I first played VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla, like the Norse hall of gods) the day it released while I was living in an indoor patio used to house dog kennels. I only had a mattress to my name and ate instant noodles just to survive. Such is the life that VA-11 HALL-A’s protagonist, Jill, lives in her pursuit to pay rent by the end of the month during a financial crisis plaguing Glitch City. This title is as much about escapist-fantasy as it is about survival all while trying to maintain a positive outlook on life. It’s a bittersweet title that wastes no time strapping its player into a queer world of cyberpunk nostalgia, winding conversations about life, and flirtatious drink-mixing. VA-11 HALL-A is preoccupied with the question of what does capitalism ultimately give us, and what do we receive in exchange for not just our physical labor, but our emotional labor, too. Continue Reading
It occurs to me that some video games might have a “soul” or a thesis kept out of sight, locked away from interactive or procedural elements. And to access this soul one might have to look at these story elements not as a whole but working in their constituent parts.
Think about the painting, Conscience, Judas by Nikolai Ge, that depicts Judas in a moment swiftly following Christ’s arrest. Continue Reading
At the start of each of Shovel Knight’s nine main levels, the game’s eponymous hero springs in from off-screen and lands on his feet, shovel held aloft, as if to challenge the enemies that await. In all but one of those levels, there seems to be a world outside the one he’s about to explore—a ledge that continues back beyond the edge of the screen, or a pathway that has begun to morph into the cliffs and valleys of the upcoming stage. Continue Reading