Two Minute Game Crit – Rabbit Rush

 

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Transcript:

If you head over to Google right now and run a search for Rabbit Rush you’ll find… absolutely nothing, because it’s no longer available. But if it were available, you’d find one of the most interesting games you’d ever play.

It goes like this.

[Titles]

Rabbitville is overpopulated, and it’s your job to command its excess rabbits and conquer neighbouring towns. It’s very simple – click on the rabbits here then drag to a nearby building, and you see them moving. They fill up the building and it’s yours. If the building is occupied by another town’s rabbits, send more of your own to take it over.

Then onto the next one, and the next one. It’s so gloriously compulsive. The glowing lights, the sounds, the cheer of your rabbits when they take a house, the flare when you grab a power-up. It entrances you as you spread your little empire.

But before long, someone sends you a message – “hey how’s it going” – and they say, click on the carrot in the store for a quick hack.

Once you do, the game breaks and you exit into this eerie arcade. You find these notes scattered around from a dear friend you keep missing, and outside, a line of shops light up as you pass – “all that you see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

What follows is a dream sequence based around different forms of media – some are types of games, others are types of photography or literature, and so on. As you cycle through these different scenarios, you learn more about your relationship with your missing friend, as the world repeats and degrades. Every now and again you return to the arcade game, Rabbit Rush, to find some solace, but always it’s more warped, more traumatic.

It’s only a short game but it’s so full of joy, sadness, hope, and paranoia. Each transition from one media form to the next carries such a complexity of emotion.

I love this game for how it uses the form of each sequence to convey a narrative of self-discovery and the dangers of retreating into nostalgic dreams of the past.


 

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Two Minute Game Crit – Walking Simulators and Phantom Rides

Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit. I’m Stephen Beirne, you can find me in longform at Normally Rascal.

Today I’m going to be talking about a genre of games like The Legacy here. In The Legacy, you walk around this deserted wasteland and eventually come across a few things of interest. It’s wonderful for a bunch of reasons I won’t get into in this video.

Now, games like The Legacy are often uncharitably called “Walking Simulators,” or “First Person Walkers,” usually by people who want to dismiss them. My gripe is, it’s a way of looking at the genre that’s stuck in a limiting mentality of what games can do and how the medium works in general.

So I want to break down some of the underlying subtext of these terms and challenge their continued use.

First there’s First Person Walker, or the alternative wanky version, First Person Experiencer. Personally I don’t like these variations because focussing on camera perspective misses the forest for the trees. It’s a common shared attribute but it’s not really What’s Going On, you know?

Anyway, they’re far more often called by the pejorative Walking Simulators, which is a name that came about through a very literal way to describe what you do in these games.

You walk.

Walking’s not seen as something especially interesting for a game to have because millions of other games feature walking already. It’s boring and normal. Most players are able to go outside and experience the joys of walking in real life. Through this logic, a game that simulates walking is connoted as valueless.

Now, this all comes from a mentality which erases anything that’s not a game’s mechanics from consideration of the medium’s formal structure. But look it, what the player does mechanically in a game isn’t always a clear indicator of what a game does in general. We’re used to this idea with horror games, so it’s weird how it’s a problem with something like The Legacy or Proteus or Dear Esther.

There’s been some effort to reclaim the term “Walking Simulator” but it’s so rooted in this backward thinking, I feel it’s still a fairly wrongheaded way to describe these sorts of games.

Instead I think we should call them “Phantom Rides,” after the genre of early films where the camera was shlapped to the front of a train.

Back when people were figuring out how cinema worked, Phantom Rides pioneered the whole idea of moving the camera on a rail to give a sense of animation to the viewer. People used to go to the cinema just to be “transported” from the theatre to a journey on a railway line. But it wasn’t just the novel sensation of movement, it was an opportunity for them to experience local sights in new ways, or to visit faraway places they’d never be otherwise able to see.

These types of movies were popular for a brief period before phasing out and being incorporated as film techniques into movies as a whole.

So rather than thinking of The Legacy and all them as “games that simulate walking” or focusing on other coincidental aspects, I think it’d be useful to reframe things to reflect what they actually do: transport us to other places for new experiences. That way, we can find better ways to express ourselves and to understand these games, without the burdensome language put there by people who, to put it nicely, aren’t really interested.

So there we are. Phantom Rides.

I’m Stephen Beirne, you can find me at Normally Rascal and on Twitter, or support my work by popping over to Patreon and becoming a patron. Cheers for watching.

Two Minute Game Crit – A Mother in Festerwood


Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit. I’m Stephen Beirne, you can find me in longform at Normally Rascal.

I’m going to show you a small flash game on Newgrounds called A Mother in Festerwood, made in 2011 by Austin Breed. It’s a little bit buggy but I love it to death.

So here we are, we’ve got this overhead view of Festerwood with our house in the middle and monsters all surrounding it. You play as the mother, you use the mouse to move her about the clearing but you can’t go beyond the dotted lines. It’s your job to protect your adventurer son from the monsters of Festerwood by blocking him from wandering outside the clearing until he’s of a suitable age.

As time goes by he ages, grows and becomes faster and more agile. Before long he’s fast enough to dart past you and then… that’s it. It’s up to the mercy of Festerwood what’ll happen to him.

Austin Breed writes he was inspired to make A Mother in Festerwood by his sympathy for mothers who suddenly find themselves with empty nests, which is a great indication that he knows what narratives of parenthood ought to focus on: your child’s independance, rather than your own power and control.

I think part of why I love A Mother in Festerwood is because I played it around the same time as BioShock infinite and The Last of Us, which basically view parenthood the same way a general views an army. But with Festerwood, here was a game that placed importance on the role of your child as an independent entity and threw away all this nonsense about player agency being the medium’s key factor by having the mother and son share the spotlight, by not letting you supersede the narrative here.

How the game progresses depends entirely on the boy’s whim in where he wants to move to – you have to follow him around to hem him in, and then when he finally gets loose the drama of his adventuring is all in where he decides to go while you watch on powerlessly. Although it’s likely to be the longest part of the game and the mother is basically just standing there, it’s the most nervewracking part because all you can do is fret for his safety.

You don’t perform “active verbs” but you still participate with the game in a full on way, even if you never touch the mouse again for the rest of it. Basically the whole heart-wrenching gist of the game, the part that makes it so compelling, completely defies verb-orientated design analysis, and the rest of it undermines the romanticism towards player agency.

So that’s A Mother in Festerwood. I’m Stephen Beirne, you can find me at Normally Rascal and Twitter, and support my game crit through Patreon. Cheers for watching.