If Found…

Synopsis: If Found… is less of a game and more of a visual novel that tells the story of a transgender woman.

Who Should Play: This is a visual novel and there is one single mechanic – erasure. The player erases things to make space for the next layer of story. That’s it. However, the story comes out organically and patiently with stunning graphics. If you have never tried a visual novel this is a great place to start.

Made by: Anapurna Interactive (Publisher); Dreamfeel and Llaura McGee (Developers)

Available on: iOS, Mac OS, Windows

Price: $5-$12.99 (depending on the operating system)

Play time: About 2 hours (depending on your reading speed)

Questions:

  1. How does this visual novel develop in different ways than it might if it were a book?
  2. The game has a single mechanic – erasure. How did the mechanic make you feel when you played, and how did that mechanic enhance the narrative?
  3. If there were additional mechanics – more things to do in the game – how might that change its nature?
  4. The game is composed of two storylines – one more realistic than the other. How did the two converging stories make you feel and how did they inform upon each other?
  5. How did the aesthetics or reading (and erasing) a diary create intimacy between you and the protagonist?
  6. How did the visual style of the art affect your relationship to the characters and situations?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

The Verge (Review)
Washington Post (Review)
Polygon (Review)

KIDS

Synopsis: KIDS is a artful, contemplative game that has you move (somewhat anonymously) within and around and against crowds. It is part visual puzzle and part rhetorical argument.

Who Should Play: The puzzles of this game aren’t difficult, and are not meant to be – it is a visual game that is meant to make an argument in ways that a short film might. Don’t play it if you are someone who will grumble about spending $2.99 for a short-lived experience. However, it taps into the possibilities of what video games are capable of.

Made by: Double Fine (Publisher); Playables, Mario von Rickenbach, and Michael Frei (Developers)

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Windows

Price: $2.99

Play time: An hour or less

Questions:

  1. What do you think this game is saying? What kind of arguments is it making?
  2. How did the actions you do in the game help to make those arguments?
  3. How do the visual styles complement (or not) the arguments made by the game?
  4. Was the lack of central protagonist and plot something that was a distraction, or did the movement of the game envelope you in play? How did the anonymity of characters create (or not create) connections between you and the game?
  5. One of the game creators is a director and KIDS has been referred to as “cinematic.” Yet, it lacks many of the benchmarks of modern film. Do you agree that this game is cinematic, and if not, how would you describe what happens in it?
  6. What was the most jarring moment for you in this game? After you finished it, what stayed with you and why?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
The Verge (Review)

Sneaky Sasquatch

Synopsis: Sneaky Sasquatch is a simulation adventure game where the player takes on the role of the title character and is forced to sneak around, stealing things from park-goers and not getting caught by the park ranger. The game is bright, funny, and one of the best offerings in Apple Arcade. 

Who Should Play: Sneaky Sasquatch is a great beginner game. The controls are easy to use and tasks are nicely set out for you, gradually getting more complex. It is one of those games where you can play for a few days or you can play for weeks or months. (Side note: this game was partially included as a recommendation my elementary school aged son.)

Made by: RAC7 Games (Developer & Publisher)

Available on: iOS

Price: Included with Apple Arcade ($4.99/mo)

Play time: Varies, depending on interest level (the game has a decent amount of depth)

Questions

  1. “Stealth games” are a popular genre in video games, but usually they involve different kinds of stealth (generally, in more violent situations). How does this cartoonish, light kind of stealth evoke certain feelings when you play? What does it feel like to sneak, and what does it feel like to get caught with stakes that are far more cartoonish and silly?
  2. At the start of the game, you (the sasquatch) are scrounging for basic needs, but eventually are passing as a “regular” person. What does this game tell us about the anxieties involved in passing, and how might we apply it to other kinds of identity passing?
  3. Did you find yourself seeking out more material goods in the game? Did you find yourself critiquing how material goods were privileged in the play? How did the game get you thinking about materialism in and out of the game world? 
  4. What would this game look and feel like, if you played from the perspective of the park ranger? How might it change gameplay and do you think it would it make the game more or less fun?
  5. In the game you navigate a space that sits somewhere between human and animal. In what ways does the game have you sympathize with one side or the other, in ways you had not previously considered?
  6. Picking things up in the game is physically awkward. While it’s hard to say if this is a feature or bug, how might it contribute to your feelings of not quite being “human?” Does the clumsy mechanic enhance the gameplay or make it harder?
  7. You can play video games inside of this game. How does this game-within-a-game structure add to the verisimilitude of the game world, and is it fun to play a game within a game? 
  8. A lot of this game is about exploration. What did you find enjoyable about the discovery of new locations, spaces, and experiences? 

