31 Days Of Horror Games: Day 6


The experience of playing ANATOMY can be summed up in, “Thanks! I hate it!”

Seriously, though, ANATOMY is heavy, unpleasant, far too close, and present, and it is wonderful for that. ANATOMY explores some of the fears closest to our hearts: bodily integrity and the home as extension of self. It reminds us, by simply walking through a house, that mundanity is its own horror, that we place trust in this construct, both physical and social, than can crush down on us and our conception of ourselves. For anyone who has been a victim of abuse or family trauma, the sense of alienation comes through twofold. What happens to a person, to a place, when a home feels so very not that? When it feels like a creature alive with malice, closing in around you and unsettling the core of your being? Every house is haunted, and every house is like a body.

ANATOMY can be purchased on itch.io.

31 Days Of Horror Games: Day 5

Here’s another classic for you.


When most people think of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and its relation to video games, Deadly Premonition is rightly first to come to mind. The inspiration is obvious, but a solid, respectable partner should be Alan Wake which, while primarily drawing from Stephen King’s body of work, has plenty of the small town mystery and oddity of the television series. The town is, as is said, as much a character as the characters themselves.

Alan Wake does a lot of interesting things in revealing its story. Before Telltale hit success with its episodic release style, Remedy took an already complete game and paced and divided itself akin to a season of a television series. Playing it feels like binge-watching your favourite Netflix show. It makes for a game that, while spooky and weird and thrilling, is actually quite pleasant and relaxing to play.

Alan Wake is also one of the only games I can think of that actually uses audio log/note mechanics in ways that actually benefit the story in natural ways, both that being told and experienced. To be an author is to draw from around you, until truth and fiction become sometimes disturbingly hard to separate. What happens when life around you starts to resemble the things hidden away in the written word? How do you process your responsibility in how stories affect real people?

Alan Wake is, unfortunately, no longer available on PC legally (Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is though, on GOG and Steam). You can get a Xbox 360 copy which is also compatible on Xbox One.

31 Days of Horror Games: Days 3&4

Missed another day, so here’s another double feature for y’all. This time I’m returning to some classics. These two, above all else, I consider must plays for horror.


Silent Hill 2 is the pinnacle of horror for me. It’s been the most influential to my personal sense of storytelling and the kind of horror I’m drawn towards. Sixteen years later, its unique style of psychological terror combined with strong visuals and a brilliant industrialized soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka still stands strong. It’s haunting and elegant, gorgeous in its grotesquerie. It’s a story about a selfish man caught in his own personal hell that’s still valuable today.

It’s also a game that deserves to be played the Right way. Grab a used PS2. Get a Greatest Hits copy off eBay. Avoid the PS3 collection at all costs, it’s an insulting cash grab. Revel in the fog.


Fatal Frame is another PS2 oldie, one framed around a mechanic that I don’t think any other game franchise has really taken advantage of quite as well. You’ve got an old supernatural camera and you use it to take pictures of ghosts. Somehow, that’s fucking terrifying.

Fatal Frame and its sequels masterfully use suspense and the helplessness conceived from an added barrier between confrontation to create some of the scariest moments I’ve ever experienced in a game. It also feels like a quintessentially Japanese experience, drawing from Japanese horror cinema and 1980s culture.

Fatal Frame is available for PS3 on PSN.

31 Days Of Horror Games: Day 1&2

I was out of town this weekend, so I wasn’t able to start this on October 1st as I would’ve liked. So I’ll start this project off with TWO games instead of one!

Anyway, sometimes people will say “horror video games are dead” and I think that’s pretty ignorant. Just like some of the best horror movies ever–It Follows, The Babadook, Get Out–have come out in this decade and tackle spectacularly more abstract and mundane terrors, so too have horror games been given a new lease on life through amazing game publishing sites like itch.io that give more space and visibility to developer’s small and more experimental titles.

I’d like to provide further spotlight to those small horror experiences. Throughout the month of October, I’ll write a small blurb and provide links to horror games I think are interesting and worth the time investment, whether they try new things with the medium and genre, or provide fun and scares with solid conventions. I’ll also throw in a few ‘bigger’ games that I consider part of my personal video game horror canon, that I believe are Must Plays for someone looking to dig into horror games.

