Archive for the ‘Reminiscence’ Category

The Ghost of Gaming Past

Posted on: July 9th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

Insofar as I can recall, my first console was a surprise gift from a visiting relative, an unexpected and (at the time) incomprehensible boon. Gaming was still very new to the Russian mainstream, and while I understood enough to be excited, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. There were no commercials on the television. There were no video game magazines that I was aware of. Nobody I knew owned anything more advanced than a Game and Watch trinket, more mechanical marvel than digital art. The console came in a colorful (in that early 90’s way), tape encrusted box bearing a photograph of a black, plastic thingamabob. Both the lettering on the package and the instructions were printed in pictograms, mysterious and inscrutable foreign symbols. I’ll never know for sure what language the text was in. I’ll never find the box, even if, by some miracle, it still exists.

I don’t remember much of what transpired between our receiving the enigmatic treasure and those first moments of play. The system, which was, in fact, black and plastic, came with a single cartridge, which was yellow and plastic. When we turned it on, the television began to play a melancholy chip tune. There was a pixellated sky, a pixellated ocean, and a line of pixellated beach, complete with pixellated palm trees. On opposing sides of the screen stood two pixellated figures, presumably a man and a woman.

In the space between them stood a wall of more incomprehensible pictograms, each line marked by the much more familiar Arabic numerals. I quickly discovered that I could cycle from line to line using the directional buttons on the controller (which, at the time, appeared to be delightfully alien and thrillingly advanced, like some artifact out of a science fiction movie), and that moving past the bottom of the list would bring up a whole new page, make the man and the woman take a step toward one another, and move the big, pixellated sun down closer to the horizon. In the end, it was nighttime on the beach. The man and the woman sat together around a bonfire…I think. Or maybe they kissed? Google hasn’t been especially helpful (maybe I’m not searching for the right terms), so all I have to go on is my memory. How many copies of that bootleg cartridge were ever assembled, I wonder – a few thousand, a few hundred, just the one? How many are still intact?


Sedated & Strung Out in Heartbreaker Leggings

Posted on: April 23rd, 2014 by Arie Salih

It’s 2008. The plastic instrument craze is at an all time high; I’ve skipped out on the Spring trimester at the University to maybe drop out for good. My hair has gotten long enough to be doing the hippie dreadlock thing, and I’ve got a crew of four that I’ve known since early Highschool days jamming to Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.”

We’re in my mother’s basement. Everyone seems to be gesturing wildly, trying to feel the vibe between our band on tour — the drumsticks are noisily clanging against rubber slip-mats, our lead singer is swinging the plastic microphone a bit too closely to my head. I hear the clickety clack racket of my own jaded run on bass. It’s hot down here in June, so the screen door is pried open to allow the echoes from the T.V. speaker to drift out into the darkness.

use this!

I stare hard at my own reflection through the television’s glare. There’s a string of blue and orange chords coming up, a bit more quickly than I’m anticipating. Between the fast paced colors and the  manufactured raucous energy, it almost looks like my bass girl is smugly laughing at us. She’s a Gothic Belladonna from London, and she’s bigger than everyone on stage. That almost sneering discontent peers back at me, her purple bouffant hairstyle bouncing in a drone-like rhythm along with the slightly off key Rivers Cuomo impersonation in the background.

I keep plucking away, without any earnest intent to be exceptional. The stage lights are alternating between wild neons and a black and white lo-fi effect as we hit our 4x groove. The plastic fret is strumming a bit loose, and reflects every missed note eagerly. Clack clack clack. The setlist in Boston was coming to a close, and nobody really wants to continue with Fall Out Boy’s “Dead on Arrival.” The four of us, in some sweaty faux rock communion, start packing up our “instruments.”

In the off hours between songs, I’d spent most of my time coming up with daring tattoo designs for my disaffected Belladonna. In some futile attempt to interject my own style into my character, we paraded around in Spikestress metal tops, zebra leggings, and Luchadore boots that screamed “FUCK OFF” as loudly as possible. The layered complexities of inked designs came only in black, and the dispirited bass performances were traded for wild punk rock sensibilities and creative wardrobe collaborations.

The band would meet up for plastic practice every couple of nights. Before the frenzied cacophony of our renditions of The Clash, I took pride in getting dressed for our performances. Feeling catatonic and aloof meant Melancholy Prom Goth garb, Marimbas on the feet, and Jackie O glasses. When it was time to yell, we wore Defiant leathers, Hip Huggers, and Devil’s Rope bracelets. The dress up game became more intriguing for me than the music — it was a chance for freedom of self expression, and for transgender exploration.

I got a cartilage piercing sometime later that summer in honor of my Rock Band Belladonna alter ego and her Punk 101 getup. My older sister called me “Avril” for the rest of the year.


When Home Becomes a Strange Place

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by Arie Salih

In times of transition, I often find myself relying on different video games to provide me with some semblance of the feeling of home. Perhaps “home” is an ever-fading concept, the idea of both comfort and familiarity kindled by memories of a place or a person. In an ongoing anecdotal analysis, I’d like to attempt to recount my own experiences with discovering home spaces in digital worlds.