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Website
Pocket Gamer (Tips)

Play like a Feminist. (Available from my local bookstore)

Today is a strange day. It is the centennial anniversary for women’s right to vote in America.

It is two days until the start of an in-person term at my university, which feels akin to packing for the Titanic.

It is the release day for my new book, PLAY LIKE A FEMINIST.

This is not the book release I had expected. There’s no cake this time. No release parties. No giddy toasts. It will be a day I spend producing online materials for classes that I’m not teaching online.

But I have hundreds of these stickers.

Three months ago, this was my release plan: I would mail stickers to friends, acquaintances, and readers who wanted them.

I could never have guessed that the USPS would be on the verge of collapse when I made that plan.

The stickers, however, remain my only joy in this process. So hit me up (on Twitter) and I’ll send you stickers and maybe they will get there someday.

Local indie bookstore Avid Bookshop.

In addition, Athens’ local indie bookstore Avid Bookshop carries my book, and I’ve coordinated with them to make signed copies available.

Please indicate in the order form that you would like a signed edition when you place your order online.

The Room: Old Sins

Synopsis: The Room: Old Sins is the latest installment in the series. In Old Sins, we are tasked with puzzling through and exploring a mysterious old dollhouse.

Who Should Play: The Room games (and this one in particular) are perfect for beginners. The puzzle box mysterious take full use of mobile devices controls, and the player is able to turn, flip, toggle, and maneuver their way through a variety of entertaining puzzles. The game feels like the natural progression from old school Hidden Object games: light on narrative and heavy on puzzle, but lacking some of the more frustrating aspects of the older genre. The tutorials lead the player along nicely, making sure that you never truly get stuck.

Made by: Fireproof Studios

Available on: Android, iOS

Price: $4.99

Play time: 3 hours

Questions

  1. One of the best parts of the Room games is the visceral use of movement: turning, toggling, and maneuvering feels satisfying in the game world. To what extent did this create a sense of immersion? Did you feel like your were in the room itself, getting to hold an jostle objects?
  2. Does the game necessitate more story backdrop, or do the puzzles stand enough on their own? Was the light levels of story distracting, or did it push you forward to make you want to solve the larger mystery?
  3. The player is in no way represented in the game – things just move like there are being held by ghosts. Do you prefer to see yourself represented in the game world, or does your invisibility make you not notice your presence? How do you prefer to be represented (as an avatar) in the game world (if at all). 
  4. Old, often very Anglo-Saxon mysteries are often at the core of mystery games such as those in the Room series. Why do you think these games tend to be so culturally specific, and how might you reimagine expanding this style and genre? 
  5. Consider the satisfaction of the process of “unlocking” – why is this a satisfying maneuver, and is uncovering the insides of what you unlock in the game as unsatisfying as the process? 
  6. Have you ever played a Hidden Object Game? If so, how do you think the Room series built on this style and changed it? Beyond the obvious shift in mechanics, what new has come with this changing style? What are some other kinds of “mystery games?”
  7. How do mystery games (like The Room) compare to other kinds of mystery fiction (films, books, etc)? What is more and what is less satisfying in encountering it in game form?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Website
The Verge (Review)
App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)

Ritual of the Moon

Synopsis:  Ritual of the Moon is a 28-day long game where the player is an abandoned witch on the moon, deciding whether or not to allow a catastrophe to occur.