Today, I’ll start off with Dead End Road and In The Kingdom.

Dead End Road is a simple tale of hubris. You’ve gone against an old woman’s warning and taken part in an ancient ritual that you must bring to completion. Now…something is chasing you. Drive, drive as fast as you can, obtain the ritual items you need, and return to the old woman and hope for the best.

DER is a driving obstacle course at its core, the majority of the game tasking you with avoiding other cars, trash, weather effects, and disturbing supernatural forces. You have to manage your fuel and pay attention or a fatal accident lies in your future. It’s a short, procedural game; expect to die a couple times. Luckily it doesn’t wear out its welcome. If you’ve ever driven at night down a dark, empty road, the eerie atmosphere will be familiar and more than enough to entertain.

Dead End Road is available on itch.io and Steam.

In The Kingdom is more proof of concept than complete game, but it’s still worth the half hour to hour investment. It’s in vein with classic 90s fps games like Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein, although in comparison its shooting is functional at best. What makes ITK interesting is its tonal strengths: its visuals and soundscape provide this violent, eldritch environment that’s beautiful and haunting in its hostility. You are not welcome here, but you must make it through.

In The Kingdom is available on itch.io.

The common link between Dead End Road and In The Kingdom lies in their lo-fi aesthetics. Horror video games are great at hinting at the gruesome and traumatic, at exploiting our paranoia.

Tomorrow I’ll return to a classic horror game, and continue with one game per day. I hope you enjoy these!

In Review – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

I have a weird, complicated relationship with Uncharted, but one I’m sure is shared by many. I hate these games. I honestly detest the first three in the series. I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, say they were any good until Uncharted 4, and yet, here I am, having played five of them (I’m not counting the mobile game, which I have played, and like, but just uses the franchise as wallpaper, nor the Vita game, which I have no real interest in). What keeps drawing me back in, what compells me to return to these games of which the majority I dislike?

To be fair, there’s plenty to praise about the series. If you want Game As Movie, it’s your best bet. The setpieces have always been spectacular and memorable, the dialogue is genuinely charming and funny, and new things are always attempted with each installment. Naughty Dog has and continues to make an indelible mark on games that cant be easily imitated. They’re masters of their craft. They’ve landed on a successful formula that keeps even a grouch like me quizzically coming back for more.

Lost Legacy is a testament to that formula. It sits on a precipice point, stands almost as the thesis statement for this era of Naughty Dog, looking both fondly back and forward to new experiences.

After four Crash Bandicoot games, ND obviously wanted to attempt new things. The same followed with the Jak and Daxter games, and now so too are we standing audience and participant to ND’s continued evolution with Uncharted, Lost Legacy very likely being the last installment from the studio. It’s a fitting one. Spoilers ahead.

Lost Legacy (hereby LL) follows Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, two supporting characters from previous games, as they search for the fabled Tusk of Ganesha in civil war-stricken India. They’re a classical odd pair, Nadine playing the straight man to Chloe’s funny man. Luckily, the two have excellent chemistry, and it’s very easy to accept and go along with them being thrust together despite never interacting in previous games.

It almost feels like officially sanctioned fanfiction, in a way, especially so because the idea of a AAA game with not one, but two leading women still feels fantastical. It exists, though, and it’s frankly quite good. It’s further testament to ND’s major strength as a developer: their drive to listen, learn, and try new things with their games.

Nadine and Chloe are allowed to get dirty and grimey, are allowed to have visible muscle, are allowed to be both professional and emotional without it ever being cast as an indictment of their gender. They’re fully realized women with inner lives shaped by that but never limited to it. After four games with Nathan, who’s about as generic as a rogue adventurer can get, it’s so refreshing to have protagonists I’m actually interested in learning about.

The biggest advantage Chloe and Nadine have lies in their origins as supporting cast. There was never any pretense that either of these women were good people, and that moral ambiguity follows them into LL. This alone makes it a more cohesive and coherent narrative than any previous Uncharted game despite following the same basic story structure: Nathan is unquestionably cast as a Hero, his countless murders conveniently ignored. For Chloe and Nadine, murder is an accepted risk. They know what kind of people they are and don’t shy away from it. The witty dialogue and jokes feel less jarring, less dissonant here.

