the side. Large screens project scenes from a game’s key moments, synchronized to the live music. There’s dramatic lighting, occasional acting, lots of cosplay, and a surprising number of geeky marriage proposals in-between. Sometimes there’s audience participation, too. Bellowing out “One-Winged Angel” in a mass sing-along (with Nobou Uematsu leading the lyrics) may be the most unabashedly geeky thing I’ve ever done in my life (even if I was Engrishing my way through the Latin lyrics: “bells, frogs, big cher-ries, Peter Pan, magic cheese, SEH-FEE-ROTH”). Gaming soundtracks have come a long way since the 8-bit beeps and dings. I doubt the original video game composers ever imagined their work would be performed fully orchestrated; but take a look at most acclaimed retro titles and you’ll find a composition so theoretically sound, you’d think the composers could see the future in-between the notes they penned to sheet music. At my most recent Distant Worlds concert, I heard Final Fantasy VI’s “Opera Maria and Draco” for the first time as the night’s finale. A twelve-minute opera movement, this piece was originally composed for the 1994 NES, using nothing but jangling MIDI sounds and synthetic “voices.” It received a two-minute-long standing ovation. And an encore. Gaming symphonies are making classical music “cool” again. Video game concerts are re-envisioning classical music and reawakening interest in...

I Tried, Shepard

When the Illusive Man shot himself near the end of Mass Effect 3, it was an oddly emotional moment for me. He was the dark reflection of Commander Shepard; dedicated, smart, and determined. Shepard was on the side of the angels, seeking the good of all life in the galaxy. The Illusive Man wanted to protect human kind above all and dreamed of homo sapiens as preeminent in the galaxy. In the end, he failed and his last words were, “I tried, Shepard.” Then he shot himself in the head. For a moment, I contemplated his life—his achievements, the compromises he’d made, the depths to which he had sunk, and the heights to which he could have ascended before I returned to the mission at hand (the galaxy needed me, after all, I couldn’t just sit there mourning his death forever). Long after the final credits rolled, my mind kept wandering back to the Illusive Man. Certainly, Martin Sheen’s voice acting gave the character gravitas, but my fascination went beyond just enjoying a good performance. The Illusive Man is an intriguing, complex character. It would be easy to write him off under the category of “does evil in the name of a greater good.” Except that his goal had nothing to do with the greater good. He started from a wicked premise and followed his goals relentlessly. History pretty much proves that my way isn’t always the right way. The Illusive Man founded a pro-human terrorist organization called Cerberus. Using his personal wealth and companies he created, he sent operatives on missions to advance his humans-first agenda. He was willing to sacrifice lives to achieve his ends, pursuing his goals without compromise. The government condemned his group as terrorists. His followers—people who believed humanity had...

7 Reasons Handsome Jack is the Perfect Hero...

“See, I can’t just have some psychopathic murderers getting to the Vault before I do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cute that you all think you’re the heroes of this little adventure, but—you’re not. You’re bandits. You’re the bad guys. And I… am the hero.” You might notice there are eight things on this list. That’s the kind of guy Jack is. 1. He’s generous. “If you bring me word of Lilith, I will pay you enough money to build a mansion, made of other, smaller mansions.” 2. He has a majestic mount. “I just got a pony made of diamonds, I think I’ll call it butt stallion.” 3. He knows big words. “Be honest with yourself, kid. Do you really think you can stop me? I knew you were gonna go for Roland. I am smarter than you. I don’t mean to condescend, that’s just a fact. ‘Condescend’ is a word that means ‘talk down to.’ You got that, kitten?” 4. He always wins. “Oh, I’m sorry. Was that your shields that just went down? So you knew that I knew, you were going for the power core—and you just plugged it in? Even for you guys, that’s pretty—ah, man, that’s pretty stupid… I told you, I always win.” 5. He cares about the little guy. “I just came back from rescuing the Space Vixens of Eden-6, and thought I’d check in with my number one fan. Hey, Justin, why the long face?” 6. He has statues. “Go ahead. Knock the last one down. I’ve already got a great idea for a new statue. It’s just gonna be me, kicking you in the junk. I’m gonna commission like fifteen of those [things] and put them everywhere!” 7. He’s all about teaching. (Taking out...