Who Should Play: Ritual of the Moon is a meditative, contemplation that is appropriate for all difficulty levels. Indie developer Kara Stone refers to it as an exploration on “loneliness, power, and healing.” It is a good game requiring only a small daily commitment, with satisfying play.

Made by: Kara Stone (Developer)

Available on: Android, iOS, Mac OS, Microsoft

Price: $9.99

Play time: 28 days (5 minutes per day)

Questions

  1. This game is meant to be a kind of meditation. Did you play it every day for 28 days? In what ways might you understand it as a meditative practice? 
  2. Visually, the game is quite lo-fi, yet the design is uniquely intriguing. What did you think of the visual style, and how did it affect your interactions with the game?
  3. Did you choose to let the comet hit earth? What choices did you make over the 28 days of play?
  4. Did you find any of the aphorisms on healing and power differentials to be useful? Which ones stuck with you after you were done playing for the day? 
  5. To what extent did you relate to the witch protagonist as an abandoned figure? To what extent did you add more narrative to the thin story that she offers?
  6. How does Ritual of the Moon expand your understanding of what a game might be?
  7. The soundtrack from the game is both jarring and calming. Did you play with sound on, and if so, how did it affect your experience?
  8. Who do you think this game was intended for, and do you think it was meant for you?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Website
Gaming Trends (Review)

Grayout

Synopsis: Grayout is a fairly unique game. Taking place in a medical dystopic future, the player is navigating language; they are plagued with aphasia and trying to put the right words together in order to solve a larger mystery of who they are and how they got there. 

Who Should Play: Grayout is a great game for people who like linguistic puzzlers, but are bored of Words with Friends and seeking more developed narratives. It’s a fairly unique game, despite its simplicity.

Made by: Neven Mrgan

Available on: iOS

Price: $2.99

Play time: 1-2 hours

Questions:

  1. When did you stop trusting those around you in the game? Was it immediate or gradual? What clued you in to the fact that you were not in the right place?
  2. Words, in this game, have meaning. How does Grayout use linguistic puzzles differently than other kinds of word games (digital and non-digital)?
  3. When you were unable to figure out a puzzle, did you share the protagonist’s frustration? Did it make you think differently about aphasia and how medical conditions like that must feel? 
  4. In what ways did the game force you to think differently about language and our patterns of speaking? 
  5. The designer did a lot of work making the screen colors match the emotional experiences that they player should be having at various points of reveal. How did the simple, word based graphics and use of color effect the game’s emotional resonance? 
  6. Grayout is clever in how it makes words active and, in some ways, living experiences. In what ways did playing this game make you think differently about the precisions (and imprecisions) of words in everyday life? 
  7. Were words and colors satisfying enough to get a visual imaginary from this game? Did you find yourself wanting graphics, or was the graphic design enough to keep you engaged?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Website
Touch Arcade (Review)
Pocket Gamer (Walkthrough)

Rusty Lake: Paradise

Synopsis: There are several games in the Rusty Lake series (all about the same level of quality). The combination of macabre art and fun puzzles makes the game a fun, fast-moving mystery exploration. 

Who Should Play: The humor in this game is a bit macabre; there is a lot of blood flowing in tongue-and-cheek ways. While I label it as both a adventure and puzzle game, the puzzle definitely takes precedence over the story. That said, the point-and-click style is pretty easy to navigate, although the puzzles are not!

Made by: Rusty Lake (Developer & Publisher)

Available on: Android, iOS, Mac OS, Microsoft

Price: $3.99

Play time: 4 hours

Questions:

  1. This game is characterized by an odd, almost violent humor, but the pacing and tone is calm and collected. How do these juxtaposed styles create a distinct play experience?
  2. The puzzles are all based around biblical plagues. How do the plagues frame a sense of story and texture your experiences? Were you uncomfortable with the dark tenor of the story, or did it make you want to play more?
  3. What did you think about the difficulty level of the puzzles? Were they too easy? Too difficult? How many did you get right without help?
  4. Is there enough story to the backdrop of the puzzles? Would this game be more satisfying if there was more story underlying the events?
  5. You, as the protagonist and player, are (for the most part) invisible within the story. Did you find yourself looking for a stronger sense of who you were within the space of the story? Or did you find your role as an outsider to be pleasurable?
  6. The strange people-animal hybrids are commonplace in the Rusty Lake games. Why do you think the designers made that choice, and how does it affect your play?
  7. Point-and-click adventure games are an older style of play that has transferred nicely to mobile devices. If you played this on a mobile device, did you find the point-and-click to be frustrating or a clear navigation system?
  8. In a game filled with strangeness, what did you think was the weirdest thing you encountered? 