It also helps that there’s simply less gunfights overall in LL. I got through approximately ninety percent of encounters with stealth alone, and those I couldn’t avoid were faster and more intense, keeping the game from slogging through ultraviolence.

LL is lean, and feels very much like a Best Hits Collection of Uncharted’s various setpieces and small moments. There’s callbacks abound, but they’re actually cool, or funny, and never overstay their welcome. It’s a very self-aware game without being insufferable about it.

This self-awareness extends to the narrative’s themes and the protagonists’ character arcs. LL is itself a metacommentary on gender, on, well, the legacies left behind by men vying for power, truth, and control, legacies left on the doorsteps of women then demanded to prove themselves and contextualize their relationships with them.

Likewise, what is an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake and his ultraviolence? Well, a damn good Uncharted game that confidently stands on its own, one that acknowledges the franchise’s legacy while being happy to leave it behind. A very bittersweet one, because LL is the game I wish Uncharted had been from the beginning. It feels like a starting point, an origin story for a team I’d gladly devour comics and pulp novels and cartoons and more games of, games that, in an ideal world, would push the narrative and mechanical concepts of Uncharted even further, into something that feels less formulaic and more thoughtful. Uncharted was never meant to be a puzzle game or thief simulator, but why only in the last game are these parts actually expanded upon? Why only in the last game are basic mechanics layered into something even slightly more mentally engaging and physically involved?

It’s frustrating, but at least it’s there. Lost Legacy is this frustration encapsulated, a solid experience, the best in a franchise, yearning for more, squandering potential but good at what it does do. It makes me excited to see what Naughty Dog will do next. Here’s hoping That Last of Us 2 blows LL out of the water.

Weapon Degradation In Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild


I usually detest weapon degredation in games. I understand and appreciate the general conceit around it: ideally, it discourages hoarding and anxieties around permanence and ownership, it encourages experimenting with different weapons rather than sticking to ones the player knows, it can create interesting and tense situations that force players to improvise and use everything available to them.

Ideally. In execution, it’s usually at best a distraction or an exercise in frustration.

Breath of the Wild is the first game I’ve played in which I not only didn’t outright hate weapon degradation, but loved it! It felt intuitive and seamless within the rules of the game’s world. It felt like it genuinely and spectacularly achieved those previously mentioned aims. 

It’s due to several factors. First: BOTW’s world physics are clearly communicated and consistent across all objects. Everything is equivalent, there is generally not an illogical hieararchy of interactivity and systems. If I can set this piece of wood on fire, why not this other piece? Therefore, you can apply these rules to weapons. A Bokoblin club is not just a club, it is wooden, thus you can set it on fire and it becomes a flame-based blunt weapon. That’s cool!!!

It’s a gentle, enthusiastic, and positive encouragment of experimentation. What can I do with these weapons, how do they interact with the rest of the world? It makes -sense- that weapons degrade or can be adapted into other kinds of objects because they inhabit the world as much as anything else.

It also keeps ‘weaker’ weapons useful in certain contexts. At the beginning of BOTW, you’ve got a tree branch. By the end, I at least had 20-25 slots filled with all sorts of crazy spears, swords, clubs, boomerangs, axes, etc. made of a variety of materials such as steel, wood, and bone. In a thunderstorm, a wooden or bone weapon is essential for your safety. If you need wood for kindling, a basic axe is the most efficient in terms of time, effort, and weapon longevity. A club on fire can be used to light dry grass to create an updraft, and so on. Nothing completely loses its value, both as weapon and as a tool within a living world. BOTW encourages you to revisit things you may have thought you ‘moved on’ from. It still has value, only what that means has changed.

BOTW is downright the most cinematic game I’ve ever played. The only ones that come close are Proteus and 30 Flights of Loving. What these three games have in common is not cutscenes, wrestling control from the player, or big, scripted setpieces, but a masterful understanding of lighting, framing, and how to use music to create moments that are emotionally meaningful and personal. Proteus dredges up the vaguely foreboding mystery and wonder of 70s sci-fi, 30 Flights throws you into the best chase scenes from spy films, and BOTW feels like the best sort of Ghibli flight of fancy.

