Saturday, October 17, 2015

Videogame Hugo: 2015 potentials

Last month I posted about the idea of a videogame category for the Hugo awards.

A few days later there was a discussion thread on File770 (a prominent SF fandom news blog). The discussion was a good snapshot of community response to the idea.

The biggest objection was that there aren't enough good games to make a category worthwhile. People cited 15 to 25 as a desirable minimum. (The Hugos have a two-stage voting process. So you want at least 25-ish plausible suggestions for "best game of the year", which then get narrowed down to five finalists, which then get narrowed down to one winner.)

The petition that sparked that discussion thread went nowhere. However, I think it's worthwhile to put up a concrete list. The subject will certainly come up again, and I want people to be able to point and say "Yes, look, there are that many games every year!"

I'm going to focus on indie and amateur interactive fiction titles, because that's my field. I've got nothing against big-budget SF games, but you can get a list of those off any game-industry news site. This is the wider field of games which might not be familiar to the non-gaming SF fan. Most, though not all, are short games -- two hours playtime down to ten minutes.

I'm not saying that all of these games are, in fact, Hugo-worthy. I haven't played most of them! I'm gathering highly-rated titles from a variety of sources, including IF competitions and game-jams of 2015. (Special thanks to Emily Short's mid-2015 roundup post.)

(I do not yet include games from IFComp 2015, the big IF competition of 2015. That's still in progress and will be for another month. When it ends, it will certainly add another handful of titles to this post. I'll update then.) (Also still in progress: the Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction.)

Notable and Highly-Rated SF/Fantasy/Horror IF and Narrative Games of 2015:
  • Arcadia, Iain Pears ($)
  • Below, Chris Gardiner ($)
  • Champion of the Gods, Jonathan Valuckas, Choice of Games
  • Chlorophyll, Steph Cherrywell (ParsC)
  • Choice of the Petal Throne, Danielle Goudeau, Choice of Games
  • The Compass Rose, Yoon Ha Lee and Peter Berman, Sub-Q Magazine
  • Delphina's House, Alice Grove (ParsC)
  • Does Canned Rice Dream of a Napkin Heap?, Caelyn Sandel, Carolyn VanEseltine, Danielle Church, Jamie Sandel (AnthJ)
  • 80 Days, Meg Jayanth, Inkle Studios (EXP from 2014) ($)
  • False Mavis, Ted Casaubon (ShufC)
  • Her Story, Sam Barlow (MAR, fairy-tale elements) ($)
  • Leadlight Gamma, Wade Clarke (EXP from 2010)
  • Lifeline, Dave Justus, 3 Minute Games ($)
  • Molly and the Butter Thieves, Alice Grove (ShufC)
  • Neon Haze, Porpentine and Brenda Neotenomie, Sub-Q Magazine
  • Oppositely Opal, Buster Hudson (ParsC)
  • PataNoir, Simon Christiansen (MOB from 2011)
  • Photopia, Adam Cadre (MOB from 1997)
  • Ratings War, Eddy Webb, Choice of Games
  • Scroll Thief, Daniel M. Stelzer (EXP from 2014)
  • Six Gray Rats Crawl Up The Pillow, Caleb Wilson (ParsC)
  • The Skeleton Key of Ambady, Caelyn Sandel (ShufC)
  • Snake Game, Vajra Chandrasekera and Tory Hoke, Sub-Q Magazine
  • Starry Seeksorrow, Caleb Wilson (ShufC)
  • Terminator Chaser, Bruno Dias (ParsC)
  • To Spring Open, Peter Berman and Yoon Ha Lee (ShufC)
  • Tonight Dies the Moon, Tom McHenry (AnthJ)
  • Versus: The Lost Ones, Zachary Sergi, Choice of Games
  • When the Land Goes Under the Water, Bruno Dias (ShufC)
  • A Wise Use of Time, Jim Dattilo, Choice of Games

Tags on the above:
  • ($): Costs money (all titles listed here are US$10 or less)
  • (EXP from...): Significant expansion of a game released in an earlier year
  • (MOB from...): Mobile port of a game released in an earlier year
  • (MAR): Marginally genre but I'm counting it anyway
  • (ParsC): High-rated entry in ParserComp (IF competition)
  • (ShufC): High-rated entry in ShuffleComp (IF game exchange)
  • (AnthJ): Entry in Antholojam (SF-themed IF game jam)
  • note that Choice of Games titles are available both as apps ($) or free-to-play online

Other suggestions welcome! Comment away.

Comments imported from Gameshelf

Damien Neil (Oct 17, 2015 at 4:09 PM):

The set of narrative video games that don't contain SFnal elements is fairly small. Does it make sense to have an award for narrative games that excludes them? A genre is a set of works in conversation with one another, and I don't really see distinct "SF" and "non-SF" conversations among narrative games. Is there a point to a narrative game award that excludes Gone Home for not having aliens or monsters in it?

I suspect many, possibly most non-SF narrative games are from the Twine renaissance. There's already been some feeling in the Twine community that the preexisting narrative gaming community has excluded them; would a gaming Hugo reinforce that?

Andrew Plotkin (Oct 17, 2015 at 4:25 PM):

I agree with your first statement. Does it make sense to have an award for games that excludes "non-genre" games? Per se, probably not. Does it make sense to have a Hugo award for games? That's a different question and I think the answer is "yes". It would implicitly (or even explicitly) be for the most admired game of SF fandom, and that is meaningful and interesting to me.

If I were in charge I would declare that interactive narrative is an inherently SFnal concept and therefore all games are eligible. I don't think things will work out that way in real life, I admit. (I promise to raise the idea when the subject comes back around elsewhere.)