Light like Ori’s...

When I first came across the video game Ori and the Blind Forest, I wondered, “Why did the creators call it ‘The Blind Forest’? Why ‘blind’?” Thus I began my journey as a young forest sprite named Ori. When Ori was born, a terrible storm separated her from her father, the Spirit Tree. The benign beast Naru found and raised her to be intelligent and kind. After Ori had grown to a young adult, the Spirit Tree called back his child. However, when she arrived, Kuro, a gigantic she-owl, attacked the Spirit Tree and stole his lighted core, blinding the Forest of Nibel. As the ecosystem decayed, so did Naru and Ori’s food supply until eventually there was nothing left to eat. In one last act of sacrifice, Naru gave her adopted daughter the last peach she could find, then died of starvation. Weak from hunger, Ori traveled through the mangled and twisted forest. Eventually, she too, died of hunger. It would be awful if the story ended there. Since the game was only beginning, I knew there would be more. But I’m reminded of how, sometimes, caught in a hopeless place, I feel like there will be nothing more. Hard times have blinded me and left me hollow. I have lost my light many times, my little spark, the piece of me that keeps me hopeful. “This is it!” I’ve cried. “There’s nothing left. I’m done.” But I wasn’t actually done. There was light up ahead; I just couldn’t see it. I’m pretty sure I hurt some other people because of my focus on my own suffering. In Ori’s case, the Spirit Tree used its meager strength to grant her new life, and tasked her with restoring the light in the three great...

Faith of a Technomancer...

Zachariah Mancer has a secret, and it’s a game changer: the electro-powers he wields are not a gift from the gods but a genetic mutation. While that may seem like no big deal; the society he lives in doesn’t believe mutants are actually people, so if the word gets out that he and those like him are mutants, they will lose not only their position but their freedom. And the position of Technomancer is worth protecting. Part shock troop, part interplanetary enforcer, and part hand-of-god, they are feared and revered, given all access and almost never questioned. So if society finds out that they are the product of mutation rather than divine order than they will become nothing more than tools in the hand of Viktor Seeker, a malevolent commander who attempts to wrest the secret of the technomancers from Zachariah but is ultimately rebuffed. So much of the game is centered around capturing possible data leaks, suppressing information, and quelling questions into the histories of Mars that might shed light on the technomancer origin. Quests like this leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I know it is supposed to make me want to protect my brothers and band together behind a shared secret. Instead it upsets me that a bunch of young people are growing up with a power they don’t understand but are told it makes them special, until they are brought into the inner circle and discover everything they believe is a lie. Not only is everything a lie, but all the work that has gone into achieving an exulted rank has earned them the task of protecting and perpetuating that lie. No organization should ever demand this from those who are part of it, yet I feel that throughout...

Small Worlds, Big Stories...

It’s a good time to be a Zelda fan. I’m elated to finally know something real about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After years of teasing, we can finally see what a Zelda game will be like in the style of Skyrim, Fallout, and Metal Gear Solid V. I recognize that I might be tying myself to the tracks of the hype train by saying this, but I was secretly hoping Breath of the Wild wouldn’t be open-world. I’m not trying to trash the glorious reputation of open-world games. Rather, the reverse. Everyone knows how good these games are. They’re everywhere. Their quality is self-evident. Instead, I want to prove that linear games are great too. Not better, just different. Like, a better sort of different. Here’s why: I’ve found that a story is a finite thing. If you want to stretch it very wide, you must accept that it can’t go deep. Breath of the Wild’s long development process and release on two consoles parallels my experience as a teenager waiting for Twilight Princess to come out. When that finally arrived, I cried watching Link ride across the sunset-washed title screen for the first time, in spectacular 480i. (That was a big deal ten years ago, wasn’t it?) We don’t like being unable to choose, even though we rarely can. Twilight Princess was massive. But outside of the vast main quest, there was not much to do. Back then, I was disappointed—I thought there was potential to fill the game with so much more. In retrospect, I think I was missing the forest for the trees. The things that make me truly, truly feel like a part of the game, are when the story sinks its teeth in, when the...

