three survival games

Searching for shelter with cubs in tow
Searching for shelter with cubs in tow

Shelter. Banished. The Long Dark. Three games, all very different in terms of scope and gameplay, but with a unifying factor that ties them together: the total lack of supernatural threat. There are no zombies, no monsters, no mysterious forces at work in the shadows. Your deadliest enemies are snow, disease and starvation. But to say these game are about man (or badger) vs. nature would be reductive, because nature is also your closest ally in the quest for survival. Most of the time, death is the consequence of your own lack of foresight or intuition.

As a result, all three games are stark and compelling vehicles for emergent narratives; tiny events take on huge significance and the meaning of victory is skewed. Survival is the only quest, the only game worth playing and also the only game you can never really win. These games understand this innately and push the player towards understanding it too. Through your choices, you will spin stories of isolation, struggle and loss. Perhaps, eventually, you will discover your own version of victory.

Shelter

Are you in the mood to snot-cry over a virtual badger? Then this the game for you! You play as a mother badger trying to guide her five adorable squeaking cubs to a new home, while keeping them fed and avoiding deadly hazards such as birds of prey and forest fires. As you shuffle resolutely through the world, the painted-paper landscape and whimsical music belies the brittle urgency that permeates the game.

Your children are idiots. They will break from cover to observe a potential food item while there is literally a falcon circling right over head. They will bolt into the darkness at the sound of a twig snapping, forcing you to round them up before they get eaten by invisible predators. You harry them along, constantly looking back over your shoulder, taking a quick headcount every minute or so, praying they are all right behind you as you make that mad dash for safety, again and again. You will panic when you realise you have lost one, and that panic will sink into dejection when you realize she must have been swept away in the river without you even noticing.

The premise is so simple, but the stakes are the highest imaginable. You will taste motherhood. Most of the time, you will lose your children, but you will keep ploughing forward. Finally, you will realise that shelter is not a place.

Banished

Banished is a survival game disguised as a city builder. You begin as a small band of exiles with a storehouse full of potatoes and not much else. You must immediately secure a source of food, build enough homes and then hunker down for the winter and hope no one dies. Because in the early stages of this game, the death of even one citizen can be devastating.

Your citizens are easily your most precious resource in Banished. They are both the means and motivation for survival. You must manage your population dynamics carefully. Expand too quickly and soon you will have too many idle young mouths to feed. Expand too slowly and all your labourers start dying of old age, with no one there to replace them. It can be tempting to pull your students out of school and into the workforce to cover a labour shortage, but in the long-run, educated workers are more productive. An influx of nomads can provide a much-needed wave of fresh workers, but they may also bring diseases that can decimate your town unless you’ve spent resources building hospitals and herbalists.

Your town will never be beautiful, but do your job right and it will be functional. It will run, maybe not quite like a well-oiled machine, but more like a robust organism, requiring only cursory prodding and pruning to ensure the health and happiness of your townsfolk. Rich harvests, bulging storehouses and bustling markets; this is closest you will come to a sense of real victory.

The Long Dark

Trapper's Homestead from The Long Dark
Trapper’s Homestead from The Long Dark

Many survival games let you reach a tipping point where you can get comfortable. You secure a reliable flow of resources and then you can start improving your situation: stockpiling, upgrading, fortifying. Eventually, the challenge plateaus and you can continue indefinitely, clocking up days safe behind the walls of your shelter with your giant pile of food. You can sustain.

The Long Dark is not that game.

You are always hungry, always thirsty, always on the verge of collapsing on your feet. There is no respite from the clamour of your own needs. Moments when you can afford to stop and take in the desolate beauty of the frozen mountains and inky forests are as rare as they are breathtaking. All but the most rudimentary of resources (food, fuel and water) are finite. Everything degrades, everything decays. Maybe you will get the hang of hunting, but eventually your hatchet will break or you’ll run out of bandages, and you must pick up and migrate to another area, find some abandoned houses you haven’t raided yet, rummage in drawers and cupboards for junk that could save your life. To sit still is to die, and so you are never really safe from the deadly wind and the snow.