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Website
App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)

Life is Strange

Synopsis:  Life is Strange is an episodic, narrative adventure game which follows a teenager who can control time. The player is able to control time (and the consequences of their actions) through Max. 

Who Should Play: While Life is Strange is a long game, it is one with a robust fan base and a good example of the complex storytelling video games are capable of. While it is not necessarily a game for beginners, it is not one that is difficult for beginners to learn. There are several sequels to the game and it’s a robust rabbit hole to fall down.

Made by: Dontnod Entertainment (Developer); Square Enix, Feral Interactive (Publishers)

Available on: Android, iOS, Mac OS, Microsoft, Playstation 4, Xbox One

Price: $8.99 – $19.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: 14 hours (There are subsequent episodes and games if you get into the story)

Questions:

  1. Life is Strange, at its core, asks the question “If I could how would I redo important moments in my life?” If you had this power, what would you do with it? How often would you use it. What moments of your life do you wish you had a redo button for? 
  2. A lot of Life is Strange is about consequences. What decisions did you make in the game that had consequences that you were unhappy with and how did you change them?
  3. How did playing Life is Strange get you thinking about real world consequences, both large and small? In what ways did your experience of playing this game effect how you saw the real world, while you played? 
  4. The game takes place during high school. To what extend do these narratives about redoing moments and consequences specifically map to your understanding of high school experiences? 
  5. In what way did you relate to and empathize with Max, as the protagonist? Do you think you would have related to her less if you were not making her choices for her?
  6. This game preferences narrative over action or arcade style mechanics. To what extent did you feel like this narrative equaled one you might enjoy in a book or film? Did the experience feel more like a game or more like a story you were experiencing? 

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Website
IGN (Walkthrough)
Peabody Awards (Award Citation)

Stardew Valley

Synopsis:
Stardew Valley is a deeply involved farming game that involves magical realism and romance. If you are looking to get sucked into an easy, adorable game world, this is the best thing money can buy you.

Who Should Play:
Stardew Valley takes some commitment. It has been characterized as a kind of “slow gaming” and happens over time: hours, days, weeks, seasons, and years all occur in the game in a generative way. You can’t play Stardew Valley wrong. Things happen at their own pace in this sleepy farming game. It is great for novice players that want to feel submerged in a gaming world and try something new.

Made by: Developer: Concerned Ape

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

Price: $7.99 – $14.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: Open

Questions for Stardew Valley:

  1. How long did it take for you to get the hang of Stardew Valley? Did it take days, months, or years? (Any answer is fine!)
  2. Did you try out different maps or starting characters? How many? How did you settle on your final choices of what and how to play?
  3. Did you focus on one particular thing at a time (crops, animals, mining, fishing, etc.) or did you do multiple things at a time? How did you balance your workflows in the game?
  4. What aspect of the game (crops, animals, mining, fishing, dating) did you find the most satisfying and why?
  5. The game is essentially work. What about work is fun in this game world?
  6. Did you get married? How did you decide who to marry and what did you find compelling about that non-player character?
  7. How many different character narrative cutscenes did you trigger? What did you learn about those characters and how did it change the game play for you?
  8. There are many magical elements to Stardew Valley on top of being a farming game. How does the “magic” of the game effect the mundanity of farming projects?
  9. Stardew Valley has some fighting mechanics, particularly in the mines. To what extent was monster fighting stressful and to what extent was it satisfying?
  10. Stardew Valley has been famously characterized as “slow gaming.” What does this phrase mean to you, and how does “slow gaming” vary from other kinds of video games that you have played?
  11. There is an underlying narrative about corporate vs small-town lives, played out through the JoJo Mart and Pierre’s store conflict. Which did you opt for, and how did that narrative play out in your version of the game? What do you think the game creator was saying about these topics?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
IGN (Starters Guide)

Dash Adventures

Synopsis:
Dash Adventures, the latest in the Diner Dash franchise is a fast-paced, funny, and cute time management game. The player is Flo, the waitress, managing customers, which is more fun than you might think.

