Hey Dylan Media PC Games

Richard & Alice (PC Game) [Open Letter Series]

Richard_&_Alice_CoverartHey Dylan,
I finished Richard & Alice on Saturday, and I was impressed with the creative use of time in the game. The opening especially, with the scene between the dad and son, and the flash forward to the jail, interspersed with the title shot and credits, struck me as sort of cinematic in terms of mechanics. I’ve seen it in TV shows and movies, but less in games.  In addition, it had the distinctive feature of the enforced pause (I don’t know if this was due to loading, or intentional, but the effect was the same either way), forcing the player to slow down which I both loved and hated at different parts. One thing that drove me a little nuts was coming back to a location to do something and waiting for the cut scenes to finish. This was less of a problem for me when the scenes gave me new back story, and more of a problem when it was Barney being whiney or Alice babbling to herself.

The main question the game asks – what are people when it comes down to it – is, for me, old. Like “yeah, yeah, after the apocalypse people are going to be jerks.”  Alice is no exception to the jerk rule, even though I think the player is supposed to sympathize with her. I wish I could say that I felt for her when she put Barney out of his misery, but frankly, it was difficult to care about Barney. In fact, Alice was the most likeable when she was failing at doing the right thing, like when she yelled at Barney. But the question is, does this make the writing in Richard & Alice bad, per se? With the exception of Barney, the characters are multidimensional, and the writing has a lot of interesting and sometimes intriguingly ambiguous points: talking to the dead at any old grave because there’s no way to know which grave you’re at, a jail that was originally luxury housing, Alice’s apparent choice to put herself in jail.

Most of the game logic was pretty straightforward. It was missing certain hints that a Schaefer game would have, like “hmm, I should put something on the gunpowder to make a wick.” Or, “if only I had something to melt the ice with.” And I thought that it would have been cool if any grave you chose worked at any given time, as a performative way of showing that it didn’t matter which grave the characters went to, since post-apocalypse, there was no longer a system for mapping bodies to graves.

I also noticed playing the game that Richard’s role was basically to be a robot in the jail cell that could listen. He listened to Alice’s story and did all the mechanical things with the objects but outside of the opening scene, his entire story was told through scraps of paper Alice found.  Seeing Richard develop through Alice was a different experience than playing Richard would have been, because Alice is already disposed to think of him as terrible, both as in bad and as in terror-inducing.

Of what I am told are five endings, I played through two – in the first, I had Alice use the ladder to get the box from the center of the frozen lake.  I was pretty sure from the moment I found out that there was a single bullet in the box how the game was going to end and I was right – by sheer coincidence, because there are a few endings where you get the bullet. But in the game I played, after Alice gets out of jail, she kills herself at Barney’s grave, in front of Richard. Alice’s suicide in this situation asks another kind of question about the apocalypse, if you are not one of the (lucky?) ones killed right away, is it unethical to voluntarily become one? Does it come down to what you could contribute if you were alive or whether you could better your own conditions? Or in this special case, is it no longer a selfish act because all acts have become selfish?

The second time, I left the bullet in the box in the lake, which caused her to use the empty gun to knock Richard out in front of the grave. She leaves a note for Richard telling him she’s gone…I think that this scenario is one where she kills herself with the next bullet she finds, that is to say the only reason why she didn’t kill herself is lack of bullets. This is the logical conclusion, on account of everything else happening exactly the same way.

For me, the best line in the game is when Alice says to Richard, “just because I understand you doesn’t mean I’m like you,” (and this may actually be a paraphrasing, but it’s very close), which she says shortly before shooting herself. What makes this the best line to my mind is Alice’s underlying assumption that it is within her jurisdiction to decide about her own nature. Often, we feel we are subject to various systems – biological, physiological, economic, social, etc. – and maybe we are but it’s possible, if morbid, that the fact of the ability to kill oneself means that in reality, no one is actually subject to these systems because they can voluntarily disappear from them.  While obviously most of us in the first world would not do that, perhaps the choice itself changes the power balance between the world and the person. Or perhaps not.


