games to play the month you feel your feet have turned to dust

this is a list of games i played the month following the u.s. presidential election, written at the end of november

About a week before the U.S. general election, I sat on a hotel bed with friends playing Catacombs of Solaris. Catacombs of Solaris is what might happen if a handful of glow sticks were hastily knit together into a maze, which in turn were trying valiantly to cling to some memory of the physics of space. The walls start and stop as you do, shifting the landscape back and forth like an optical illusion gone wrong. The colours are bright and it hurts my eyes as I aim the camera towards solid blocks of colours until it turns the screen fuschia.

“Oh. Huh. I think you broke it,” my friend says to me.

“I think I just lost my footing,” I say.

The day after the election, I stand on wooden floorboards in the countryside. There is soft light – west country sunset sort of light – seeping in through a window. There are no newspapers here. My socked feet toe the edges of books stacked against the baseboard (they creep along the walls, under the bed, propping up lamps) and Ella Fitzgerald wafts up from the radio downstairs. She is singing “Paper Moon.” The irony is not lost on me. In my pocket, is an advanced copy of Pokémon Moon, which I am to review for the newspaper. It is the last thing I want to do with my time. Reinvention of Childhood Classic Shocks Nation. I go and sit curled next to a fire, where my boyfriend writes music. He is carrying on. I look down at my DS, chirping cheerily away in my hands. I name my starter Pokémon before closing the console. I stare at the wall. I think about my friend whose job it is to design a contingency plan for climate change for the entirety of Canada. I close my eyes. I count to ten. I open the console. I play the game and I write the review, because it is my job.

I am an American transplant in England. My own childhood home is situated next to the Potomac River, just south of Washington, D.C. I imagine bits of the river are frozen over now. When I was eight or nine or ten the neighbourhood kids and I would walk out past the docks on the iced-over waters, shrieking and giggling when we heard the hissing and popping of the ground splintering beneath our feet. We’d dare each other to inch a little bit further out, closer and closer to the other bank. Once, my friend Steven’s foot fell through a patch of especially thin ice on a misstep. We had to grab hands, a chain of children on a frozen riverbed, pulling their friend out from freezing waters. I wonder where our parents were. This is not a game I recommend.

Back in London, I download Carl Burton’s Islands: Non-Places. It is a beautiful homage to San Francisco. Or perhaps Los Angeles. Or maybe some other southern Californian city I have never been to. I suppose it is also, as the title suggests, not quite any of those places, but rather a collection of hazy, minimalist vignettes of spaces that are not real – but only just. In a wash of red light, palm trees head single file up an escalator, where they receive a quick shower. That sort of thing.

In another scene, an apartment building grows out of the ground in a parking lot, and a car rolls into the garage. There are sounds of a person exiting the car, walking upstairs, and turning on a television set. Here, my game freezes, and will not move forward. I am stuck staring at a brown building in the middle of a parking lot in a part of America I cannot recognise. There is the sound of running water.

After a minute, I restart the game.

when the sun sets at 4.30

It is harder to stay motivated in the autumn-to-winter months, I think. Here are a few things I have done in that time, and what I am preparing to do once the days get longer:

I made a few more games -- they showed at The Showroom Gallery at the beginning of November, and ended up at the Victoria and Albert Museum at the end of November. (It is a strange thing to watch other people do.) I still write for the Guardian -- about monthly, these days. I'll be contributing to a games and digital culture magazine A Profound Waste of Time in 2017 -- its Kickstarter campaign is here, and if the list of names I've found myself alongside are any indication, it will be very good. I'll be doing Train Jame 2017 -- a 52-hour game jam on a train from Chicago to San Francisco -- with a number of friends and colleagues on our way to GDC. 

Winter is a time to chip away at progress like a screwdriver to an iced-over freezer. It is cold and tiresome, but I can see a microwave curry at the back there. It's keeping me going.

Robert Smithson's Partially Buried Woodshed

At the risk of getting political, or self-indulgently artsy, I wanted to take a second to talk about Robert Smithson's partially buried woodshed -- a piece I have been thinking about a lot lately. in January of 1970, Smithson, with the help of students, unloaded 20 truckloads of earth onto a woodshed found on university property until its central beam cracked under the weight of the pressure. He intended for the piece to grow organically, swallowed by vegetation, and be tended to appropriately until it had run its course.

Following the Kent State shootings in May of that year, the words ‘MAY 4 KENT 70’ were painted onto the woodshed in white. The work had become a piece to commemorate the wounded and the dead, as well as a symbol of protest against gun violence, the war in Vietnam, and frustration with systems which had allowed for both.

The piece became a subject of controversy, but was allowed to remain for almost 14 years until someone, no one is quite sure who, quietly and quickly removed all evidence that the work was ever there -- save for the concrete foundation of the initial structure.

In the wake of so much systemic violence and sadness, I wonder how much pressure we can take before our central beams crack, and how long we will be permitted to remain before someone quietly cleans us away.

Last winter I wrote a very early Twine game (which is perhaps mostly a poem) from the perspective of Smithson's woodshed.