In odd ways, my apprehension with the loss of a resolute place to call home has been projected into my own playing style. I spent most of my days with John Marston meandering with my horse in the snowy danger of Tall Trees. There isn’t a place to lay low in Tall Trees- the nearest location is the Manzanita Trading Post, and even there things felt much too busy for my own tastes. A shopkeeper making inquiries about goods to sell, people passing through the cabins, lumber workers milling about and making small talk while smoking- Marston and I enjoyed the quiet. So I’d ride on the fringe of the Aurora Basin, into the shady comfort of the forest and Nektoki rock. Picking Violet Snowdrops as the snowflakes fell softly, I figured that this was a reflection of how out of place I felt. It was a gritty, long winter in the City. I wandered far enough into the Lower East Side, until the glitter of the East Village lights compelled me to find my way back into the familiar warmth of a run down hookah spot and my tiny apartment. It felt akin to the serenity of the campfire lit in the middle of the snowy darkness of the mountains. Tall Trees was an area I’d come to visit when it was freezing outside, and when my own inabilities to adjust to facets of city life resulted in dissociating from skyscrapers and strangers. By the moonlight, the fire kept us both hidden.


The Painted World of Ariamis was a departure from Anor Londo, where the open expanse of towers drifted towards the clouds. After being transported into a picture of dense horror, the campfire wasn’t the security I wished for, like it had been in the rest of Lodran. It was an impetus to explore, away from the warmth and into the snowy depths of the unknown. Among the hollow and the toxic, my Wanderer’s hooded form sifted through the dilapidated interiors and dimly lit steps. I’d descend into the Union Square station, and see traces of other hardened faces lingering past midnight, and step onto the rickety Q train. This was the grind for exploration. Sometimes I’d ride it without realizing that the call for the last stop at Coney Island approached. It was a window into another world – one which I grew to know better as I became more familiar with navigating the unseen. After many loops from the broken tower steps to the Phalanx doors, it felt oddly comforting wandering into the snow. The invasions by others happened infrequently, a stare or a glare and then off at the next stop. By the time I met Priscilla, exhaustion had slowly crept in. “If thou hast misstepped into this world, plunge down from the plank and hurry home.” The words echoed hollowly. Maybe this wasn’t the home I sought, but merely a simple respite from the city I chose not to explore. When I finally found the courage to wreak havoc, it seemed oddly fitting that she was invisible.


By the time the winter finally subsided, I packed up all my belongings and drove south towards Maryland. My grandmother had passed away in the beginning of the summer, and I was having trouble reconciling my own cultural identity inadequacies without her. I ended up in a new home, somewhere by The Bridge in Journey. It was a place for quiet meditation – to mend the broken bridge between discovering my Kurdish identity and reveling in androgyny. Although The Bridge is early on in the adventure, this is where I drifted to the most. The passing encounters with strangers involved drawing symbols in the sand and twirling in flight, as our scarves danced in the wind. I imagined, perhaps, that this was how we’d reach out to one another. Estranged from my own cultural place in Iraq, I am all too familiar with crude attempts to communicate in gestures and by waving. The ancient glyph hidden between pillars of cascading sand felt more like a place for a peaceful hide and seek game with others, and the freedom of movement felt ineffable. So I’d linger there, and wonder if the tranquility was shared between us.

It’s difficult to cohesively describe the gaming experiences that allow a player to become entranced, and feel a sense of “home.” This is a phenomenon that has allowed me to revisit unique digital spaces that feel safe and integral to my own existence.

The Hype Train: Obduction

Posted on: April 4th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

All Aboard

Before I start off on what will likely be an extremely emotional trip down memory lane, I must sing out, with an open heart and a brazen voice, in praise of the Gods of Crowdfunding, and of Kickstarter in particular. Kickstarter has served as a wild, wet, beautiful storm in the desert of the gaming industry; it had bid that desert bloom, bloom like never before. Without it, the world of games would be a much darker, sadder, uglier place. So much of what I’ve loved, or at the very least enjoyed, these past few years (Shadowrun Returns, Blackguards, Expeditions:Conquistador – yes, I’ve been on a serious tactical role playing kick lately) and what I look forward to enjoying in the near future (Dreamfall Chapters, Wasteland 2, Sunless Sea) can be directly attributed to crowdfunding. It is no secret that I am a big believer in the model, and in non-traditional methods of publishing and creating in general.


And now I can gladly add Obduction, currently in development by Washington based Cyan Worlds, to my “most anticipated” list. In fact, it pretty much takes the very top spot on said list. For me, there is simply no contest. This is, of course, a very subjective assessment, entirely based on subjective, and extremely personal experiences with Cyan’s former products. But that’s what the Hype Train is for: personal passions, unreasonable expectations, excitement, anticipation, hope.