Author’s Note: This is the beginning of a monthly correspondence around short, mostly indie PC games, focusing on one per month. The other writer, Dylan Holmes, can be found here.

This specific post is the first in a four part letter series.  Here are the rest:
Dylan’s reply to this letter (post #2).
My reply to letter #2 (post #3).
Dylan’s reply to letter #3 (post #4)


Rescuing Safe Spaces from Rhetorical Bullshit

Guys. Listen. I know I said I wasn’t going to get into my thoughts on the University of Chicago letter, but, despite the fact that I consider myself a huge skeptic when it comes to safe spaces, I am really taken aback by some of the sentiments expressed against them. My issue with safe spaces is pretty simple: I’m not convinced they can actually exist. I’m not sure that a safe space for women is inclusive of all women, I’m not sure that a safe space for LGBTQ+ folks can be inclusive of anyone who self identifies as any of those labels. The simple fact is that even within the same categories, individuals express themselves differently, hence the word “individual,” and it’s quite possible for a gay republican to get into a fight with female-identified male bodied radical leftist in the LGBTQ+ center. For example. I have no idea how you could construct a safe space outside of the one we already know exists: that space which emerges when you get together with people who know you well and who love you, be they friends, romantic partners, teachers, or family. I have no idea how you could create a space that reproduced that as a constant, for any given category of people. To my mind, there is an non-resolvable tension between needing to be inclusive and exclusive at the same time. Therefore, it seems to me that each individual must be tasked with finding his or her own safe space.  But for heaven’s sake, I’d love to be proven wrong.

What has taken me aback, I mean really surprised me, is the way the people who oppose safe spaces seem to think that it is a natural part of adulthood to feel sad, hurt, angry or alienated. This is simply what it means to be a grownup. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. YOUR TEARS ARE THE NEW ROUTINE.  I mean, it’s preposterous. Forget all the damn isms, forget Israel/Palestine, forget social justice. It is true that institutional or societal oppression is one reason why you might need a safe space, but another is a bad break up, feeling insecure around your peers, a death or illness, anxiety or depression, or just wanting a place to feel like you can be you.

And the thing is: The University of Chicago isn’t even saying that. The university is talking about intellectual safe spaces, which definitely don’t exist. UChicago is merely affirming that it will continue to invite speakers promoting offensive ideas, along with all kinds of other speakers promoting all kinds of other ideas, while its community engages in the tough work of challenging boundaries together. That ain’t safe, nor should it be.  If we are going to critique the letter, it should be on the grounds of entirely failing to provide context for its statement — events which occurred on the University of Chicago’s campus and other campus across the country — and it failed to observe that its responsibility extends not only to intellectual growth, but also social development, and had it addressed that important point, it surely would have to acknowledge that in the context of social life (civic, personal, and etc), safe spaces are important.

What’s my point? My point is: stop being dicks in the name of cynicism.

Dear Diary


In just over a week, I will be 30 years old. I’ve come to certain decisions in the last few months that are important to how I manage my time in the coming months and years. When I set out to get a subject masters in the humanities, my career goal was academic reference librarianship, and to teach as an adjunct professor. I still want to teach and look forward to having the qualifications to do so, but I have decided to stay in public librarianship, for many reasons, but the main one is the range of possibilities for learning and developing. Brooklyn Public Library, it turns out, is very supportive of employees trying new and creative ideas. I also noticed that they have paid attention to my strengths and  invited me to participate on committees, go to trainings, and run programs related to who I am as a librarian. Settling into this career, I think, helps me shape and guide my desires going forward. For example,  if I stay at the Brooklyn Public Library, I have good reason to buy a condo in Brooklyn in the next few years, given the rental situation in this city. It probably makes sense for me to find particular kinds of communities — Jewish, intellectual, gaming, writing,  etc — and to invest more time into my relationships with institutions in this city.

