Categories
Hey Dylan

Spycraft: The Great Game (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #4

[Please see Dylan’s opening letter (#1): http://www.augmented-vision.net/2020/09/07/game-club-spycraft-the-great-game/
My response to Dylan’s letter here (#2): http://joannatovaprice.com/wp/index.php/2020/10/30/spycraft-the-great-game-pc-game-open-letter-series-2/
Dylan’s response to my second letter here (#3): http://www.augmented-vision.net/2020/10/01/game-club-spycraft-the-great-game-letter-3/]

Hi Dylan,
I actually think about what a fun spy game would be like a fair amount, in part because I think you could play a really exceptional one using social media. One of the things that I think doesn’t get talked about a lot in terms of the lack of sexiness that is spying for the state, is that state secrets aren’t very interesting, except to conspiracy theorists. The few conspiracy theorists I know very much enjoy talking about color revolutions, but frankly nobody else cares too much – if anything, state secrets are embarrassing. But secrets in general sure aren’t boring.

So what would a good spy game look like? I think the first requirement is that the player’s character shouldn’t be working for a state agency. Whether it be big tech, or personal intrigue, or a more cerebral concept, like a game where you follow one piece of information and watch as it gets shaped and molded into different narratives, the days of revealing how state affairs that seem interesting and sexy are actually institutional and boring are probably behind us. I think we’ve all kind of figured that out.

If it were me, I would probably attempt to design the game that I think Will Wright is always attempting to design: the one that transcends fiction and integrates with the real. Because spying is about information – and because we are producing information at such an incredible rate that we now have books about information anxiety – it should be possible to create a game about spying using real world, real-time information. Rather than trying to get information that is locked up or classified, the player would be trying to find public information that is obfuscated, connect clues and uncover narratives.

I’m not sure whether I brought this up in the first letter, but another thing that sticks out about this game is the kind of serious that it is. It has a sort of tangential relationship to Kentucky Route Zero in that I think it’s trying to do something subtle to reveal a complex condition. In the present time, that can be very comforting or it can feel like work, because either it is nice to be reminded that thoughtful people produce work that defies rhetoric, or it feels like the work many of us must do now to breach the very real rhetoric around us. Like my mom says about The Sims – why would I spend hours pretending to live when I have to actually live? Still, bringing that seriousness to the game (which is already very present in the opening which as you mentioned, and I mention, I love) is ambitious, and I have a lot of respect for it.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the game to players who don’t already have a particular love of playing old games. Unlike Grim Fandango, for example, I think Spycraft: The Great Game is not the kind of cult classic that will charm you immediately or will hold your attention. The audience for the game is really people who enjoy the aesthetic of older games and the population of people, which seems to me is likely to be small, whose interested in thinking about complex stuff spans all types of media. Most people I know who game don’t do so in order to think philosophically, although I do know many people who enjoy thinking philosophically who game – they just tend to separate the activities.

As for me, Games Club allows me to experience games I would otherwise never pick up or never finish, and this is one example. I would like to be the kind of person who would finish this game because of its novelty and thoughtfulness without the extrinsic motivation, but I can tell you that the mini games feature is difficult for me to stick with when I’m only playing for my own entertainment.

The ambitions of earlier game developers, particularly where narrative is concerned, often amaze me. When I think of some of the Infocom games, The Longest Journey, this game, and more – and when I think of the narratives of games coming out more recently that are modeled on the old games, like Broken Age – I can see sustained effort that often goes unrecognized. I am not talking about the “Are games art” debate or even “can games be serious,” and not “can games show you the experiences of people unlike you,” but I think, rather, “do games have roots in the examination of the human condition?” I think the answer is yes. As happens with books and films too, it sometimes feels like work just because of that fact, and that was the case with this game for me.

Looking forward to the next game, Spiritfarer, which is somehow about mortality and death and still a much lighter game – ha!

-Joanna

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

Spycraft: The Great Game (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #1

[Note: This is a reply to Dylan’s opening letter]

Hello Dylan,

Lovely to be returning to this after so much time, and so many different life events!

