by Ellen Sweeney
So I had a minor surgery on my left thumb recently, which forced me to set aside console gaming for a bit and put Arkham Origins on hold. (Which is fine, since I can write the review for Arkham Origins in three sentences: Did you enjoy Arkham City? Did you like it so much that you would enjoy basically playing it over again, but with weaker writing and acting? If so, Arkham Origins is the game for you!) Anyhow, I’ve been exploring the world of games I can play by stabbing at a screen or keyboard with my right index finger.
First up: Twitch Plays Pokémon.
This brought me fully through the first two stages of the Kübler-Ross model. Some good Samaritan programmed the original Pokémon Red so folks can play via web browser for an adorable boost of nostalgia and/or socially acceptable animal fighting; some sadist then decided to make it an open single-player game in which literally anyone with an internet connection can issue commands to the character. So just imagine if you were in a large town – say, Hoboken – and every single resident of that town was fighting over the single controller. I suppose it should be considered a triumph of the human spirit that progress is ever made at all; you will spend twenty minutes just trying to name your new Pokémon, and end up naming it “ABBBBBBK(“ or “AA-j”. Joystiq did a great summary of the mythology, trolling, and other fascinating insights into human sociology that have resulted.
This is basically the iOS equivalent of the relaxation room at a nice spa. It is designed like a pop-up book, where you move your character through different environments by folding and manipulating the pages to solve basic puzzles. The art and level design are stunning and a novel use of the medium – just check out how rad this is. The gameplay isn’t thrilling but is oddly calming; it’s a very zen experience that was pretty much what I needed to undo the trauma of TPP.
Replay: Gone Home.
This game was actually released on Steam last year, and I struggled with whether to put it at the very top of my Best of 2013 list – but ended up leaving it off entirely, because I guess I don’t really consider it a game exactly – it’s more like being inside a novella. It’s the early 90’s, and you have just returned unexpectedly from a year of bumming around Europe. Your parents and sister moved into a new house while you are away. It’s before the ubiquity of real-time worldwide connectivity, so you haven’t been in touch much, and no one is home when you arrive. You explore this strange house that is now your family’s home, rifling through their drawers, reading their letters, playing cassettes your sister left lying around, slowly piecing together the story of what happened while you were away. The game deftly balances being a self-directed, immersive exploratory experience while maintaining a strong narrative arc. You will feel feelings. Consider yourself warned.