I have also been thinking a lot about my master’s thesis lately, because I’m hoping to graduate in May.  I developed an entire outline which relies heavily on Arendt and Foucault, and somewhat on  various secondary sources, to make a complex argument about Arendt’s amor mundi, finding space for Place on the political Left, Foucault’s carceral state, the neoliberal suppression of the relationship between citizen and Place via database theory, and the resulting carcerality of the neoliberal state.  Yes, it’s about three theses in one.  But I’ve been thinking about it for months, and managed to work out a rough outline of what it would look like, and a bibliography. it’s a writable paper, and it can be done in sixty pages or so.

This morning, I came up with an equally interesting, much more straightforward idea for a thesis.  Perhaps it is true, as they say, that you need to have the messy ideas before you can have the elegant ones.  At any rate, it was immediately evident to me that this new idea is the direction I ought to take my thesis in — easier to sell an advisor on, more relevant to a wider population, and still wrestles with problematic assumptions in my political communities. Most importantly, it addresses directly what I came here to study: the construction of meaning.

Various people have suggested my original idea for a thesis was too ambitious, but I’ll tell you what’s too ambitious: taking a BISR class, three NYU classes, a sign language class,  sending my novel manuscript to Kirkus for editing and then shopping it around, and writing my original thesis idea for my website all while working full time.

A girl can dream, right?



Media PC Games

Broken Age (PC Game)

Broken Age from Double Fine Productions ($25 on Steam) is a point-and-click adventure by Tim Schafer, who is well known for games like Psychonauts, Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. This style of game involves no combat, is story based, and has puzzles that move the narrative forward. What make Schafer’s games wonderful and charming is the eccentric, likable characters he brings to life in worlds that amaze.

Unless you suddenly find yourself looking at an obvious interface that needs to be interacted with, some kinds of puzzles are not easy to guess. Those kinds of puzzles that require your character to do a series of actions in a certain order are easier for people who have played p&c adventures before, because they might understand that when something doesn’t work, it could just be that they thought of doing the steps in one order, but the designers had it in mind players do them in another order.  But if you’re walking in cold, the point and click adventure style needs to be learned along with being able to decipher the clues that are specific to the content in Broken Age. What could compel a player to do this? Especially since some of the puzzles involve either taking a picture of the screen or taking literal notes? It’s in the world building. The plain fact of the matter is, even if the puzzles are things of genius, the player will only solve them if she likes being in the game world. In my opinion, more than a few of the puzzles in Broken Age are not intuitive, require a lot of back and forth between the same places, and involve going through more dialog trees than you maybe want to.  (Especially all the ones that deal with the talking tree, omg SHUT UP TALKING TREE).

But the story — about a girl in a small town who decides she doesn’t want to be sacrificed at the maidens’ feast and a boy on a space ship who decides it’s time to grow up — is so charming, the characters you meet along the way so quirky, and the art so compelling, that the player doesn’t notice the hours flying by…literally…I might have suddenly realized I was sitting in the dark playing Broken Age because the sun went down and I didn’t notice…

I loved this game, and I’d recommend it to people who like narrative heavy games and art particularly. However, there is probably a decent demographic who would find the whole genre of point and click frustrating, and there is also a decent chance that at least some of that demographic doesn’t yet know that this is true about them. So, this is how I’d break it down: for gamers who super enjoy the open world style of gameplay, who prefer their graphics to be realistic and 3D instead of charming and 2D, who can’t imagine a game with just one ending, and who have excellent hand-eye coordination, this game probably isn’t really your bag. For people who usually don’t like video games, but do love comics, for lovers of old school p&c adventures, for gamers who want to identify with characters that they play, and lastly, for people who are not experienced with p&c adventures but who don’t feel guilty googling a solution, check this game out.

I wished I’d played it sooner, myself, because it is a little bit like “coming home,” in that it reminds me of the first PC games I ever played, and it brings back a little bit of the wonder I felt then.