Thursday 12 August 2010

Free Games: The Smartest Satires on Kongregate

With the recent discussion around the news that Gamestop has acquired major independent web game portal Kongregate - and a bit of a dearth of exciting new content to talk about - consider this another rare (but hopefully valuable) foray into cheap list territory. I'll be honest - the marketing type deep down inside of me is demanding I put the word 'free' next to the word 'games' in the header just for the SEO.

Anyway, the site's emphasis on independent development and short, free games has been responsible for encouraging both the hopeless and the technically proficient yet creatively stilted developer to turn out clone after clone to either disappear into the ether or to waste hour upon mindless hour of lunch breaks the world over. The exciting side effect of this has been the ungodly rise of the video game satire, and a steady drive towards more intelligent, rewarding content. Games like World of Goo - with genuine, sharp, witty subtext - are few and far between, and while AAA titles occasionally poke fun at their own medium, they're usually far more concerned about polishing the very mechanics they're taking the piss out of. Satire is a crucial element in art, entertainment and throughout culture. Unlike film, we're yet to be comfortable enough in our own clothes to start burning them.

It's unclear yet how the site will change under its new overlords, but in the meantime this is a non-exhaustive list of some games-talking-about-games you should grab while you still can.

The Idle RPG - Not the first and sadly not the last game to satirise the grind and cliche of the trad RPG (there's something very perverse about cloning a game that's already taking the piss out of copycats), but certainly one of the best. 

:the game: - :the game: and it's more polished but less edgy sequel is about what's shit about games (and culture) as a whole. A little bit like those oh-so-hilarious road sign posters, it takes a simple 2D platform and finds increasingly inventive ways to pervert the norm and have it comment on soemthing. It's hit and miss, but also the game here that most deserves to be in the history books. 

There is Only One Level - Only just about edging its way into satirical territory, There is Only One Level takes :the game:'s idea of using one environment over and over again and takes it in the other direction: sod commentary; how many radically different challenges can we provide using the same geometry combined with forty years of varied platforming mechanics? 

Upgrade Complete - Armor Games are a funny lot. They produce a whole shit load of polished, cynically addictive games, then make a game taking the piss out of them. Almost every game these days - indie or otherwise - is forced to include some level of RPG-like progression. On a psychological level it's incredibly sound practice. On an I'd-like-to-get-something-more-than-a-time-sink-out-of-my-games level it's utterly reprehensible. Upgrade Complete realises that. 

Achievement Unlocked - As above, expect with achievements, like. 

You Have to Burn the Rope - This one did the arty circle rounds some time back, and it's been variably interpreted as satirising the linearity of games, their myopia, and even its player's motivations. Regardless, it's essential. 

You Only Live Once - Another 'It does what it says on the tin' job. Only having one life raises to my mind some interesting questions about the unreality of video games, and the possible ceiling to suspension of disbelief. Most important for me, though, is the genuine sense of failure it can provide, and how shocking a feeling that is in the context of a medium where we're conditioned to expect nothing but success.


  1. Got a smart interactive satire to add to the list?

  2. Mighty Jill Off came to mind first. It's a great satire of the fucked up masochism some of us gamers exibit with our gaming habits. Then there's also that game Recettear that's due out soon.

  3. Oh man, the game was brilliant. Thank you for sharing that one.

    You could add Achievement Unlocked 2, which throws in some jabs at DLC.

  4. I find it amusing that whilst these bedroom developers are making cunning attempts to parody classic formulas and ideas, they're actually coming up with some really original and brilliant ideas in the process.

    Oh, and I know everyone probably knows about this but it's quite entertaining.

  5. Sophie Houlden's The Linear RPG is alarmingly compelling.

  6. Some great links, thanks guys. I'd not actually seen The Passage in Ten Seconds, though I'm particularly glad it exists - the 'pretentious' smart game and the satirical smart game are both essential elements of the same equation.

    The Linear RPG is indeed fantastic, though I'm ashamed to admit I'd completely forgotten what it was called when I came to writing this up.

  7. Also, it suddenly occurs to me that There Is Only One Level may, in actual fact, be satirising the AAA stand by of the same old gameplay mechanics in differently skinned locations by presenting a game that's the same old location playing host to a multitude of differnt gameplays...

    But I may be reading too much into that one.