End of Year 2019: Making Connections: Games About Community and Interconnectivity

Making Connections (Games About Community and Interconnectivity)

Our world is an increasingly interconnected one. For good or for ill, news and personal stories reach us through a complicated web that would have seemed alien to us just a few years ago.

In 2019, games reflected this recurring theme of interconnectivity too; letting us grow something new and bring people together after disaster, expressing doubt and anxiety about what technology and the gig economy mean for our relationships, and even exploring how faith in each other can stem the spread of things that seek to distance us from each other.

What games did you play in 2019 about forming connections interested you or pulled at your heartstrings? Were there any games about building bridges or community that you want to talk about? Sound off in the thread below!


Discussion Thread

This thread is all about discussing your favorites! The end of the year is always a great opportunity to look back and reflect on what we loved, but it’s also a great time to remind ourselves of what we missed and want to come back to next year. So give a recommendation, get a recommendation, and above all please be respectful and have a good time!

Be sure to check the Q&A section below if you have questions, otherwise feel free to reach out to one of us! We hope you enjoy this event and we’re excited to see what sorts of discussion each category inspires!

Please Note: We’re planning to write-up a summary thread at the end of the event and include various members’ quotes from the discussion threads, just like last year. The quotes that we select will be attributed to their authors and only posted on this forum (forum.waypoint.vice.com). If you would prefer to not be quoted in the summary thread, please indicate this in your posts.


Q&A
Q: End of Year? What's that?

A: I’m glad you asked! Just head over to our pinned topic if you need a catch up! You can also find details on the process for the event here.

Q: What can I discuss in this thread?

A: Anything that you think fits the topic! Feel free to share your favorite experiences of 2019, whether they occurred in media that released in 2019 or media from a previous year.

Q: Where are the nominations?

A: This year we’re structuring things a little differently: we’ll be posting discussion threads over the second half of December, and nominations won’t begin until January. This will give you a few more weeks to play more games before you’ll need to lock in your votes. We also hope that by focusing on open discussion threads, the event will be more inclusive of folks who haven’t been able to play many games from this year.

Credits
  • @Emily: Banner Design
  • @quantumdot : Category Description
  • anactualdinosaur : Editing Assistance

To go first, there’s a lot of games I played that fit into this category, which is why I thought it was a fitting category for 2019.

Firstly, games like NeoCab and Eliza fit this to a T. Not only are these games about technology and the gig economy, but they both have sharp and poignant commentary on personal relationships and how they fit in. In NeoCab, carrying passengers around while also trying to gently untangle their anxieties about the world around them, and my increasing misgivings about whether my “best friend” was a good person or just someone using me hit me surprisingly hard. In Eliza, having to counsel people as a human standin for an AI counselor while being unable to actually help them neatly paralleled Evelyn’s personal crisis in the face of trying to create technology to help people with their mental health, but instead creating a new, unique set of problems.

Mutazione, though something I didn’t put as much time into as I would’ve liked, was also a bittersweet game about making connections, growth, and renewal, using an island separated from the world by a disaster as a narrative that can be read for isolated peoples, or reconnecting with lost family. It was also a game that featured themes I am personally all too familiar with this year as [CW death/illness] I’ve lost both a grandparent and close relative in the last year to cancer and illness. Finding a way to reconnect in the face of death made for a very poignant game even in the time I spent with it.

Finally, Control fits into this category for me too–not only because of Jesse seeking to reconnect with her brother and her past, but because of the human connections she makes even acting as the figure of authority, the Director, over the course of the game. And with the Hiss as a memetic, resonant harm (light early game spoilers) that infects using the connections between people, and (vague later game spoilers) Jesse’s journey to find herself and her inner strength? Hell yeah I’m going to include it here. When read this way, it is a super-hopeful game that I found really important and necessary in 2019.

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Kingdom Hearts III is a Strand Game. The Heart (soul) of all things is created through connections and friendship. Hearts can never truly be lost because connections will inevitably overwhelm all Darkness. It is a game of ridiculous optimistic hope that is able to exist proudly and without shame.

Also, Pokemon Shield is a Strand Game. You build connections with your little animal friends and with them conquer Fantasy Britain one step at a time. I think the community’s general love of all things sweet and cute eventually overcame all the bullshit toxicity that built up before this release.

EDIT: By that same logic, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a Strand Game. It’s a game where you’re forced to choice one connection out of three, then before the tragedy hits, make as many Connections as you can to get good anime kids on your side.

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Oh gosh I didn’t even think of KHIII for this but now that you mention it (and Pokemon!) it’s so obvious. “Let your heart be your guiding key” indeed!

Soul Blazer snuck up on me hard. It’s a 1992 SNES action-RPG from Quintet, with stiff action, a ludicrous plot, and that terse awkwardness unique to early-90s translations. King Magridd made a deal with a death deity called Deathtoll: one gold piece for each soul in the kingdom. The player is an angel sent to delve some dungeons and free the souls, rebuilding the towns that had been destroyed. Put another way, Soul Blazer is about rebuilding communities in the face of global disaster caused by short-sighted greed.

