Blanket Fort Chats: Boosting the Games We Love

Analogue: A Hate Story
Analogue: A Hate Story

Blanket Fort Chats” is a semi-regular column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft of making games. As “Blanket Fort Chats” nears its one-year anniversary, we’re doing a bit of a retrospective. In past Q&As, we’ve asked folks which games they think have pushed the boundaries of the medium. In this week’s post, we’re going back into our archives and highlighting these very games.

Analogue: A Hate Story & Hate Plus by Christine Love

Tanya Kan: “In visual novels, there’s nothing that captures my imagination as much as [these games]. Christine Love has woven political intrigue with heartfelt stories in a wonderful mystery. She has also managed to include some comedic turns in a broader melodramatic story, which is no easy balance of tone and pacing.”

Antichamber by Alexander Bruce

Diane Mueller: “I have an appreciation for games that have come out lately that force the player to un-learn typical game conventions. Antichamber attempted to do this in the same way — changing areas when the player looked away, making the player walk backwards to progress, and such.”

Bastion by Supergiant Games

Tanya Kan: “[This] hit all the right notes: a resounding sense of adventure, a tinge of regret lost to the passage of time, and a lore that is intensely and uniquely its own.”

The Beginner’s Guide by Everything Unlimited

Vaida Plankyte: “I absolutely love The Beginner’s Guide. It has a completely unexpected structure — a bundle of games with an overarching narrator — but it works perfectly. I love the fact that its creator focused on telling the story in a way that worked best without feeling like he needed to comply to what a traditional game is.”

Bounden
Bounden

Bounden by Game Oven

Maize Wallin: “All of these concentrate on ‘play’ as a way of discovery. They’re all also very musical: Björk’s Biophilia, Samantha Kalman’s Sentris, Radiohead’s Polyfauna, John Zorn’s Cobra, Brian Eno’s Bloom, Stelarc’s Ping Body, TONIC by Scott Hughes, and Game Oven’s Bounden.”

care&control by Arielle Grimes

Tanya Kan: “It’s a flourishing and magical garden that lends me inner peace. I love how I feel like [Arielle Grimes is] sharing her unique subjectivity with me through her game mediums. She often quietly lets me play the game first, and then we talk about it afterwards, and this often reminds me that games are a conversation that goes beyond just the game itself.”

Cat and the Coup by Peter Brinson & Kurosh ValaNejad

Tanya Kan: “[This] is the penultimate game for me that maximizes narrative gameplay and affect in the least amount of time conceivable. The gameplay time is around 15 minutes, and you play as Mohammed Mossadegh’s cat. Mossadegh was the last Prime Minister of Iran, and the act of following his history is as compelling as it was evocative and heartbreaking. It planted the seed in my head that political science and video games can, in fact, align together to great affect.”

Knock-knock by Ice-Pick Lodge & The Cat Lady by Harvester Games

Kaitlin Tremblay: “In terms of games that push boundaries of mental health representation, I think Knock-knock and The Cat Lady are two of the best. They both aren’t afraid to show the dark and scary aspects of mental illness, but also manage to never sensationalize it or trivialize the experience of mental illness into a tired trope the way other games so often do.”

Cibele
Cibele

Cibele by Star Maid Games

Vaida Plankyte: “Cibele is very smart in its design — giving the player a computer screen to interact with works well to make the player identify, and allows for a very non-linear experience, with every player going (or not going) through the files in a different order.”

Annamaria Andrea Vitali: “I really appreciate the courage to speak about sex and women in a way that can make women feel free from stereotype prejudice. Or at least, this is what that game meant to me.”

Coffee: A Misunderstanding by Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer

Jessica Rose Marcotte: “What I am interested in seeing in other games is the human aspect — emotions and connections and stories — and a critical eye: games that surprise or manage to translate an experience or an idea into a neat game. I love Coffee: A Misunderstanding.”

Consentacle by Naomi Clark

Paige Ashlynn: “The way this game teaches about negotiation and respect through a mechanic that emulates/encourages flirting is absolutely brilliant. I want more games that give me permission to be intimate with people I’ve only just met!”

Dear Esther by The Chinese Room

Hyacinth Nil: “I think Dear Esther by The Chinese Room, for instance, pushed at the borders of what we think of as a video game. I wouldn’t say that it’s my favorite version of that sort of game, but it was among the original first-person exploration games where players walk through a world trying to piece together a story.”