I will start by saying that I didn’t love Hypnospace Outlaw – I know, I know, but for me, the aesthetic and mechanics were extremely grating, even though the story was strong. I had to force myself through it. But as you know, I absolutely got into Her Story, Digital: A Love Story, and I have yet to jump into Telling Lies but I look forward to it. I also come to this with the history of having played Phantasmagoria, the FMV horror game by Roberta Williams, a bunch when I was younger. I can still vividly recall some of the scarier scenes. In my later years, I can say that the great appeal of that game is that I wasn’t allowed to play it. It belonged to a friend’s mother, and we stole it from her home office. But as you know, I absolutely, positutely, *adored* Toonstruck, which was a little like Who Framed Roger Rabbit in terms of how it transitioned from live action to animation. However, the puzzles were admittedly ass, in that you often had to look stuff up, especially towards the end of the game. It has been so long since I’ve booted up Toonstruck that storywise, I can remember only the very beginning and the moment at the halfway point when the big plot twist happens which at the tender age of however young I was the first time I played it, I absolutely did not see coming and was completely floored and excited.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised by Spycraft: The Great Game because unlike Phantasmagoria or Toonstruck, it was a good game — good play, good acting, and even a decent script.

The opening immediately captured my attention. I loved the way they had the cynic giving his tell-all while the actual CIA mission statement played across the screen. I immediately felt like I could trust the developers to deliver an intelligent and compelling story. I also thought the “test mission” to choose which agent will move forward as a mechanic for introducing a tutorial was really cute. I did worry for awhile that I had to take notes, because there was a lot of information, and unlike a point and click adventure, there was no scribbling sound followed by a blinking journal icon to let me know that this was information worth storing and I could find it again in the journal. Oh my god, the first person walk made me so happy too! It just immediately reminded me of The West Wing, so that was squee the second for me (the first was the opening). I didn’t come into this with a bias about FMV games per se, because I really only had good experiences playing them as a kid, but I was wary of one particular aspect that usually gives me trouble in video games: stealth. Fair concern, right? Coz spies have to be stealthy.  But for people who are tired of getting stuck having to race to disable the thingamajig while the big red numbers tick down, the good news is this game is a lot more about information processes and a lot less about the sexy spy thing.  Like you said, more realistic than a James Bond flick. But even with the technology. A film camera with a chip in it that records low res backups is far more believable than any Bond gadget.

And at least part of the reason why it’s more realistic is because it combines actual CIA footage with 35mm film and really makes an effort to disillusion the player, including the ending that you mention. One thing I wonder is whether the plot is as involved as it is in order to portray reality as well. In a movie, I think there would be less people, and less things happening. You mention it’s nonlinear and I agree, but I wonder if it was an attempt to be nonlinear originally or an attempt to to make an unwieldy amount of plot work. Either way, it is engaging and not a downside.

The minigames situation that you refer to was a little annoying for me in the same way that minigames usually are. I am one of those party poopers who hates the arcade game that you can play inside the game you’re playing. Not the interfaces, which I often found charming, but the structure of having to complete this challenge, then “go back” to “the real game” and then repeat. But overall, I also enjoyed this game and the mechanics.

You know, I don’t really understand why it’s so intent on disillusioning the player, but I do feel like that is both what gives it its authenticity and an underlying intention. When I was in graduate school, the CIA came to a job fair and they absolutely struck me the way you describe, ” tool for people who know better than you.” But why would you build a computer game around that idea. In particular, why would you design a computer game that leaves the player particularly unlikely to value the CIA or what it does? Not that I think it’s a bad thing, but it does make me wonder hmmm, who were the developers friends with? Where did the money for this game come from? Because it is, ultimately, a political narrative, even if it’s one I agree with. But I will say I really like that aspect from a literary perspective, it’s really nice to play a spy game as a top spy who is basically forced to be a dead eyed state functionary in all the ways that really mean something and get the fire burning. In short, learning that the everyday person is more likely to have the room for bottom line ethics than a superspy. Kinda neat.

-Joanna

PS:  I was looking at reviews of this game on Steam and check out this quote: “I remember this game like it was yesterday. This is how I first applied to the Agency, using this game. I was one of the first recruits to be digitally recruited using the internet.” I can’t think this is remotely true, especially because it ends with him getting hired by the Wizards at Langley, but I found it hilarious nonetheless.

[Dylan’s response here: http://www.augmented-vision.net/2020/10/01/game-club-spycraft-the-great-game-letter-3/
My final response here: http://joannatovaprice.com/wp/index.php/2020/10/30/spycraft-the-great-game-pc-game-open-letter-series-2/]

Categories
poetry

Down to Scraps

Down to Scraps

You would charge into the end with a lopsided grin.
You believe in sacred lasts, you

with the audacity of fresh eyes
recite an atheist’s prayer
and know you will never swing low

Was it my heart or my son,
the Gods called Icarus?

Categories
poetry

The Lost Species

The Lost Species

Look, said Noah, I said choose the one you love.
It’s not my fault you misunderstood. It’s not my fault
you have to fuck your sister. You should have known,
when I said the sacred words: choose the girl. There can be just one.

