I was privileged to grow up in a family where art was valued dearly. My parents met in theater and ran a puppet show company when I was small. In between working full-time jobs, they stitched felt costumes, scribbled out stories, and memorized songs.
Flannery O’Connor is an ever-present influence in the brand of gothic the game trades in. Her ability to explore the horrors lurking in southern Americana while suffusing the entire thing in this overarching, terrifying presence of grace, is an inspiration.
I grew up in the 1990s. The “girl power” era. There was Sailor Moon. There was Xena. Buffy. Captain Janeway. The Spice Girls. I felt semi-surrounded by representations of powerful/warrior/magical women.
Near the end of the game you find out Nall is a dragon. In a flash, his hidden power is unlocked and he grows enormous, takes his true shape. He’s vibrant, shiny, the size of a school bus. You ride him through the skies.
Your airship is a kind of home, a traveling hostel for your eccentric companions. In leveling up, you always progress. It is almost impossible to stop progressing.
Ultima Weapon is an enormous dragon-like creature that flies through the sky near the end of the game. If you bump into it (Him? Her? Why does wondering make this sadder to tell?) with your airship, it will fly away and not bug you. If you really want to, you can follow it.
The most important thing to us was to use the mechanics to allow the player to compare and contrast each character’s public vs. private self. The voyeurism of the AR scenes allows us to observe how the characters act when speaking to each other in a group, versus when speaking to each other in isolation, or how they behave when entirely on their own.
Playing Christmas Nights is a family tradition, and it’s tradition that’s on my mind this week. More broadly, this time of year. Most years, I travel home to the Seattle area to spend time with friends and family during the winter holidays. This involves staying at my dad’s house for the majority of the trip, which means that at some point my dad will ask me, his adult daughter, “Do you want to play Christmas Nights?”
Do you remember LiveJournal? If you’re of a certain age, you probably do. It was one of the social media platforms popular before terms like “social media” became widely circulated—a kind of haven for kids who often felt more comfortable expressing themselves through writing than spoken conversation, or at least who were interested in publishing their adolescent musings for a small audience of friends.
What is left when the chips are truly down? When half of the country is on fire? Is it wishful thinking to rely on the presence of a “something” that shines in our fists or our hearts?
The mid-section of Stellaris isn’t fun, and that’s why I love it. Beyond the sci-fi trappings and Civilization-esque feedback loop waits an embedded critique of late capitalism, of the long and painful transition from a flawed democracy into a resource-obsessed, neoliberal culture overwhelmed by the interests of splinter groups like the Tea Party.