Of course, you’ll die anyway. Savaged by a wolf or lost in a storm or just fading away in your sleep. In The Long Dark, death is always your ending. This is a game about snatching one more day.

link farm #12: not dead edition

Have you watched Sense8 yet? If not go watch it immediately and help ensure that Netflix makes at least five more seasons RIGHT AWAY.
*slips Netflix a twenty* “Pssst, please make five more season of Sense8 right away.”

I’m not dead! Have some links! Also, I’m killing it on Twitter a lot recently, so follow me @tinyorc IF YOU DARE.

Why Are You So Angry? – Do you ever see those online folk who seem to hate Anita Sarkeesian more than you or I have ever hated anything in our entire lives, and I think “holy shit, why are these people so angry?” This video series from Innuendo Studios starts out on this question, but that’s certainly not where it ends. Watch the whole thing!

Sense8 and the Failure of Global Imagination – Why, even as we actively strive for diversity, does our vision of the world remain firmly centered on the United States and western Europe? As much as I loved Sense8, this article over at Nerds of Colour does a great job identifying where it falls down.

The Dickonomics of Tinder – “Dick is abundant and low value.” If it’s not already your online dating motto, it will be soon. Alana Massey brings dangerous levels of snark to the table in this hilarious article about the dystopian dating hellscape in which women – even women looking for casual sex (!) – have standards.

In the Name of Love – “There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers. Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? Who is the audience for this dictum? Who is not?

A Linguist Explains How We Write Sarcasm on the Internet – Exactly what it says on the tin and every bit as glorious as you would expect. Bonus reference to Birds Rights Activist!

Can We Just, Like, Get Over the Way Women Talk? – Recently, the internet has been very concerned about the way women speak. We apologize too much! We use too many qualifiers! We have vocal fry and upspeak and glottal syphilis (probably) and various other afflictions that force men not to take us seriously! Especially in the workplace! But as Ann Friedman points out – much like exhortations to “lean in” (further, lean further!) aren’t getting feminism anywhere fast – dropping “just” and “like” from our speech is not going to help us usher in a new era of equality any time soon.

Coda – A beautiful short film about death from Irish animation studio and maps and plans

All (hopefully) of the bad arguments about rape on Game of Thrones debunked – After a mass feminist internet freakout over that rape scene in Game of Thrones Season 5, Amanda Marcotte dissects why those negative reactions were not coming from a place of disciplined cultural critique. This article hits a chord with me because, as a feminist, I emphatically do not want to scrub all portrayals of rape and sexual violence from TV shows. On the contrary, I think they should be there, but I want them to be treated with gravity and nuance, and I want to see the effect they have on the women that suffer through them. In Season 5, I felt Game of Thrones eventually started to get that.

If Male Actors Were Described The Way Female Actors Are – What if magazines talked about male celebrities using the same tone and framing usually reserved for women? Buzzfeed investigates.

Reddit Is Not the Front Page of the Internet – Despite all attempts at marketing to the contrary, the data shows that Reddit is in fact only the front page of the internet for twenty-something year-old men.

“Real hacking” by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Account Security 101: Passwords, Multifactor, Social Engineering, and You – Much of our personal information is tied up in our online identities, embedded across so many sites – social media, online shopping, productivity tools – that most of us would have trouble listing them all if pressed. Yet most of us protect all that information behind the same simple password we’ve been using for years. With our physical possessions, we’re all about adding extra layers of security. But when it comes to virtual spaces, we don’t seem to understand that a weak duplicated password is the online equivalent of leaving the front door on the latch. “But I’m no one, who would try to hack me? Why would anyone care about my personal information?” The reality is that you can be targeted for something as simple as having the wrong name in the wrong place. This comprehensive post from Crash Override gives you the tools and know-how to secure your online identity.

“women should stick together more”: the ladies of vikings

This is Lagertha's "yo I just killed a guy who tried to rape me" face. She uses it quite a lot.
This is Lagertha’s “I just killed a guy who tried to rape me” face. She uses it quite a lot.

