Game Diary: April 2021

I’m doing one last game diary, and I’ve already decided that next month I’ll move it back to my other blog.  Or maybe I’ll stop entirely, and invest more time in my other hobbies, like blogging.  In any case, please enjoy this commentary on several games all across the spectrum.

Salad Fields

So I was browsing the LGBT tag on Steam, which isn’t exactly a cohesive category, but an interesting way to get a random selection of games. You get a few big budget games like Life is Strange, and a whole lot of dating simulators and visual novels. And I was thinking, “Where are all the LGBT puzzle games?” I’m being facetious, but I also have in the back of my mind that one game about fitting a poly triad onto a bed (Triad, if you want to look it up). But then I saw this game.

Salad Fields is a queer furry game that combines difficult sokoban puzzles with a surreal setting and story. Visually, it juxtaposes pixel graphics with 3D art that resembles abstract sculpture. Narratively, it’s mostly a bunch of disconnected stream-of-consciousness dialogues. The dialogues are not usually directly related to queerness, but they reflect the cultural values of (I presume) the authors’ personal experiences as queer furries–most every character is a weirdo and knows it, and there’s also an open and relaxed attitude towards sex.

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Game Diary: March 2021

This is a little series where I talk about games that I’ve been playing lately. I had this series on Pillowfort, but moved it here while Pillowfort is down. I haven’t decided whether I’ll keep it here when Pillowfort returns.

This month: two narrative games, two automation games, and two puzzle games.


Spiritfarer is a game about death. Your role is to ferry the dead to their final rest, listening to their stories and completing tasks in the mean time. The impact of death is also mechanically enhanced by having each character teach you some new mechanics, which continue to be associated with that character even after they are gone. I explained this premise to my husband, and he balked. “Sounds horrible.”

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Game Diary: Feb 2021

On Pillowfort, I’ve been writing a “video game diary” where I write mini-reviews of video games I’ve played recently (or watched my husband play). This diary is the inspiration of a few of my articles, including “Bugsnax’s twofold queerness” and “Practice and sight-reading in video games“. Since Pillowfort has been down for an extended period, it seems like a good time to try importing the feature here. I’m just calling it “game diary” because I might occasionally include a board game.

I may or may not decide to continue this feature on this blog, so let me know if you like it.

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Review scores: a philosophical investigation

Normally, in the introduction to an article, I would provide a “hook”, explaining my interest in the topic, and why you should be too. But my usual approach felt wrong here, since I cannot justify my own interest, and arguably if you’re reading this rather than scrolling past the title, you should be less interested than you currently are.

So, review scores. WTF are they? I don’t have the answers, but I sure have some questions. Why is 0/10 bad, 10/10 good, and 5/10… also bad? What goals do people have in assigning a score, and do they align with the goals of people reading the same score? What does it mean to take the average of many review scores? And why do we expect review scores to be normally distributed?

Mathematical structure

Review scores are intuitively understood as a measure of the quality of a work (such as a video game, movie, book, or LP)–or perhaps a measure of our enjoyment of the work? Already we have this question: is it quality, or is it enjoyment, or are those two concepts the same? But we must leave that question hanging, because there are more existentially pressing questions to come. Review scores do more than just express quality/enjoyment, they assign a number. And numbers are quite the loaded concept.

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Bugsnax’s twofold queerness

cn: no spoilers in the OP, but spoilers permitted in comments

Over break, I tried playing Bugsnax, a video game about catching snack-themed bug monsters. I expected a light and colorful game, but I got something more story-oriented, and way more queer. And that’s not just me reading into it–basically anyone who plays through the game will know that there are not one but two same-sex couples in its cast of 13. Fewer players realize this, but there is also a nonbinary character.


bugsnax cover art

Source: Young Horses

My attitude towards queerness in video games is as a nice-to-have. I don’t really expect it, and I expect little out of it. Bugsnax having many queer characters is a pleasant surprise. But I read webcomics whose casts are 100% queer, so for me the novelty is only in the medium, and not in the queerness itself.

What really pleased me about Bugsnax is that it is an excellent example of what I’m calling twofold queer representation. It has queer characters… and queer-coded themes. The queer themes are never explicitly labeled as queer, and have no direct connection to the queerness of the characters. Nonetheless, the significant presence of queer characters cues the player to look for queer interpretations of the rest of the story–and find them.

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Practice and sight-reading in video games

Earlier this year, I played Celeste and Hollow Knight, two critically acclaimed platformers released in 2018 and 2017 respectively. Games critics basically talk about these games all the time, so I knew what they were and I knew they were quote-unquote “good” games. But they’re outside my wheelhouse, in that they are not puzzle or story games. So I only played them recently, and only because my husband bought them for himself.

In both games, I noticed a difference in how my husband and I played. Initially, my husband would play, and then I got interested. I would skip ahead of my husband in leaps and bounds. But eventually, towards the end, my husband got better than me. He would start consistently beating challenges that I could only beat after many tries, and would reach further through the post-game content. What gives?

box art for celeste and hollow knight

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (1) (2)

Both of these games present very difficult technical challenges, where you have to input a precise series of moves or react quickly to what you see on screen. They both promote the feeling of mastery once the challenges are complete. They are both very good at what they’re trying to do. Celeste in particular was a favorite for both of us, because instant respawns greatly reduce the friction to achieve that feeling of mastery. But my husband definitely enjoyed them more than I did, and I think it has to do with our different learning curves and learning styles. It may also explain why I don’t care for games that emphasize technical mastery, and go more for those puzzle and story games.

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How my free time disappeared

This article was written for the Carnival of Aces, which this month had the theme of “quarantine”.

Back in February, I got a new job. I like my job, but my main complaint was the long commute–over an hour and a half in each direction. My husband had an even longer commute, so we were in the process of looking for a new apartment in a better location.

In March, my company told everyone to work from home. My husband’s company did the same. Suddenly we had all this extra free time, multiple hours every day that we would have spent commuting. But all that extra free time–and more–got immediately slurped up.

Although it could be said we’re all in this together, I’ve noticed some stark contrasts in the way that COVID-19 has impacted our personal lives. There are those who lost their jobs or were sent home from school, and there are those who kept their jobs and now have to take care of their kids at the same time.

In the ace community, you might expect that since few people have kids, people gain free time rather than losing it. But as someone who keeps track of ace community activity (for linkspam purposes), I’ve observed a precipitous decline in activity in March and April, followed by a slow recovery in May. Other people have noticed it too. I’d like to offer my own experience as a case study of why this might have happened.

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