Pokémon Go and Outrage Culture...

Last Sunday, we spent about half an hour at a local park. As people holding their cellphones drifted past, they all stopped at the same place and started swiping furiously at their screens. Most punched the air in triumph, one or two sank to the ground in disappointment. Consulting our copies of Pokémon Go, we worked out that they were hunting a wild paras. Common, but we can understand the allure. We wanted to catch it too. The Pokémon Go app is two weeks old in the U.S., less than one week old in Canada, and it’s already easy to spot the players. They aren’t texting or talking on their phones, they are immersed in the intersection between the “real” world and the video game on their screen. If our outrage draws lines that we cannot cross in order to understand one another, maybe it’s not worth expressing. Call us old curmudgeons (an accurate assessment for two of the three of us writing this), but it reminds us of an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Star Trek predicts everything. And this is no different. Commander Riker returns from shore leave with a highly addictive video game. Like a contagious disease, enthusiasm for the game spreads among the crew until the everyone is playing rather than attending to their duties. It falls to Wesley Crusher to uncover the underlying alien plot, rescue the crew, and save the ship. It’s been years since we saw the episode, but the image that sticks with us is the crew wandering around the ship, completely absorbed in the game. Watching our fellow Pokémon Go players, we experienced a feeling of déjà vu. While we doubt aliens are using the new game to take over the world, a simple google search reveals that the conspiracy theories of Pokémon Go are already...

Playing Video Games and Finding Community...

“Did you see that Darius pentakill last night?” If I was in an anime, my eyes would have popped out of my head. I was sitting at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of my best friend Kyle and his extended family. The usual chatter was going on around us, but when the words “Darius” and “pentakill” reached our ears, we immediately turned to look at who was speaking. “Wait, what did you say?” my friend asked his 50-year-old aunt. Surely we had misheard her. She couldn’t possibly be talking about League of Legends, an online video game that both Kyle and I played regularly. “That Darius playing last night. He was amazing!” she repeated. Kyle and I looked at each other, dumbfounded, and then a grin worthy of Jake Peralta when Captain Holt does something particularly amazing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine spread across my face. She continued to explain that she was watching the e-sports 2015 League of Legends World Championships with her nephews because they were into it and she wanted to bond with them. (I believe the match she was referring to was the Flash Wolves vs. Origen quarter final, but I digress.) Go, Auntie Pam. Why are her words so shocking and delightful to me, a gamer in my late 20s? … Read the rest of this article on Christ and Pop...