Vikings is a show that gets its women so very right that it never fails to send my shrivelled little feminist heart a-flutter with each new episode. I recently rewatched most of the series with my boyfriend, because the only way our relationship is going to survive is if we are equally invested before Season 3 comes out on February 19th.  Which is exactly two weeks away. Which means that this is the perfect opportunity to vent some of my excitement by publishing a celebration of the ladies of Vikings that I’ve been sitting on for quite a while.

Before we begin, I want to point you towards Sophia McDougall’s excellent essay on the trope of the Strong Female Character. Her view is that it’s limiting and reductive to evaluate female characters solely on their strength; especially when “strength” almost always means “being able to swing a sword” or “being feisty and not taking bullshit”. This essay forms the basis of a lot of my thinking on what makes a good female character, and I would recommend it as background reading before we dive into Scandinavia circa 800 A.D. It’s also worth noting that when I refer to a Strong Female Character in this post, I’m referring to the trope as outlined in McDougall’s work.

And without further ado, I give you my thoughts on the ladies of Vikings. MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASONS 1 & 2 THROUGHOUT, so if you’re planning to watch the series and also need some excellent lady characters in your life, just take my word for it, go, go watch it right now, shoo!

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new year’s non-resolutions

This was my Christmas and it was mathematical.
This was my Christmas and it was mathematical.

Happy 2015, readers! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? “Why has Massive Hassle stopped updating?” you were undoubtedly asking your family over Christmas dinner, shedding distressed tears into your second helping of turkey. “I know, it’s tragic,” your grandmother almost certainly replied, “I fucking love that blog. Pass the sprouts.”

Long story short, a bunch of life happened all at once, but I’m back now and it is the dawn of a new year, which means it is time for an obligatory and indulgent personal post about my resolutions. I usually don’t make resolutions because they are boring and inevitably end up causing me more stress than I would have incurred by continuing to bumble around with no real plan. However, 2015 feels like it’s going to be a turning point in a lot of ways (see also: I have no idea where I’m going to be in a few months time) so this year I have decided to make a concession to tradition.

I have four resolutions, but in reality they are not resolutions at all. Overall, my New Year’s resolution is to be shit at things. That may sound a little counterproductive, but I’m fairly sure it’s going to be an effective strategy. Allow me to explain.

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the meet-cute myth

The movie that started it all: It Happened One Night from 1934
The movie that started it all: It Happened One Night from 1934

It’s a tale as old as the internet. A piece of male douchery surfaces, one that perfectly epitomizes the harassment and male entitlement that women must navigate in their daily lives. The women gather together to gaze upon douchery and nod and say, “Yes, indeed, this really does sum up the problem.”

Cue the trolls, cue the misogynists, cue the willfully obtuse assholes. But also, cue Nice Guy™, who is hurt and confused by these women and their hostility, for he is sweet and gentle and thinks you really just need to know how beautifully your eyes match your scarf today.

This guy will leave a long blathering comment (what is it about sexism that makes dudes so long-winded?) that boils down to: “Let’s make this entire conversation about educating me on how best to approach women in public. I would like a foolproof formula that doesn’t involve me actually thinking about women’s experiences or expending any empathy. Please and thank you.

And more and more frequently, the answer women give is simply, “Yeah, maybe just…don’t?

“Don’t what?”

Just don’t approach women in public? Like, why do you feel the need to talk to strange women? Maybe just don’t do it.

Cue the rage.

Fine, so I’m just not allowed to TALK to ANY WOMEN EVER!? HUFF PUFF FOOT STOMP.

Or, sometimes, the wounded self-pity.

 But but but if I can’t talk to women in public places, I will be FOREVER ALONE WOE IS ME.

There’s a lot of stupid in this argument, but I’d like to talk about the main one, which is the idea that modern romance – and consequently the human race – will somehow grind to a halt if men are not “allowed” to talk to women in public. You see, by not “allowing” men to talk to them in public, women are thwarting casual encounters, which are the only way people ever end up going on dates ever. If women are not actively seeking a meet cute, Nice Guy™ is doomed to a life of impotently lusting after potential soulmates on every train platform, in every elevator, across the dusty vinyl sleeves in every quirky secondhand record shop in every city in the world.

