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Over a month ago, my interest in videogames died suddenly.

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9 thoughts on “Discussion: Don’t Mention the War

  1. As a long-time appreciator of your blog and writing, it’s really humbling and awesome to see something I made being featured here. Thanks so much for the thoughtful recommendation Joel, we’re absolutely thrilled that the game turned out to be so re-playable and fun for people to sink their teeth into. Naturally as devs we aspire to make games that stand out somehow or do something “new and noteworthy” …but personally it also means a lot that I’ve made something that people are enjoying and choosing to spend their time on, in a world so constantly fighting for our attention.

  2. *gestures vaguely at the whole pandemic thing and the war in ukraine thing and the continuing wars elsewhere too boring and old for our media now and my whole life thing and*

    computer games, yeah, thats what my time should be going into!!!!! (but i dont know what else i can even do…)

    i appreciate another newsletter regardless!

  3. Always happens to me from time to time, one time I’m playing for weeks and another I stop completely like I had being going out on dubious nights, getting drunk and embarrassing myself in front of strangers and have to change my life. It seems many people one day will have this effect of wanting to get out of gaming, for some reason it’s something that feels empty when you look long enough and you stop to compare to other things in your life, I have this sensation some times with table games, but as I start playing it seems very natural and useful. This war sure give everybody in the world to think, it’s like a game of life and death are being played and you have to be prepared to play like it or not. I don’t life is dissociated with the gaming ou play, on the contrary, I think we are playful and ludic creatures, we can easily see life as a game and any other thing in the world. Probably has more to it then we actually research, videogames in itself has a very uncomfortably ontological classification so to speak, it comes from a series of historical developments who comes fundamentally from market, consumerism and industrialization of entertainment, principally for domestic entertainment for kids in the beginning, that means it seems a little empty, immature and superficial for lack of better words and also I think there is some psychological conflicts with our generation and the new ones who will grow up playing videogames, arcades, etc, and now “new” forms of play like VR. In the sense that the “psychological” need we have as adults doesn’t match 100% with what it’s offered.

    Well, fortunately or unfortunately I am playing some games these days, some grab my curiosity, but not my attention, other feels very good to play, I have to say there is many uninspired games being launched. But right now I’m playing the Ghostwire: Tokyo to get some distraction and I’m very pleased from the experience, I recommend!

  4. The language thing is interesting to me. I agree with Raigan that if the game actually expects you to solve a cryptogram then that’s busywork, but if it’s easter eggs that can be fine.

    One in-between case is the interactive fiction Just Get The Treasure v0.9.1, which is a very shaggy dog story, and which has a path where you can attempt to talk to a goblin in goblinese, which is a simple substitution cipher. And you’re not supposed to be able to understand it. The PC doesn’t speak goblinese! (Or at least it’s rusty.) But if you do the cryptogram, or feed it into an automated solver as I did, the dialogue is pretty funny.

    Knytt Underground has pixies, collectible characters you can find in rooms with some sort of challenge, who speak “pulse language,” which is transparently Morse code. And again, this sets up some gags, as when one of the slightly-larger-than-pixies characters is constantly exclaiming how cute the pixies are as they say things like “I KNOW I’M ADORABLE. NOW HELP ME.” This incomprehension is thematic; the game is very inventive at coming up with ways of reminding you that your various side quests are often pointless, but you did them because you wanted to do the quest–you’re playing the game!

    Fez makes me feel a bit ambivalent here. A lot of the coded dialogue seems jokey from what I understand, and you can ignore it a lot. I reached what I think may be the midpoint, where I’d explored a lot of areas and returned back to the village which I now can rotate, and everyone’s speaking in code. But I had no interest in going further, because going through and figuring out all the environmental clues etc. just seemed torturous. And every discussion of Fez I can find is about the secret clues and not the surface game, making me think that that torturous stuff is the point? I found the platforming kind of sludgy. Anyway I’m sure I can’t play the game on my current Mac. So it seems like maybe this is that kind of puzzle where you have to Do Codes To Play The True Game, and it annoyed me in the way Raigan was talking about.

    (This was also the issue I had with The Witness; I’ve mentioned that I tapped out on a puzzle which would’ve been much easier to solve if I cut out pentominoes and placed them on a grid, and I was annoyed that Blow expected me to do that work for his puzzle. If you want me to place pentominoes, make pentominoes I can place!)

    So in conclusion, the ideal message to put in one of these hidden languages is probably arire tbaan tvir lbh hc arire tbaan yrg lbh qbja arire tbaan eha nebhaq naq qrfreg lbh arire tbaan znxr lbh pel arire tbaan fnl tbbqolr arire tbaan gryy n yvr naq uheg lbh.

  5. It’s worth to mention how surprising it is to have until this day a comment’s section with such fine ladies and gentleman with arguments of high quality and standards. It is a achievement on itself!

  6. I think your comment is very interesting Pedro, and I guess we can compare it to novels, which in their infancy were considered suspect, childish, low-brow and so on, but have since matured into a Serious and Acceptable Hobby For Adults. I wonder if games will ever be the same.

