Of course this is about Cyberpunk. Of course this has nothing to do with Cyberpunk.

In high school, I had a teacher who taught me to knife fight. Don’t worry, it was after school. He was the kind of teacher who kept his classroom open for nerds, geeks, and anyone else who didn’t have anywhere to go after school.

I could lie and say I don’t remember what I was doing that day. I won’t. My friends and I were talking about Assassin’s Creed. We were miming fights and doing “parkour” rolls on the linoleum floor.

The teacher sauntered over, watched some videos with us, then asked, “Do you want to know how to really fight with a knife?” The answer was obvious. …


This essay examines the gameplay and narrative of The Witcher 3 (please don’t make me say ludonarrative) and explores what I find so uncomfortable about the game. (Also there is a semi-NSFW image just below, so look out for that.)

Talking about The Witcher 3 isn’t just talking about a game. A lot of good, even great, games have come and gone without leaving anything resembling a dent. The Witcher 3, on the other hand, has been slam-dunked so furiously into the brain basket of gamers that the resulting brain injury results in the game being proffered up in even the most bizarre contexts. Someone says they really enjoyed Animal Crossing: New Leaf? Well, maybe they’d also like The Witcher 3, after all they’re both… video games? …


Content Warning: Violence towards trans-women; bigotry; gamers™, The Last of Us Part II spoilers.

“I told you I was sorry.” Those were the last words Gwen Araujo spoke before being beaten to death. Gwen was a trans woman who was murdered in cold blood after a group of men questioned her identity, forced her to reveal her genitals, and beat her. At the trial, the murderers used the gay/trans panic defense, saying that Gwen, “Had provoked the violent response.” A convenient lie to blame the victim of their hatred. The argument went that the men who murdered her weren’t responsible, murdering her was the natural response to discovering that she was trans. The defense was simple: It was Gwen’s fault. …


An essay about knowing not just what video game players want, but why they want those things.

The fandom of every minimally to hugely successful video game is an ever shifting tide. Players say they want a thing, and then complain upon receiving it. “Such ingrates,” another part of the playerbase will proclaim, “You got what you asked for, why aren’t you happy?”

The answer is usually simplified to this: people don’t know what they want. That’s a cute truism, but it’s also pretty useless. If you go around telling everyone they don’t know what they want, sooner or later they’re going to roll you in a carpet and toss you off a bridge. On some level, every game player knows what they want. It’s why they will play some games for years and others for minutes. It is why they will gush about the mechanics. It is why they will be effervescent with rage should there be changes that displease them. People are remarkably adept at detecting what they do and do not like; what does and does not work. …


The first several hours of Death Stranding have you (as Norman Reedus (as Sam Porter Bridges)) delivering dozens if not hundreds of kilos of packages on foot through a ghost-infested wasteland. Your shoes are wearing out, you’re forcing Sam to jack-hammer six bottles of Monster Energy to stay awake, you’re tumbling off a cliff and watching all your precious packages scatter to the winds. It is rough. It is so rough that once you finally unlock the privilege of constructing your own trucks you will feel like the god of this Icelandic nightmare. …


Dishonored 2 has always felt a bit strange to me from a gameplay perspective. There has always been a nebulous wrongness with how the game plays when compared to Dishonored 1. Not in the larger-scope, the games are very similar in structure, although Dishonored 2 does seem to have larger levels on average. Rather, the strange differences I noticed were purely in the way the character controls. So naturally, I took a couple hours to sit down, record gameplay footage, and then go through frame by frame to see how different they are. As a disclaimer, this is obviously not a rigorous scientific study. I only did a handful of takes and then scrubbed through footage in premiere. Some variation is entirely possible, but I did my best. …


This is about Remedy’s latest game, Control.

The Oldest House is a place of order. It grows far and away above the New York skyline, its concrete obelisk pierces the sky. The sky opens wide and reaches back. The walls are so very thin. The ocean beyond is so very deep. There is nothing under the sun our science cannot delineate. The windows of The Oldest House look upon foreign stars. It is within the < corridors / arteries > of The Oldest House that the Federal Bureau of Control situates itself.

