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Glowing pixels

Jason Gurley
Jason Gurley
2 min read

I have a soft spot for small games. By that I suppose I mean games that are built by small teams, that attempt to do something unique. One of my favorites of the last few years was Firewatch, a visually delicious and narratively fascinating game about a troubled guy spending a summer working as a fire lookout. I spent many hours in that world. I've just finished a game called Lake, in which you are a middle-aged woman returned to her hometown to cover her father's mail route while he's away. It really is as simple as waking up each morning to deliver the mail, and chat with the townspeople along the way.  

The last few years, what I need from a game has shifted. Peacefulness is something I look for. A little freedom to play the game in whatever way is meaningful to me, even if it's not the way the game was intended to be played, is also appealing now.

The stories of how games are made also interest me. I read two books by Jason Schreier this year (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made and Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry) about how games struggle toward the finish line, and how video game studios implode.

Just last week, I finished reading You, by Austin Grossman, for the third time. It's the story of four people, friends since childhood, who built a game studio together. But one of them has died, and has left a piece of himself behind in the games; now a crippling glitch threatens their latest game launch. As the friends try to locate the source of the glitch, the novel treats us to the way games have echoed their own life experiences. It's a lovely novel, but I also appreciate how comfortable it is going into the weeds; it helps that Grossman has worked in video games himself, I suppose. There are pages upon pages of people trying to unwind a graphics bug or troubleshoot dialogue trees or decide on a game's core storyline.

Maybe part of what I love about the book is that it's a workplace novel. Earlier this year I watched AppleTV's Mythic Quest, which treads similar ground: People working together to produce something meaningful to them.

Now I'm tinkering with Islanders, a sort-of city-building simulation game; it's lovely and undemanding. The game presents you with a bare island, then serves up a series of components: A handful of houses, a mill, a temple, a market. It's your job to put them together in ways that earn you enough points to get the next batch of components. When you're done, if you've scored highly enough, you can abandon your island and search for a new one, and make it your own. It's repetitive, but pleasantly so, and that's just fine.

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