What do you mean you aren’t going to fuck her? Have you lost your–
well the whole point is to continue, or why the hell get on the boat?
You think what, we enjoy sailing around in this cramped thing
in a world with nowhere left to hold our ground?

You are a disgrace. The world will wash away your history.
Not even a memory of the shape of you will survive.
You should have known what kind of love I meant.

Categories
poetry

The Dad Poem (Don’t Cry)

The Dad Poem (Don’t Cry)

A kid across from me on this L train just said to his dad, “when we get the dog, I want to give it my homework to eat.”
So serious his tone, I think he was saying that he’s ready to do what people do, to take responsibility for being in the world; he will sacrifice his homework to the dog.
Thank God I won’t be in the room when he understands what you and I have known since the title.

“Come to the hospital right now, right now.”
Categories
poetry

Lonely at 1st Ave & E. 24th St.

This poem is inspired by a beautiful drive across the Brooklyn Bridge, a foreign friend’s Facebook thread about the dirt and grime of NYC, and a Saturday morning commute to work.

Lonely at 1st Ave. & E. 24th St.

I remember on my birthday
I talked about the Brooklyn bridge
because it stands out in a dirty city.
I have a friend who hates it here and
he’s right, which just goes to show
being right doesn’t mean much.

Now it’s early Saturday morning,
I’m on my way to the library where
I will help people, mostly people
who didn’t keep up. The light in this city
has a relationship with dirt that you’ll never understand unless you spend mornings walking to the subway.

Saturdays at the library there are children,
a proud moment when a small girl says, “Miss Joanna, I used a metaphor,” and then a second later, “or maybe it was a simile.” And I Google it because I can never remember the difference either.

The library is small and the neighborhood is trying, a sixteen years old honors student was shot to death last week and I knew him. The violence in this city has a relationship with a small girl’s metaphor maybe simile that you’ll never understand unless you try, which I don’t quite trust you will.

This morning I’m thinking I had better
find some people who know what I mean when I say, most things that mean something to me are covered in dirt.

Categories
poetry

Justice

Justice

My co-worker texts she’s missed her train-
the kind of co-worker who only eats fast food, and loves spicy but hates peas and can’t stand pizza anymore because she ate it every Friday night for too many years on Long Island with her family,
who did not appreciate when she moved in with her fiancee before the wedding but got over it.
Although if they knew how kinky the sex was, they would probably at least complain about it loudly to their co-workers. I text back, “sugar honey iced tea,” which is something she says a lot and I picture her, at ass o’clock in the morning at a commuter train station in Long Island watching the back of her train as it leaves her behind and then she sees my text and she smiles anyway and I wonder,
what have we been worshipping this whole time?

Categories
poetry

Feelings Per Capita

Feelings Per Capita

Her feelings lived at the intersection of hysterically funny and heartbreaking.
One day she blew and people on the street said,
“that mushroom cloud used to be a girl.”
But they didn’t hide their faces because when someone is absolutely consumed by the things there are to feel in this world, we know how to bear witness.
The historical record does not show whether it was beautiful.
In fact there is no record, the only evidence that it occurred at all
is your secret conviction that it happens all the time.

Categories
poetry

The French Kiss is a Conspiracy

The French Kiss is a Conspiracy

Last evening I went to the theater
The kind where you can buy a glass of wine but it’ll come in a plastic cup
which is okay because you’re supporting
the labor of love
When the protagonists kissed, I knew
they were faking, because it’s a play
and also because they had no chemistry.
Still, what the hell were the French thinking? I wonder if it started out as a trick. Can we fool the world into
touching tongues?
I sort of hope some actors sometimes realize that almost anything is better than touching tongues, even pretending to.

Categories
poetry

Empty

Empty

In a cup of orange mango juice
I poured myself in the break room
A small bug struggles for air
I can’t tell small bugs apart
Juice invaders, subspecies my cup
Anyway I do put my finger in there
And I let the small dude climb up
and I blow on the dummy gently until
he flies away.

The Buddhists, I have gathered, argue the bug’s point of view. Better to be fully present when drowning in a place you cannot conceive than to suffer from denial that you are drowning and you don’t know where you are. I’ll be honest, most days, I take great comfort in being
the master of the finger.

I know that small bugs have no consciousness
but I have an idea that this is the only way to experience divinity,
small and empty of thought.
I hope the bug was all wonder when
a miracle came from up somewhere
and saved it from
the place that smelled like heaven.