Talking SOMA: Let Us Submit Together
There is a room in my memory, pitch-black with terror and hushed excitement. It’s August, 2010, and my friend wrenches his gaze away from the TV as a shadowy monster in Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent turns to face us. He’s so effing scared he can’t even look at the screen. Peering only through peripheral vision as if the beast can sense direct eye-contact, he struggles to move away, fumbling around barrels and wooden crates. When the fear was just too much, he passed the keyboard and mouse off to another player on the couch as we all sat and reveled in the terror.
Playing Amnesia with friends like this was a revelatory experience not because we were playing a compelling horror game. It was revelatory because I immediately knew that playing it with friends was the only way I wanted to experience narrative horror games from then on. Years later, playing Frictional’s own SOMA alongside exposing myself to writing about different types of play, I realized we acquiesced — collectively — that night.
The Shape of Water’s Strickland as the “Ur-American”
The Shape of Water’s Richard Strickland is a scion of white, cishetero, able-bodied, toxic masculinity. But director Guillermo del Toro takes great care in imbuing him with even more providential importance. Actor Michael Shannon plays Strickland as all scowls punctuated by the the occasional syrupy half-smile, a tall glass of American values poured right to the brim: individualism, xenophobia, misogyny, colonialism, a dedication to capitalism and fear of communism, exceptionalism, reverence for the military, and self-deification. It’s important that the forces that defeat him by helping the Amphibian Man abscond are comprised of marginalized workers (despite Sally Hawkins’ ableist casting,) who realize they share class interests and band together. Their uniting is a little haphazard—just as any group of people finding solidarity despite being oppressed along different axes is—and they certainly don’t make it out unscathed, but as The Shape of Water’s heroes struggle to upend a fascist enforcer, so must Americans work to unlearn the terrible values that we internalize from birth.
Wallowing in Paratopic’s Inspired Mundanity
Jessica Harvey, Doc Burford, and Beau Chaotica’s Paratopic exists in hazy rooms and interrupted moments. By centering a trio of very simple characters alongside a mundane cast that gets caught up in something bigger than themselves, the game keeps its storytelling edge. The tightly-crafted adventure only clocks in at about 30 minutes, but prompts reexamination immediately after we see the credits roll. Only by stopping to consider our circumstances and playing the game again can we come out of the arresting experience with something to show for it.