Queer Games Bundle: Undoing the Curse

For the second year in a row, queer indie game developers and gamers alike are celebrating Pride Month with the Queer Games Bundle. Until the end of June, interested parties can download almost 600 games and game-adjacent zines for $60, with a cheaper option available to those for whom that cost is prohibitive. Described as “an initiative to collaboratively support as many queer indie/micro/art devs and makers as possible,” the bundle is a project of swampbabes, a small New York organization of game artists. Swampbabes, as a collective, is “interested in sharing experimental, non-commercial, renegade games-related art and projects and providing a platform for diverse voices and bodies outside the structures of already established hierarchies.” 

“kate sees your future,” by game creator Bagenzo

The bundle certainly provides a platform for diverse voices. There is a massive amount of content in the bundle, so much so that the selection might be intimidating. Let me provide some starting points. For those intrigued by last week’s blog post, there are two volumes of a zine chockablock with Twine tips and tricks, called “The Twine Grimoire.” Wordle fanatics might be entertained by Herdle,” which casts Wordle’s distinct collections of squares as farm animals in need of herding. Did my post about stealing back your time via poetry resonate with you? You might find joy in “Time Bandit,” a game for Windows and MacOS that forces the player to slow down.

If tabletop roleplaying is your preferred gaming mode, never fear—included TTRPG guides range from the adorable and arguably self-explanatory “Rodents With Guitars” to the cyberpunk “Escape from Neo-Millenia.”  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of bundle entries incorporating tarot, like the solo journaling game “My One True Wish,” the browser-based “kate sees your future,” digital tarot deck, “Slimegirl Tarot,” and “A Note in Time,” a TTRPG about writing a letter to your younger self.

“people are labyrinths” by game creator Vian Nguyen

The puzzle-minded among you are likely to enjoy the game RESYNC, available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux (the bundle can be filtered according to the operating systems compatible with each game). RESYNC challenges you to work with robots as allies, solving puzzles to “uncover the true purpose of the mysterious outpost” on which your character has crash-landed. Then there’s the browser-based “people are labyrinths,” a collection of mazes studded with wistful dialogue boxes meditating on topics such as loss, the complex inner workings of other people, and an unwanted job.

Swampbabes states on their website that they hope the community their work fosters “begins to undo the curse inherited from mainstream video game culture.” They leave up to the imagination what exactly that curse is, but if you too feel that mainstream video game culture is cursed, and want to do something about it, purchasing the Queer Games Bundle is a win-win situation: hours of fun for you, and financial support for queer game developers. As of this writing, over a thousand gamers have purchased the bundle, raising almost $66,000 that will be split among the creators at Pride Month’s end.  


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Count Dracula Ambling Down the Information Superhighway

Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula is a story constructed through modern communication technologies—modern for 1897, that is. Jonathan Harker’s journal is kept in shorthand; Mina prides herself on her ability to use a typewriter; and telegraphs, Kodak cameras, and phonographs all factor into the eerie plot as well. Arguably, then, successfully adapting the book in the here and now must mean drawing significantly upon the twenty-first century’s developments in communication technologies. Any version of Dracula created in 2022 that aims to be a strict nineteenth-century period piece can claim to be true to the letter of the book, sure. Not, however, the spirit. For that, we need, at the very least, the inclusion of the internet as a constant background hum, the way it is for most of us in real life.

Filming in black-and-white, Supernatural falls prey to the compulsion to depict Dracula through old-fashioned technologies, rather than through the newfangled.

What about an adaptation that stays true to the spirit and the letter? Such a project does exist, and if you’re reading this post before May 3, 2022, you have time to get in on the ground floor. Dracula Daily is more than simply a period piece; in fact, it does not stray one inch from Stoker’s original text. What makes it a modern adaptation is the delivery system: email. Specifically, the project is hosted through Substack, a popular platform for emailed newsletters. Dracula is an epistolary novel; each letter, news article, or diary entry is clearly dated, a design that, with the aid of 2022 technology, lends itself well to a “real-time” storytelling approach. Beginning next Tuesday and ending in November, project mastermind Matt Kirkland will send out each segment of Dracula‘s text to all subscribers on its corresponding date. Whether you’ve read Dracula before or you only know the Count through cultural osmosis, you too can have fun digesting the novel in timely, bite-sized chunks.

What We Do in the Shadows demonstrates the value of connecting your vampires to the internet.