I'm not here to tell the Twine community what to think. I am interested in what SF fandom thinks. Fandom is a large, literate, and critically insightful community which is not attached to existing gaming culture -- that's what makes their (our) group opinion worth investigating. And why I want to get them (us) talking about games more, in fannish contexts.

Commenter of a Thousand Aliases (Oct 18, 2015 at 11:07 AM):

(I always set-and-forget...)

In addition to what Damien has said, it seems to me that the Hugos, being a popular award, would inevitably go to whatever big triple-A thing was released that year. Such is the massive, market-dominating force of the big game companies. Maybe I am being pessimistic, but if it goes down that route, it seems to me that that would not bring value to anyone -- the triple-A games aren't going to benefit from the "publicity" of a primarily prose-fiction-focused fan award, nor their fans benefit from the joy of that "acclaim" when everything else has already heaped them with garlands; and the other SF fans aren't going to benefit from introduction to games that have been dinned into their ears already by every other media outlet and advertiser. And, considering the behavior of some of the gaming community -- a fraction whose size or viciousness is disproportionate to those of its counterparts in other communities -- I do not think the Hugos themselves as an institution or a community would benefit from attracting that kind of attention either.

Andrew Plotkin (Oct 18, 2015 at 2:08 PM):

"it seems to me that the Hugos, being a popular award, would inevitably go to whatever big triple-A thing was released that year."

They might. But maybe not. The Best Novel Hugo has been consistently different from "best-selling SF/fantasy book of the year", nearly always. (That's why GRRM traditionally hosts the Hugo Losers party!)

It's true that Best Dramatic Presentation is perhaps a better analogy, and that tends to track big-budget SF movies and high-profile TV -- but not always. (Moon beat AVatar and Star Trek; Gravity beat Frozen, Pacific Rim, and the Marvel juggernaut.)

I bet we can have a more interesting discussion about gaming than "Destiny and the latest Bioware title".

As for the toxic segment of the gaming community -- as I said in my earlier post, I do not intend to constrain my life to the goal of remaining unnoticed by assholes. It's cowardice and it's not even going to work. The same toxic subculture exists in SF fandom already, and everybody is aware of everybody else's existence. They've already taken their best shot. 2016 may be as bad, but things should improve thereafter.

Commenter of a Thousand Aliases (Oct 18, 2015 at 2:29 PM):

That's the hope! And I do want to clarify that I don't agree with the idea that non-SF games consist largely or only of Twine games -- there are many military shooters, sports simulators, etc. which I think are quite popular but would not really be considered even by their fans to be SF.

I do want to express my disagree re: the SF fandom already having seen the worst, however. Sure, we've had our kerfuffles, but we haven't had an organized harassment campaign anywhere on the scale of what's been going down with gaming and I hope to heaven we never do. Who has been forced to abandon their home, to other countries in some cases? Who has been targeted by barrages of graphic threats not only online, but also in phone calls, and not only to themselves, but to their family as well? Who has had stalkers visit their place of employment and post photos online alongside threatening messages? How many restraining orders, how much police and FBI involvement, has been necessary?

SF fandom certainly has toxic elements, but there's a difference of degree. I do not think it is good to underplay the damage that has been inflicted by the toxic elements of gaming "fandom".

David Shallcross (Oct 19, 2015 at 8:55 AM):

This is a group of games of which I was previously unaware. What sort of platforms do they typically run on, Windows, Android, any web browser?

(Followed the link from File770)

Commenter of a Thousand Aliases (Oct 19, 2015 at 9:15 AM):

The classic parser games are traditionally played in interpreters, which are lightweight little bits of software* available for both PCs and Macs. Nowadays, pretty much everything -- classic parser games, hypertext games, digital CYOAs, etc. -- can be played right in a web browser. There are also mobile app versions of many games, though perhaps fewer than are playable in web browsers.

*this may not be the accurate computery term; as far as a normal user is concerned however this suffices

Commenter of a Thousand Aliases (Oct 19, 2015 at 9:20 AM):

Not to increase the burden on her, but here are some informational links, containing yet more informational links, in the fine old tradition of hypertextual nonfiction :P

Andrew Plotkin (Oct 19, 2015 at 4:59 PM):

You're right that the Hugo scuffles did not descend to the same depths as some of the gaming-industry situations. I do not suggest there is parity of awfulness there.

(But I'm not entirely sure that SF fandom can boast a lesser degree of toxicity of culture. Laura Mixon documented just that subject, right? But I'm not going to start comparing and contrasting here -- not the current topic.)

I do think, however, that "they've taken their best shot" is accurate. Gamergate people saw and discussed the Hugo voting. They'll do it again next year. Maybe a Best Game category would draw more scrutiny from the more violent types, but that's guessing about the future, not a proven outcome.

Andrew Plotkin (Oct 19, 2015 at 5:06 PM):

Thanks for dropping in.

This is several groups of games, with slightly different behaviors.

Choice of Games is a commercial publisher; they release apps for Mac/PC/iOS/Android, and also have free web-browser versions.

Sub-Q magazine offers interactive works playable on their web site. I believe the same is true for all the Antholojam entries.

IFComp, ParserComp, and ShuffleComp games are mostly playable in web browsers, but some have to be loaded into (open-source) interpreters as CoaTA described.

Then there's a scattering of indie titles which are whatever they are. 80 Days is Mac, PC, iOS, and (I think) Android. Arcadia, Photopia, and PataNoir are iOS only (although the former has a book form and the latter two have more portable older editions). Her Story is Mac/PC.

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