Let There Be Yoshi

Yoshi’s Woolly World is a place without 1-UP mushrooms, Bowsers, or princesses. Playing the game makes me question much more than just the last ten years I’ve spent mastering Mario’s staple platformers. Though I’m controlling Nintendo’s patent dino this time around, my actual identity within Yoshi’s Woolly World is vague at best. I live in an Etsy power fantasy, surrounded by worlds knitted from fabric and thread, with loose spools and spare cotton fluffs marking the uncharted land of craft supplies. Intelligent design is afoot, and I, green Yoshi, am its woolly creation. …Or am I actually the creator? As I omnisciently survey the workshop beyond Yoshi’s limited vision, importing amiibo designs into the game to create even more yarn dinosaurs, I find myself in an identity crisis. Perhaps the word “woolly” is appropriate in more ways than one. Clever, Nintendo. In spinning a yarn about a valiant Yoshi determined to re-stich his community, Nintendo not only puts a soft, home-made twist on Mario’s aesthetics, but also dares to probe into the spiritual nature of creativity by putting players in the dual roles of creator and creation. I originally played Yoshi’s Woolly World expecting to find nothing more than a sweet, if not idealistic, lesson about teamwork and friendship. From the moment the evil wizard, Kamek, unravels Yoshi’s friends, an uncanny valley of emptiness sets in (though not quite gloom—it’s hard to feel gloomy with all those vibrant colours filling the landscape and that happy-go-lucky music playing). Without its community of little dinos, the otherwise lively world feels like an unframed painting—beautiful, but incomplete. As Yoshi travels through sub-worlds, reknitting architecture and friends alike, the overworld gradually regains its sense of order. Seeing the vast world through Yoshi’s eyes reveals that the creator is powerful and imaginative, but studying Yoshi himself reveals that the creator is also loving. Yoshi are colour-coded to best suit the sub-world they live in. Compared to the sloppy yarn loops that hold Shy Guys and other Mushroom Kingdom baddies together, Yoshis’ designs reveal every knit and purl, without a single fuzzy mistake. I psychologically take on the role of creator as I not only omnipotently guide and protect my little dino, but I also feel proud of him. I take pleasure in watching Yoshi’s dedication and love for the world which I have “built.” Oppositely, from Yoshi’s point-of-view, I feel fulfilled each time I give back to that world by collecting spools and beating sub-worlds. Like a two-way mirror, I reflect the world around me to the creator, and the creator to the world. I am clearly the creator’s magnum opus—the sentient being meant to keep, manage, and enjoy the woolly Garden of Eden around me. Any creator would certainly intervene when their creation threatens to come undone, or so it would seem, but the game doesn’t allow the player to intervene that way. Instead, the player, as Yoshi, performs a primary role in bringing about restoration without god-like intervention. The unspoken message reveals a much bigger picture where each character—yes, even Kamek—is hand-crafted to tell the story the creator has mapped out long in advance. Rather than abandon creation to its destiny, then, Yoshi’s Woolly World implies that the creator honours her creation by empowering it to play a vital role in her grand story, rather than play NPC to the creator’s power. In many ways, Yoshi’s Woolly World imitates the Christian understanding of creation and the creator’s role within it, while granting the player two perspectives to fully appreciate the complex dynamic. On a meta level, the game is an endless cycle of creativity inspired by the ultimate act of creativity, trickling from God, to Nintendo game designers, to player, to avatar. I am clearly the creator’s magnum opus—the sentient being meant to keep, manage, and enjoy the woolly Garden of Eden around me. Yoshis aren’t breathed into life from the dust...

Learning to Die

I love the Dark Souls series, but I didn’t always. Dark Souls was introduced to me in an interesting time of my life. I had just graduated high school and was starting my four-year Bachelor of Arts degree. I had moved out of my parents’ home on my own for the first time. I didn’t see it then, but this was the time I was deciding who and what would make me uniquely myself. A friend introduced me to Dark Souls, and within the first hour I was ready to give up. It was difficult, didn’t explain much, and I was constantly failing. I had my friend Colin sit next to me and watch me play through the game just to encourage me, to keep me going through the initial grind of learning the game. The first time I kicked the ladder down, making a shortcut to the undead burg bonfire, everything changed. I found the Claymore, I beat the Gargoyles. “I can do this”, I thought. I see this as a defining point in my life because I couldn’t handle the pain of failure. I was taught from an early age that I shouldn’t expect too much of myself. I wanted to succeed at school and work, but when they told me I couldn’t, I believed them. I entered into college having acted out these beliefs about myself for years. The fear of failure crushed me beneath the weight of self doubt and robbed me of my will to even try. Oscar of Astora, the first character you speak to in Dark Souls, sends you on your way with a prophecy about the undead and some Estus Flasks, an undead favourite. Yet, when you meet him again, he will attack you, having lost...