    I feel more and more detached from modern life. A war in Europe? It seems unreal. Perhaps that’s just me running away from a reality I should be looking square in the eye, but if turning around to engage with it means watching the news and looking at Twitter, then I’m sorry but the treatment seems worse than the symptom.

    As for videogames, might I recommend Earthbound? Surreal, strange, melancholic, angry, despairing, hopeful, painfully funny old Earthbound. It might just be the tonic for our times.

    Matt was that one in the witness the pillars puzzle? I wasn’t sure if I was pleased or annoyed that I had to resort to screenshots in an external program. Also, *checks the almanac of noteworthy mechanics from games nobody’s actually played* something something Captain Blood.

  7. @matt w: onfgneq.

    I understand where you’re coming from, Joel. I think after the last two years (at the very least) I’ve welcomed pretty much anything that can successfully distract me from everything going on (in the wider world or personally), whether it’s a nice walk through the woods or something as daft as Wreckfest. It’s all kept me buoyant in these turbulent times so I’m glad I’ve been able to allow myself to disconnect. I’ve tried to keep tabs on things but I almost always hit a saturation point where I have to start easing down for my own sake. Another thing is that I just didn’t trust the veracity of certain images and accounts so I was happy for folk like Ros Atkins/the BBC to do the homework for me.

    I will be there for your Yugo stream, and I will check out Mosaic! 🙂

    Oh and great to hear you’ve been making good progress on the film.

  8. Hi Corey

    I saw Mosaic when it first popped up on Twitter and the colourful/simple visuals really grabbed me. It was “scheduled for the future” but after seeing countless people keep saying “this is pretty good” it was basically a moment of GOD DAMN IT FINE I’LL PLAY IT NOW and the rest is history.


    I realised this is why so many British people were signing up to let Ukrainian refugees stay in their home, because the news made them feel helpless and this way they felt they were actually doing something to help. (Although I suspect most people were thinking about putting up families, women & children.) Not that this xenophobic govt were going to make it easy. It feels a little bit like claps for carers. Isn’t it wonderful all that love in people’s hearts!?!? But we won’t actually let them do anything, oh no.


    It’s interesting what you say about tabletop games! I get that a lot from long games, where I feel somewhat empty, and think, AT LAST NOW LIFE CAN RESUME. Anything longer than 2 hours starts to feel like it has taken over. Then again, my gaming isn’t social. It’s all family. We do enjoy it as a family but long games turn into grind – fast forwarding through moves as quickly as possible so we can get on with our lives. And that’s terrible.

    I can’t believe that 2022 has looked back at two years of Covid and said “hold my beer”. These are such tough times for the soul. Glad you’ve found something to spend some quality time with!

    Thank you for commenting about the comment section in a comment 🙂


    I’d have to demur on the busywork thing, I think some players find the cryptogram stuff delightful, each new code creating a certain amount of suspense. I feel like I have to draw the line to “walking simulators” in that it’s more about what you bring to the game than what the game does for you. But they are just like Simon sections – a tad overused, a placeholder for something inventive that never got invented.

    I’ve never been encouraged enough to play Fez. From what I can tell the game is just very big and to solve some of its puzzles can involve a lot of hiking back and forth…?

    Your ROT13 message is great because I thought it was more likely to be nyy nebhaq zr ner snzvyvne snprf jbea bhg cynprf jbea bhg snprf oevtug naq rneyl sbe gur qnvyl enprf tbvat abjurer tbvat abjurer


    I have been trying more frequently to keep Twitter at arm’s lenght: life is always better when I kick the habit. It’s amazing how pleasant it feels not to be hooked up to a 24-hour grimdark. But I keep falling off that wagon.

    I hear about Earthbound a lot but not enough to find out what Earthbound actually is. What is Earthbound?


    I’m going to have to do that Yugo stream soon. This is getting silly. I keep streaming other games!

    One of the downsides of Electron Dance is having to be social media’ed up somehow which means it’s difficult to stay away from Twitter and everything. I definitely need to have proper social media breaks, though, that I pinky-swear to follow through on – a bit like I’m using the cowork site to focus on writing. Incidentally, I’m generally switched off there but a few hours off Twitter is not the kind of break I’m talking about. Those week-long adventures without social media are great.

  9. I doubt I could come up with a description of Earthbound that didn’t colour your expectations/set up preconceptions. Of course, refusing to provide one does the same, only in a more infuriating way, so I should really try, at least. In one sentence: it’s a JRPG that uses modern reality as the jumping-off point for its fantasy.

    Said reality is refracted through many cultural lenses: it’s a Japanese developer’s perspective of an American reality, an adult’s perspective of a child’s reality, a ’90s perspective of modernity, a parodist’s perspective of a videogame, and much more besides. The result is almost singular, has attracted deserved cult status, and has been quietly influential in both the mainstream and at the fringes of games. It has moments which deserve to be experienced unspoiled.

    It is an RPG though, and as such represents a minor mountain of time that needs scaling, albeit one that can fill up otherwise drossful chunks of spare train/loo/queue time should one make judicious use of the Switch’s (/emulator app’s) portability.

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