BOTW has damn good music and flowing, beautiful environments that all lend their strength towards combat that feels like living through a recitation of Greek myth. Fights in BOTW aren’t just a numbers game: they demand your attention, keeping you focused on so many elements at once in a way that’s not overwhelming, but rather thrilling. One, of course, is weapon degredation. A weapon breaking isn’t just loss, it presents an opportunity. When you strike an enemy or toss a weapon at them that’s about to break, the damage inflicted doubles and may also stun them. When to break a weapon then becomes a tactical decision and can turn the tide on a battle. It keeps every encounter exciting and tense and active.

Also: there’s just so many dang weapons lying around! I was never left wanting for a way to beat up a monster. Weapon degradation sucks when you’re just trying to have a weapon at all, but I always had some way to replace broken weapons. Maybe not always what I was hoping for, but again, everything’s useful and lends towards emergent moments that could be inventive, thrilling, or even funny in what ends up happening. Everything is an opportunity, and that’s what Breath of the Wild ends up evoking even through breaking your pointy sticks. Opportunity.

Digimon Adventure and the Internet

So I’m only about halfway through my rewatch of Digimon Adventure 01 but watching it now, as an adult that grew up through the internet, it feels like so much more is coming to the forefront that Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children, the upcoming The Boy and the Beast) wanted to communicate. Probably the most important episode in the series, the one which acts as the entire thesis of the series, and the one I want to focus on here, is episode 21, ‘Home Away From Home’, which was actually directed by Hosoda himself, who also directed the movies Digimon Adventure and Our War Game!

Episode 21 makes direct allusions to the first movie (which acted as a series pilot), both in Kairi’s debut in the tv series and through Hosoda’s powerful and iconic visual style. The sudden and drastic jump in animation quality is actually a bit jarring, but ends up working towards emphasizing the differences between the ‘digital world’ and the ‘real world’. The colour palette usually used in the series is typical, highly saturated, and cartoonlike.

With E21, Hosoda creates strong visual contrasts. The colour palette has been significantly muted, using colder colours and sharp lighting to create emotional separation and tension. Taichi has been flung back into the real world, and is taken aback by the, ironically enough, unreality of it. Does he return to help his friends in the digital world? Does he stay here at home? What responsibilities does he have towards himself and others?

I say E21 is the thesis of the series because it most directly confronts what previous episodes consider for a few minutes at best: what does it mean to be a person in digital contexts? How do our bodies relate to online communication, and what responsibilities do we retain?

Here, in 2016, we’re still figuring out how to combat online harassment. Our technologies are not neutral–Twitter’s weak blocking/reporting functions, for instance, are directly political because they value profit and brand engagement over providing protections for those most likely to be harassed (women, LGBT+ people, people of colour, etc). I don’t know if Digimon Adventure 01, having premiered in 1999, was the first series to consider the internet’s growing importance and impact, but it’s certainly impressive how it does it within the context of a children’s show.

That’s Adventure 01‘s greatest strength, really. It used the template of the Monster Collection genre to hone in on the personal stories of its characters and the impact of their interpersonal conflicts and relationships. The titular Digimon are ciphers for personal development. An example: Matt, the Cool Kid, the Lone Wolf, the kid who martyrs and burdens himself to protect his brother, develops a stronger sense of love, empathy, and self-care through Gabumon. The latter’s patience and compassion teaches Matt balance, and what friendship truly entails: loving relationships that empower everyone involved.

Returning to E21: Adventure 01 and Hosoda took the internet seriously. They took online relationships seriously. The digital world and the real world are layered over each other, inseparable and intricately tied together. Our actions online have impact in our day-to-day lives. Like the cartoony colour palette of the previous 20 episodes, and the subsequent return to that palette after Tai and Koramon return to File Island, the structures of our internet abodes work to create a sense of play, of unreality, and freedom from consequence. Logging out and returning to the “real world” can be a surreal experience that we have to reconcile to make peace with ourselves.

Digimon, as a franchise, started off as a humble spin-off of the Tamagotchi. These were virtual pets that you fed, trained, cleaned, and played with. They were fake, simply a few kilobytes and pixels. But like our Tamagotchis, our Neopets, and so on, their emotional impact was real. We bonded with them, assigned them value, mourned our losses. “Realness” is irrelevant. We behave in accordance. We reach our Ultimate potential through love and compassion and patience and a will to understand. We take each other seriously.