The bureau exists to protect us. The bureau cannot protect itself. The bureau houses constructs that would cause us harm not because they are malicious but because their modus of existence is inimitable to human life. Is it more horrifying to be hunted by a malignant creature, or threatened by something with no regard nor understanding for our existence? Of course, the Lovecraftian allusions are there, but the cosmic horror of Lovecraft usually falls flat for me because it relies on extreme abstraction or frankly goofy monsters. The mythos of Cthulhu that is collectively constructed by loose fans of Lovecraft’s work presupposes something far more alien and meaningful than most of his works ever presented. I mean, do you remember the scene where the protagonists are in a boat-chase with Cthulhu and bisect him with the prow? How Cthulhu achieved legendary horror status after that is a mystery to me. …


This is an essay about ghosts. It is — incidentally — also about Death Stranding and couriers.

My courier bag.

I watched Cameron die seven times. He raced the train, it won. He didn’t see the train, the train (and its sixty tons of unthinking steel) didn’t care. He tried to stop, the train didn’t. I’m not certain which assessment is correct although it doesn’t matter. I rewound the news clip and watched Cameron die for the eighth time. He was younger than me. I didn’t know him well. I could write far more succinctly about someone I did know well. I know he called his dad Big Ho. I know he loved his little sister. I know how proud he was of her. I know he was going to be a designer. I know he is why I became a better designer. I didn’t know him well. I knew him enough to remember every interaction we had. …


Who uses your tools after you move on?

This is an essay about hurting people with design. It is also about tech, city planning, and the KKK.

“Do no harm,” is a quaint, well-meaning adage. I’ve certainly heard it bandied about in a wide variety of professions, followed by nods and the slight furrowing of brows. Outside of organisations like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and police departments, there are in fact few fields where the explicit aim is to do harm. It’s a vapid phrase and I doubt anyone believes it. After all, if you truly believe it is possible to do no harm then you are either deluded or on course for a meltdown. Instead, I offer this: Understand that, at some point, your work will harm people. You may not intend it, but it is completely unavoidable. You need to understand who you are harming. You need to know how you are doing it. Most of all, you need to know why. Then, you need to do everything in your power to stop it. That still won’t be enough, but you have to try. This is why it is vital to think about the tools you use.

Tools can be wonderful. In planning, zoning ordinances keep factories from being built alongside homes and schools. Zoning ordinances allow for the protection of both the physical and ephemeral character of a neighbourhood. Zoning ordinances are used to inflict massive harm on minority communities and are still used to enforce segregation. Tools can be dangerous.

Several years ago, I consulted with a fairly wealthy town that was weighing its options as it saw rising population and skyrocketing housing prices. Residents were concerned: they wanted the town they remembered from their childhoods, they wanted it to be a place where their children and their children’s children could grow up and own homes. They were also out of undeveloped land and were physically constrained by geography or competing jurisdictions on all sides. Put simply, they were (metaphorically) walled in. …


Syberia (Microïds, 2002) is a point-and-click adventure game which contains the most perfectly awful puzzle I have ever experienced. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of all the overlapping cruelties it would be hazardous to stare at the chart for prolonged periods of time. The game is, in spite of this, pretty neat, but even 16 years after I first played the game, I cannot forget nor forgive this particular puzzle.

There are plenty of old school point-and-click games that proliferated absolute nonsense logic-orthogonal puzzles. There is the famous babel fish puzzle from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game — they even sold t-shirts to commemorate it. BUT — and this is a big juicy burger of a BUT — at least in that game it had a twisted internal logic. The world of Hitchhiker’s Guide is absurdist and surreal, and while the puzzle still pushed the limits of human sanity it fit into the larger world by turning a run of the mill activity — using a vending machine — into a Rube Goldberg scenario clearly designed to tease and test the player. …

Hart Crompton

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