Device 6 by Simogo

Kaitlin Tremblay: “I absolutely adore Device 6. [It] does really interesting things with the way it positions text on a ‘page’ and adjusts its orientation, direction, and flow in order to simulate feelings of walking down hallways or up stairs and other such physical sensations. [It] is the kind of game I wish I had made — which is the highest compliment I can pay anything!”

Endless Forest
Endless Forest

Endless Forest by Tale of Tales

Tanya Kan: “Tale of Tales has had such a colorful oeuvre of marrying art with interactive ludic experiences. I love how lush and dynamic the Endless Forest is, and so very different from the usual tropes of an MMORPG.”

EVE Online by CCP Games

Tanya Kan: “I really think EVE Online is the ultimate sandbox for social negotiation and interaction, and thus utilizes uniquely game attributes. EVE Online cannot exist in any other form but as an MMO. Even though it is antithesis to a lot of the linear narrative games that I like creating, I’d like to think that it keeps me superbly humble.

“Here’s a game that is filled with lore, but the greatest story rests in the hands of its players. I don’t know how, but I’d like to be able to create some sort of a multiplayer game one day that encourages that high level of meta-gaming. There’s nothing more empowering than to know that what you can do in a game world can have far-reaching repercussions in its power politics.”

Five Stages: a Cycle of Ruined Romances by Catt Small

Kaitlin Tremblay: “[This] is a really brilliant and beautiful game, and it’s such a perfect game for when you’re mourning a loss and need to feel hopeful and not just bitter and spiteful.”

Gone Home
Gone Home

Gone Home by The Fullbright Company

Tanya Kan: “I really like the exploration of nuanced, historied interior spaces in Gone Home. I feel that exploration in this game is perfectly scoped and really lets a 3D interactive world weave its magic over the player.”

Goat Simulator by Coffee Stain Studios

Jessica Rose Marcotte: “I also like subversion and games that share a joke between the creator and the player. So, in that sense, I really enjoyed Goat Simulator.”

Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream

Caroline Guevara:I’m always in favor of console games for their ability to deliver these grand stories that seem to get more intricate as time passes. [Heavy Rain] felt more like an interactive narrative than a game, but still great nonetheless. Everything that you did had a consequence. It’s just great to have that amount of freedom as the player to decide your own fate.”

Hohokum by Honeyslug, Richard Hogg, & Sony Santa Monica

Marion Esquian: “I really love games like Journey, Monument Valley, or Hohokum — all real pleasures for the eyes. I also love how they don’t ask for a lot of skills and how they bring the player to a new level of gaming (without any stress, scoring, or competition). These games are just about discovering a beautiful universe and having a good time.”

Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami (I & II) by Dennaton Games

Noeul Kang: “I think that aesthetically and musically, it is on another level. You can enjoy the feel of a vintage game, but with a complex array of weapons while strategizing on patterns of attack — a thinker’s game.”

Jazzpunk by Necrophone Games

Hannah Epstein: “I think there’s a lot of really exciting innovation going on in games all the time, but I am always most excited about ones that have a sense of humor, like Jazzpunk or Viscera Cleanup Detail — games that, in a way, are about games themselves.”

Katamari Damacy by Namco

Noeul Kang: “Katamari was a game made by a designer and the mechanic was extremely simple, yet the sheer amount of details in the game was mind-blowing.”

Kill Him and You Will Be Famous by Nick Fortugno

Julie Huynh: “The mechanic of this live action game is great because it takes the idea of the scene from old martial arts movies where the kung-fu master is surrounded by opponents and each opponent fights the master one by one. It shows great game design where the rules of the game construct the narrative of the story. It inspired me to strive to create games where all the aspects — including rules and tech — contribute back into the narrative.”

The Last of Us
The Last of Us

The Last of Us by Naughty Dog

Caroline Guevara: The Last of Us did an amazing job with their delivery. [Spoilers] After the first 15 minutes of gameplay, I was so heartbroken after such a sudden loss. I was hooked and only wanted to see how my character’s life played out after the untimely death. [/Spoilers]

Laurene Desoutter: I think that game is a sum up of what we want to create as adventure game developers. I could talk for hours about this game, but I really think that it’s a really great example of a good adventure game: with entertaining gameplay, a great story, a very interesting universe, realistic and truly believable characters, and absolutely stunning graphics. I really think Naughty Dog taught the whole game industry a lesson with this game.”

Left 4 Dead 2 by Valve Corporation

Philip Jones: “Personally, the versus multiplayer mechanics of Left 4 Dead 2 are much deeper on the competitive level, especially as the special infected.”