The appeal of joining others in experiencing a classic horror tale one day at a time is evocative of another labor of love that we’ve discussed on this blog before: Wordle. You may not usually think of Victorian literature when you think of binging media, but just like Wordle’s one-puzzle-per-day design, Dracula Daily’s slowed down approach to the reading experience resists the modern cultural impetus to consume our pleasures as quickly and greedily as possible. Simultaneously, as with solving the same Wordle as everyone else each day, reading these emails when they arrive presents the opportunity to know that you are sharing a little experience with others—whether simply strangers, or any friends you may convince to subscribe as well (maybe you’ll decide to form a book club). Thus, you can enjoy all of the zeitgeisty sense-of-belonging that binging new Netflix releases provides, with none of the sickening burnout.

This is not Kirkland’s first blood-sucking rodeo; the newsletter actually premiered May 3, 2021, and was not initially intended to run two years in a row. However, what began, in Kirkland’s words, as a “silly side project” blew up, with approximately 2,000 subscribers joining the digital “book club.” On April 18 of this year, Kirkland sent out a new email, asking if people wanted him to reprise the endeavor. As motivation, he cited that “Many people fell behind on the reading or joined partway though, which [is] fine! But not perhaps the ideal way to read a novel.” Hundreds of replies poured in, overwhelmingly of the “yes” variety, making up Kirkland’s mind. This Monday, he tweeted that the subscriber count had shot up to 13,000—the book club gained over 10,000 new members in only two days.

This train to Transylvania is gaining steam fast; still there’s always room for one more on board. You should never invite a vampire into your home, but inviting them into your email inbox should be perfectly safe.

At least, we don’t think that this Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where a demon wreaks havoc on the internet will come true if you subscribe.

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Returning to Wordle: The Evolution of a Phenomenon

Suddenly, for Josh Wardle, every square is green.

Each day brings a new five-letter word for Wordle’s devotees to deduce. If I had to pick one five-letter word to describe Wordle’s current moment, it would be SHIFT, as in seismic movement and mutation. This is for a couple of reasons. The first is a piece of news that rippled through the puzzle-loving internet at the end of January: Wordle has been purchased by the New York Times, and will be packaged with games like Spelling Bee and Letter Boxed going forward. Creator Josh Wardle’s Twitter announcement pointed out, “If you’ve followed along with the story of Wordle, you’ll know that NYT games play a big part in its origins and so this step feels very natural to me.” For anyone who hasn’t done a deep dive into Wordle’s genesis: Wardle is referring, here, to the fact that he created the game as a gift for his partner after she got hooked on Spelling Bee and the Times crossword.

Despite how it started, Wordle is no longer just “a love story” (as a January 3rd Times headline said). It’s also a story of hitting the jackpot—reportedly, Wardle sold the game for a number in the low seven figures—and it could become, as well, a story of the internet’s ongoing privatization. Wardle’s tweet stated that the game will be “free to play for everyone” even after its migration to the Times website, but fears to the contrary abound. A Mashable article about the news features the sub-headline, “’Paywall’ has too many letters,” and ends by gloomily describing Wordle as “beautiful while it lasted.” Twitter user @mcmansionhell summed up the ordeal: “the NYT took one nice and simple thing that a lot of people really liked, a dumb bit of fun in our exhaustingly dark times, and implied that they’ll stick it behind a paywall. exhausting.” Overall, ominous social media speculation has little to do with resenting Josh Wardle’s laudable success, and everything to do with anxiety about the once-free commons of the internet becoming less and less free by the day.

In response to this anxiety, solvers are already finding workarounds for the possible future paywall. One solution is downloading the Wordle site to your device, a process with instructions located here. Another alternative is playing on the Wordle Archive, which recycles previous days’ words.

Even if the Times does decide to throw Wordle behind a paywall, its story will remain a love story. I’m not just talking about Wardle’s love for his partner; I’m referring to the public’s intense love for the game. Regardless of who officially owns Wordle, it has taken on a life of its own, and that’s the second reason why SHIFT is the word of the moment. Minimalist though it may appear, Wordle has sparked widespread creativity, inspiring memes and jokes, craft projects, and spin-off puzzles that take the game’s basic premise and alter the specifics just enough to be novel. In a short span of time, Wordle has mutated, in many incarnations, away from where it began in Wardle’s Brooklyn home.

“Not Wordle, just XYZ” memes are everywhere these days, much like Wordle results themselves

Absurdle, for instance, is a version of Wordle that does not start out with one secret word in mind. Instead, behind the scenes, the site responds to the player’s guesses by—as slowly as possible—whittling down a mammoth list of possible words until the player essentially traps the computer into only having one word left. If you identified with my earlier post speculating that Wordle’s appeal lies in its un-bingeable nature and the way it provides all players with a short, sweet shared experience, then maybe the infinitely replayable Absurdle is not for you. On the other hand, if you prefer your puzzles to have concepts that can be difficult to wrap your brain around, then dive on in. You might also love to read a further explanation from the creator of the exact mechanics of the computer’s adversarial actions.