The game’s structure is simple: hack and slash through dungeons, destroying monster spawners that contain trapped souls. When you free a soul, a character appears back at the current act’s town hub. Some characters will help you progress, most are just living their lives. Two gnome lovers are sitting at a table, one is thinking of finding someone new. A rat is terrified of a cat, who assures you that it doesn’t want to kill rats, but it needs to eat. A woman was reincarnated as a goat; she can’t speak to tell her husband who she is but she likes to see him. A soldier is mourning his friends, who died serving a wicked ruler.

What kept me playing wasn’t the idea of seeing the next dungeon or boss or collecting new items, it was putting the towns back together and finding the oddly moving micro-stories of these characters’ lives.

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So, I snagged Griftlands during the EGS Sale, and I have to say, the way the game conveys this stuff is really interesting. I think there are some issues with the game I have. The combat feels a little too close to Slay the Spire for my taste, which is still plenty of fun but isn’t something to write home about in and of itself. I’m not particularly excited about it being a Rogue-like. The game was originally planned to be some kind of RPG, and I kind of wish they had stayed on that route, even if they continued with the procgen stuff. I think it would have given more opportunities for more interesting storytelling, but who could say.

Regardless of all that, though, the reason I’m bringing Griftlands up is that the conversation system is really interesting, and the way individuals and factions relate is really neat. In early builds, the game was entirely based on RNG rolls for success or failure, and I think this system is far, far more interesting and has way more potential.

The way conversation works in Griftlands is card based. Your goal is to reduce the opposing player’s Resolve to zero. Some of the cards are kind of what you would expect (attacking, defending), but where I think it gets interesting is the arguments. By playing cards, you can deploy “arguments”, which float around your character and continue to affect the conversation as it continues. Meanwhile, you can also attack your opponent’s arguments to remove them from play. Then, you can even “incept” arguments on your opponent.

For contrast, Signs of the Sojourner is an upcoming game that tries to simulate conversation with cards. But it’s a very different angle. Immediately, you can tell that Signs of the Sojourner is trying to convey connection and communication with its mechanics.

And looking at this game, it hit me: Griftlands isn’t a game about conversation. It’s about negotiation. The cards are literally called “Negotiation cards”. You tear down arguments, you puff up your chest, you rant and rave. It’s not a game about communicating ideas or connecting through conversation, it’s about negotiating your needs against others’.

And I feel like this is extrapolated outside of negotiation scenes, too. Let me tell you a short anecdote.

On my first day in Murder Bay, I made a friend. His name is Rug, a good dude. He’s a kradeshi chef who I did a favor for back at Fssh’s bar. Every once in a while, he offers me a new noodle dish he’s been working out, on the house. He’s a good chef, so I’m happy to oblige. (They also give me bonus HP.)

As I continue on my quest, I find myself working with the Admiralty often (basically a cop faction). It’s not what I set out to do. I just kept finding myself around Admiralty who wanted to work with me, and the Spree (a rival faction) didn’t have much of an interest in working with me at that point.

One day, an Admiralty officer, Lasquo, asks me to tag along with them as they collect taxes. I was looking for a job, and figured I might as well strengthen the bonds I had. But the Admiralty is no stranger to corruption. And Lasquo seems rotten. I pretty soon realize that this isn’t taxation, this is a shakedown.

Laquo’s first target? My good friend Rug. He greets me with a smile, happy to see me, but I have to tell him this is strictly business. Lasquo tells him to pay up. Rug says he’s already paid. Lasquo is stubborn, and I don’t wanna argue with her on this (her resolve is quite high on this issue). I argue with Rug, convince him to just pay up. I figured he’d appreciate this more than a hefty beating. He yields his cash reluctantly, and we go on our way, shaking down more poor grifters and old friends. Lasquo and I split the winnings and pocket our ill-gotten gains (Rug wasn’t lying when he said he already paid his taxes), telling the officer above us that we were robbed on the way back.

My pockets are heavier, sure, but I can’t say I’m much happier. Guilt is biting at my heels. I circle back to Rug, hoping I can make it up to him, buy him a drink and talk things over. He narrows his eyes and tells me to back off. “I didn’t know you were doing shakedowns these days, Sal.” He won’t even accept a drink on the house from me. He’s done with me. No more conversations at the bar, no more hot noodles by the fire, no more Rug.

All of this was the product of the negotiation of my own interests. Not only of money or of wellbeing but of social capital and relationships, too. Griftlands portrays a very specific culture for Murder Bay. It’s a fitting name; it’s cutthroat. Relationships have a lot to do with material consequences. Who you work with ends up changing what’s in your bag and who you pick fights with. The result is a network of friendships and rivalries that define the kind of life you see in Murder Bay. That network is disrupted and changed on an hour to hour basis. Your choices are meaningful. Who do I want to side with? Who do I want to stick by? Can I rely on them? What’s in it for me?

I put a pocket full of cash and an in with an Admiralty officer over my good friend Rug and his noodles. Was that a good choice? I’m not sure it was. And I think that’s the point.

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