Loneliness by Jordan Magnuson

Lauren Careccia: “Games that try to affect you emotionally via mechanics are fascinating. A super simple example that I was introduced to […] is a game called Loneliness. You move a black square forward through a field of other black squares, except that the other squares all try to avoid you. Even though it’s just squares, it creates a sense of feeling unwanted and it’s very revealing of one’s personality to see how one reacts to it.”

LongStory
LongStory

LongStory by Bloom Digital Media

Paige Ashlynn: “I love the casual inclusivity! Our own Read Only Memories strikes a similar cord. These games don’t make a big deal out of their diverse cast, despite having some of the most diverse casts in the history of digital gaming. They just reflect the people in the real world and allow the player to enjoy seeing and being themselves.”

Luna by Funomena

Philip Jones: “Technically, I’m really looking forward to what I’ve seen of Funomena’s Luna. I was able to play it recently and it’s the most charming VR experience I’ve ever seen — much more feasible for me to enjoy gaming at home.”

The Machine To Be Another by BeAnotherLab

Jennifer Sunahara: “Another neat example is enhancing empathy through VR, as done by the BeAnotherLab. It was a really cool […] to perceive being in someone else’s body.”

Minecraft by Mojang

Hyacinth Nil: “I have a lot of complicated feelings about Minecraft, having taught classes with children before, and while it does poke its tentacles out into the real world in more ways than a lot of games do (it’s not absurd for me to say ‘I’m working on designing a new Minecraft curriculum’), I think its efficacy as a teaching tool is perhaps a bit overstated.

“That said, I am super excited to see how its design goes on to impact the sort of games the next generation of game developers make. We’re already seeing that a bit with the huge variety of crafting-focused RPGs and survival games being developed. I hope that the next step is seeing that spirit of creativity that (often, but not always) permeates Minecraft make its way into other games.”

Nicki Homaj
Nicki Homaj

Nicki Homaj by Nicole Aouad, Kim Hoang, Maeve Levasseur, Cailleah Scott-Grimes, & Kara Stone

Jasmine Idun Isdrake: “[This game] was made in 2014 during the GAMERella game jam in Montreal and later exhibited in my festival, Electrodome, in Sweden. The player wears a pink wig with embedded sensors and high heels on a mat with sensors. I loved it. It was awesome to see my friends — some who never tried high heels before — play this game, and everyone looks so cute in that pink hair. The design and tech is new thinking, and the game can bring some awareness to what it is like to be an object like ‘woman’ and the shit you often hear from some ‘men.’”

Ōkami by Clover Studio

Meagan Byrne: “Ōkami still stands out to me as a prime game. Who would have thought you could not only bring Sumi-e art to life, but also make brushwork a mechanic? It seems obvious now, but at the time it blew me away. I still don’t think that it gets the kind of attention it deserves as an art form because it’s considered a commercial success (though I think the defunct Clover Studios would disagree).”

PANORAMICAL by Fernando Ramallo & David Kanaga

Jocelyn Reyes: “That game pushed the boundaries on a lot of things. Your eyes and brain especially. Holy crap! They even have what they called PANORAMICAL Pro, which licenses it for you to use either when you are DJing or if you just want to have it on autoplay to show to people. There’s other uses for it, too, but you can go here and find out more for yourself. I’m not sure I know of anyone else doing that or something like it.”

Papers, Please by Lucas Pope

Jessica Rose Marcotte: “Another game that I really like is Papers, Please; I think it’s a game that uses bureaucracy and routine for a great message.”

Punk Prism Power
Punk Prism Power

Punk Prism Power by Mahou Shoujammers

Leisha-Marie Riddel: “There are countless games being created by Dames and other independent developers that all push the boundaries of what we expect of a video game — and to write about all of them would take forever. If I had to choose one, I’d choose [Punk Prism Power] where you play cooperatively with actual ‘magical’ swords that interact with the screen.”

Pry by Tender Claws

Annamaria Andrea Vitali: “At this moment, I really like Pry […] because of the use of video content ‘to build’ the game and to provide a new form of narrative and literature experience. If we’re usually used to thinking about games as a 2D/3D digital environment, these games totally change this perspective. [It pushes] the boundaries in terms of aesthetics of interaction. The tactile way you access the pieces of the story in Pry [is] meaningful in the sense that they metaphorically contribute and expand the experience effect behind interactive modalities.”

Psychonauts by Double Fine Productions

Gabby DaRienzo: “There are so many games I can think of that have done incredible and innovative things with mechanics or narrative or tech, but Psychonauts still stands out to me as a game that really pushes boundaries. Not only is the game gorgeous, hilarious, and a ton of fun to play, but Psychonauts also allows the players to navigate and interact with neuroses, trauma, and mental health in a way that is both eye-opening and stigma-breaking. [It] remains my all-time favorite game for all of these reasons.”