Who Should Play:
Dash Adventures is a great first time game if you are looking for a free-to-play entry point. While the game focuses on work, the in-game elements are a delightful mix of story and fast-paced puzzling. While you can play much of the game without making purchases, at a certain point purchasing small packages may become necessary to play well.

Made by: Publisher: Glu Mobile

Available on: Android, iOS

Price: Free-to-play (additional purchases can be made in the app)

Play time: open

Questions for Dash Adventures:

  1. Have you previously played any Diner Dash games or time management games? (A time management game is a game where you are managing customers in a span of time in order to make in-game money.) How does Dash Adventures compare?
  2. Games like Dash Adventures heavily lean on “work” as a kind of play. How do you distinguish between what you are doing in the game as play or work?
  3. Why is working in a game fun?
  4. How important was the narrative wrapping around each level? Did it enhance your play?
  5. Does the free-to-play style make it easier to try a new game? Do you like using F2P to try out new things? Or do you prefer to pay for a game upfront?
  6. In what ways was the game stressful? Was that stress different or enjoyable from everyday kinds of stress? Was it energizing?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Levelwinner (Beginner’s Guide)

Hexologic

Synopsis:
Hexologic is a cool number logic game that is quiet, relaxing, thoughtful, and easy to get lost in. The surrounding art is calming and minimalist, and the logic puzzles are increasingly challenging.

Who Should Play:
Sometimes we need big games and big narratives, but other times we need smaller games of distraction that we can pick at throughout the day. Hexologic might work for a Gaming Circle, but it just as easily might be a game that you play on your own for a bit of escape. Those who have played a lot of Sudoku, in particular, will find it fun.

Made by: Developer: MythicOwl

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One

Price: $2.99

Play time: 3+, depending on how much you want to play (60+ levels)

Questions for Hexologic:

  1. This game is pure puzzle. Do you find you miss the narrative wrapping when it’s not there?
  2. How does a game like Hexologic compare to more traditional pen-and-paper puzzles? Does the digital interface add anything to the experience?
  3. In what ways does the visual interface add to the experience?
  4. Did you listen to the soundtrack while playing? If so, in what ways did that add to your play experience?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
Kotaku (Review)
App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)

Broken Age

Synopsis:
Broken Age is a deep adventure game where you rotate playing between two protagonists in an absurdist, hilarious, fantasy world. The game is about 10 hours of combined playtime, and is funny, sweet, and has a satisfying narrative conclusion.

Who Should Play:
While Broken Age might not be for first time players, it’s a really good example of a family-friendly, sweet adventure game that has the emotional resonance of a film. This game is good for all ages and can be played on many platforms. It was designed by game “auteur” Tim Schafer.

Made by: Developer: Double fine, Harebrained Schemes

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

Price: $4.99 – $14.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: 8-11 hours

Questions for Broken Age:

  1. Talk about the experience of switching between narratives. Did you find that flexibility enjoyable?
  2. In the first half of the game, did you find yourself leaning more towards wanting to play Shay or Vella’s narratives?
  3. Of the two (Shay and Vella) who was in the more absurd predicament?
  4. When the game came out, many complained that the puzzles were frustrating – did you find this to be the case and how so? Were the puzzles enjoyable to work through?
  5. If you played Gorogoa, how did this style of puzzle solving vary from that game?
  6. When the narratives collided were you surprised? What was enjoyable about the switch in narrative style?
  7. Would this work as well as a film or television show? In what ways was this story good for this particular medium?
  8. What about this story makes it family friendly?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
Polygon (Review)
IGN (Walkthrough)

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