Ted: I just gotta bump into her somewhere. Now if only I knew her schedule, I could arrange a chance encounter.

How I Met Your Mother

This idea is, obviously, ridiculous and has no bearing on reality outside of romantic comedies. (You know, those things that women purportedly base their lives around.) However, not only does it have no bearing on the reality of dating, it also actively clashes with the reality of being a woman in public.

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read women 2014: drunk reviews, pt. 1

content note: large bottle of pinot grigio
content warning: large bottle of pinot grigio

“There are a lot of readers who pride themselves on not paying attention to the identities of their favorite writers. […] How many books by writers of color do you think you’ll find on their bookshelves? I’d lay odds that if there are any at all, they will be far outnumbered by the books by white authors. Not necessarily because those readers are deliberately choosing mostly white/male authors. They don’t have to. The status quo does it for them.”

Nalo Hopkins

#ReadWomen2014 is about challenging that status quo. At some point last year, I realised that despite the fact that I am a self-professed feminist nerd, my bookshelf is both on high on testosterone and blindingly white. I am not going to belch statistics about diversity in literature at you, because you can get them all here and that is not what this post is about. This post is about putting my money where my literary feminist mouth is. Spurred on by the launch of the Read Women campaign, I decided to do exactly that for 2014. Read women and only women for one full year.

Anyone who reads this blog or who has talked to me for more than five seconds knows how I feel about stories. I don’t think stories are simply a way of labeling and processing the world around us. I believe they shape the world around us, that they are the world both around us and within us. Narratives gain a foothold in our collective consciousness and gradually become a reality. Stories are how we explain ourselves to ourselves. And when it’s white men doing all the explaining, you end up with a story of a world where white men are the most important, the most influential, the most powerful, the most heroic, and anyone who is not white or male has trouble getting a word in edgeways.

I think studying English Literature (as I did) exacerbates the tendency to privilege the white male literary canon, especially if you are not (as I was not) a feminist. When you have five fat novels to read every week and you know there is a vanishingly small chance of getting through even half of them, you start prioritizing. And for some totally mysterious reason (*coughpatriarchy*), when it comes down to the wire, the indispensable texts, the keys to understanding the whole era/genre – and the ones that you absolutely must finish if you’re going to survive your next seminar or your end-of-term exams – those books always tend to be written by men. After four years, this hierarchy of importance and this vision of the canon became deeply ingrained in my ideas about what I should be reading.

I remember clearly the moment where I stopped thinking about what I should be reading, and started reading for pleasure again. It was August 2010, the summer after I graduated. I had been hawking around a cheap paperback copy of On The Road by Jack Keroauc, because what better book for a long lazy summer of freedom than a seminal travel novel from one of the greats of the Beat Generation? I’d had it in my rucksack for nearly three months, and it was dog-eared and stained, but I was still only around three-quarters of the way through. Every time I had an opportunity to sit down and read it, I would find something else to occupy my time. However, this day was a sunny day and I wandered out into the garden of my parents’ house with a blanket and a glass of cranberry juice and On The Road tucked under my arm, grimly determined to finish the damn thing.

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this culture you speak of

"You heinous bitch."
“You heinous bitch.”

Earlier this year, I read an essay called Shining a Light on Cutoff Culture. It’s almost four thousand words long and before I was halfway through, my shoulders were drawn up around my ears and my head was vibrating with ill-defined rage. Fortunately, Captain Awkward chose to tackle it on her blog and helped me pinpoint exactly why this essay made me so deeply uncomfortable. It took me a long time to sort my thoughts out on this one, but here is my letter to the man who wrote that essay.

Dear Jeff,

You claim to be trying to shine on a light the dangers of cutoff culture. But here is the thing.

Most women do not live in a cutoff culture. Far from it. Let me tell you a bit about the kind of culture women live in when it comes to dating, relationships and sex. Your essay extrapolated from an example from your own personal experience, so I’ll give you one from mine:

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