Plug & Play
Plug & Play

Plug & Play by Michael Frei & Mario von Rickenbach

Annamaria Andrea Vitali: “Plug & Play is also another one of my favorites because of its ambiguity and the fact that it’s an example of interactive storytelling in which the interestingness is not tied to the fact that there are multiple choices, but actually it’s linear (contrary to most of the game). The content is cryptic and not even explicit. I played it more than one time, but it’s always challenging to try [and] understand the meaning the designer is trying to transfer.”

Reset by Lydia Neon

Tanya Kan:Lydia Neon created my favorite Twine game, bar none. It’s called Reset and it’s set in a transhumanist future. By using some nifty Twine customizations, the narrative game is in turn sexy, mysterious, and sublime. Honestly, when’s the last time I’ve played a game that I thought was thoroughly empowering and sexy?”

Rogue by Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, & Ken Arnold

Hyacinth Nil: “Where we’re standing right now in history, Rogue is continuing to affect game design at an ever-increasing pace. Note how many terms we have for games that extend the framework established in Rogue somehow. Even my queer text game takes some elements from Rogue in an odd, abstract sort of way (my friend once referred to it as a ‘roguelike dating sim,’ for instance).”

Siren for Hire by Maddy Myers

Kaitlin Tremblay:[This] is a really smart (and on point) game about the way women are treated in geek communities (and games specifically), and it really rings true.”

Slam City Oracles
Slam City Oracles

Slam City Oracles by Jane Friedhoff, Jenny Jiao Hsia, & Scully

Paige Ashlynn: “I learned more about design playing this title than I did doing anything else in 2015. I like how the mechanic isn’t a metaphor for a lived experience, it just is that experience. I really, strongly believe in Jane’s emotive, participation-first approach to personal games.”

SuperBetter by SuperBetter, LLC

Rachel Pope: “I think a lot of people have seen Jane McGonigal’s TED talk and know about her game, SuperBetter, which she designed to improve mental and emotional health. I love the idea of the game, and the idea of using games for good to improve people’s health and wellbeing. I think that’s forward-thinking. I don’t know how well her app works in reality, but it is an idea I can get behind.”

Transistor by Supergiant Games

Tanya Kan: “The melancholic atmosphere of a city eroding upon itself glimmers at every corner, echoed in music and in voice, and I feel like I’ve not quite ever seen this sublime quality in games before. It’s compelling and its mechanics are a joy to play without ever being unapproachable.”

Undertale by Toby Fox

Diane Mueller: “I recently played Undertale, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt the same way about making choices as I felt in [in that game].”

Lauren Careccia: “It broke the fourth wall in such a way that it made me rethink how you could incorporate basic game functions that are usually taken for granted (in this case, saving and resetting) into a game narrative. Without getting too spoilery, the fact that characters could remember things between game resets helped me connect with the world so much more. It holds you accountable for your actions in a way that you can’t erase — at least not without some file finagling.

“I’m already very empathetic toward NPCs in general when playing a game, but Undertale made me feel a certain sense of responsibility for their wellbeing. It’s why I could never do a No Mercy run, and even watching a Let’s Play of it made me very uncomfortable.”

The Unfinished Swan by Giant Sparrow

Jasmine Idun Isdrake: “I find [it] amazing; you start in a white space and throw black paint around to discover the game world — beautiful simplicity.”

The Walking Dead (Season One) by Telltale Games

Philip Jones: “[This game] deserves all the praise it got for its narrative; I had been following the company closely for years and years, but that was really above and beyond anything else.”

Wheels of Aurelia
Wheels of Aurelia

Wheels of Aurelia by Santa Ragione

Annamaria Andrea Vitali: “As an Italian designer, I can’t not like it. The mix between racing and narrative game creates a really deep experience, but especially because it’s probably the very first genuine Italian game. The art style, the soundtrack, the dialogue between the characters — they deeply convey the mood and the atmosphere of the historical context where the game takes place.

“The story in Wheels of Aurelia recalls real events of Italian ’70s. This leaves the player the space for interpretation and ‘action,’ which truly reflects the idea of games as an enabler of context and experiencing reality from different perspectives. It ‘forces’ the player to make opinion choice about real issues and events.”

Miss N: Thanks, everyone!


As always, if you know of any women or nonbinary game makers who you’d love for us to feature, drop us a comment or contact me.

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