Then there’s Queerdle, a Wordle lookalike in which the word is a different length each day, but all are themed around LGBTQ culture and history. Answers have included COMPTON—in reference to the 1966 Compton Cafeteria Riot, a San Francisco-based Stonewall Riot predecessor—and DIVINE, as in the name of the drag queen best known for appearances in Hairspray and other John Waters films. When players guess correctly, a pop-up appears with a GIF or different snappy indicator of the word’s queer significance, and a grid of snake, coconut, and banana emojis meant to emulate Wordle’s shareable squares.

Byrdle is a version of Wordle where all answers are related to choral music. Gordle is Wordle for hockey fanatics. Squirdle invites players to guess names of Pokemon, Weredle howls words at the full moon, and you can probably guess the theme organizing Lordle of the Rings. Call them knock-offs, parodies, or homages, these variations most importantly are multiplying explosively. The New York Times may own the original game, but they cannot commandeer the inventive passion that Wordle has stoked in puzzlers everywhere.

____

Not Wordle, just a different exciting opportunity to solve new word puzzles each day:

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A Wordle a Day Keeps the Burnout Away

If you’re like me, in the past few weeks your Twitter timeline has become a parade of yellow, green, and black-or-white squares all lined up in rows like Madeline and her schoolmates walking through the streets of Paris. Early on, I discovered that the squares were part of a game called “Wordle,” but I initially assumed that arranging the squares was itself the game, that there was some kind of subtle pattern creation at work. Plugging “Wordle” into a search engine led to trying to solve one Wordle puzzle, just to see what all the fuss was about, and that immediately led to making Wordle an essential part of my daily routine (just like Madeline’s daily walks).  

As demonstrated by those squares on Twitter—and by a recent flurry of news coverage— I’m not alone. Maybe you too are riding the Wordle wave, eagerly waiting for midnight, when you’ll be granted a new chance to deduce a secret five-letter-word. On the surface, the fact that we only get one Wordle challenge each day seems like it could be a point of frustration. In a pop culture landscape dominated by the model of “binging” media, we tend to always want more, more, more of what we enjoy. So why have so many people become riveted by a website that not only doesn’t ask for more than a little slice of your day but actively doesn’t allow you to participate for more than a single six-guess puzzle at a time? 

Sarah Demarest, a library youth services provider in western Massachusetts, theorized to me that our overfamiliarity with binging the latest trends is exactly why something like Wordle can catch on; a large part of its charm is its model’s rarity. She explained, “For me a lot of the appeal is in the fact that you can’t just play nonstop. You get a new episode every day.” Picking up on her television analogy, I pointed out that this meant Wordle was like a return to classic patterns of TV consumption, and she agreed, adding, “I have always been a strong believer that we need an equal mix of serialized and bingeable TV. But I have never thought about how that applies to other trends too.”

You watched Tiger King for five straight hours. Didn’t that bother you? Maybe!

A tweet by screenwriter Eden Dranger @Eden_Eats with more than 4,000 retweets and 44,000 likes places Wordle in a list of “Covid Eras” beginning with the Netflix documentary series Tiger King. Both have been pandemic sensations, topics of memes and group-chat conversations alike, but this shift from Tiger King to Wordle, taking Sarah’s theory into account, indicates that maybe we are seeing an overall shift from a passion for the bingeable to a passion for the serialized. At a time when so many of us are burned out for larger, heavier reasons than a pop culture trend, do we really need to be inviting more of that exhaustion into our brains?

The game’s creator, Josh Wardle, is conscious of how his site fits into our greater historical context, explaining on an episode of Spectacular Vernacular that the choice to remove attention-manipulating features like push notifications and endless play “had this effect where the game feels really human . . . And that really resonates, you know, [with] where we’re at right now in the world in light of Covid.” When we ourselves are so often, on Zoom, reduced to little squares on a screen, a different set of little squares on a screen has the ironic power to remind us of our humanity. After all, not being able to binge means having to move at the same speed as everyone else. We are all walking next to each other. 

A New York Times article about Wardle and his game states that the limit on one game per day “enforced a sense of scarcity . . . which leaves people wanting more.” There’s probably some truth to that, but in spite of what the creator of the copycat website Wordle Unlimited might think, maybe we’re just ready to pace ourselves instead of being deluged with constant streams of entertainment.

Pacing ourselves instead of binging is our philosophy when it comes to our Daily POP crosswords and word search puzzles. You know that we love pop culture enough to consume our favorite pieces of media for five—or twenty-six—straight hours ourselves. However, in this binging-saturated world, we’re happy to provide something steady and serialized for contrast. So, after you finish tweeting your Wordle squares for the day, why not hop on over to Daily POP and continue your slow-burn love affair with word puzzles?


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