Under The Radar is a weekly look at games that have ended up hidden through lack of coverage, but shouldn’t have. If you have a game that you think should be featured here, leave it in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out.
The last couple of weeks have a been a bit heavy thematically for this feature, covering titles that deal with race and then misogyny. While those issues aren’t something I want to shy away from, I thought it would be good for both my soul and yours to think about some of the more positive aspects of gaming. Before we do though, I’d like to point you to 1Up, which is currently doing a tremendous job discussing issues of sex and gender this week by featuring interviews with 2012’s E3 “booth babes,” game devs Christine Love and Anna Anthropy and analyzing specific games. But onward to this week’s hidden gems!
The first title I’d like to talk about is a French developed game by Twelve Tiles, Fleuret Blanc. It focuses on a young, French lady named Florentine who finds employment at a unique fencing facility where people compete over their most prized possessions.
While the mechanics of the game are simple, they’re surprisingly varied. Matches are turn-based and have a hint of JRPG-style attack, defense and special abilities, but include a timing element in the style of Fable II’s job mechanics. Outside of matches, there’s a hint of the Persona series in that you have limited time to do particular activities, and build relationships with Florentine’s fellow fencers.
The game is a great little experience with a wonderfully French aesthetic that explores ideas of property and materialism, but what made me want to share it was a particular system in the game. While I won’t delve too much into it, the game sets it up that you often get tangible rewards by negatively affecting other characters. This is not an innovative design (in Bioshock you could choose an immediate reward by harming the Little Sisters or wait for a better reward by letting them live and making the game a bit tougher for a bit), but it’s one that I find interesting in that it’s attempting to create an emotional reaction in the player and making them choose a more mechanically difficult road for the sake of an aesthetic experience. This dichotomy of choice is one of the main elements in our next featured game.
Akrasia is, well, fucking impressive. While I’ve tired of the ‘games as art’ conversation, I feel the ‘games with meaning’ one is far more valuable in pushing the medium forward. Akrasia makes that question null though, as it manages to turn game mechanics into metaphor so simply that I’m consistently surprised that everyone isn’t lauding this game for what it accomplishes.
Akrasia (which is the Greek word for ‘lacking control over one’s self) is a game about addiction. You play an anthropomorphic globe in the style of Q*bert who travels around a small maze of rainbow colors, upbeat music, and a happy ghost as you pick up colorful vials of liquid that raise your score- at least at first.
The sinister reality of what’s happening is hinted at by your life bar, which slowly depletes every time you pick a vial up. What’s more, your life is represented by a branch from which are hanging symbols of home, pets, friends and a heart. Once your life bar dips below a certain point, the symbols begin to fall off. The truth of the matter becomes evident when you fail to pick up a vial fast enough or if you happen to catch that oh-so happy ghost that’s wandering the level. Either will result in the world turning black, the music becoming menacing, and the ghost’s dark nature comes out as a threatening figure that will reverse your controls if it happens to touch your avatar. While you can make everything pleasant again by picking up a vial, it’s only by finding the exit, which exists exclusively in this dark world, that you’re able to free your character from the trap of the maze.
Like Fleuret Blanc, Akrasia forces players to make gameplay choices that diverge the aesthetics in different ways. There’s no particular thesis that I’m heading towards, as I believe the best judge of whether the games accomplish this emotional effect will be your own experience, but I felt that it was important to share these two examples in hoping to help push the discussion of games forward.