Nonsense can be a bad word. Any manner of silliness or outlandish behavior can be classified as nonsense. The world is full of the stuff. It seems wrong that everything should be made of so much nonsense, but when you really look at it – nonsense is how we interact with a world where survival isn’t looming over us every day. It’s how we reason, understand and play.
The stock and trade of games, our favorite pastimes, is in nonsense. Board games, even the simplest, require abstract thought. Videogames are worse. Where else can you be a space prince, rolling up the world or a magical plumber? Ultraviolence paired with a cheerful soundtrack. The more people you kill, the higher the score.
In our November issue of Unwinnable Monthly, we explore the good and bad sides of nonsense, and how we interact when confronted with it. Dive into a our sampler of the entire issue to read excerpts of how the Unwinnable gang tackled the subject.
To read the whole shebang unabridged, buy the issue here.
Bestiary | Melissa Graf and Stu Horvath
A creature once lived in the spring of Amymone, poisoning the air, terrorizing villagers. When it was beheaded, two heads grew back, a strange and deadly botany.
One head, two head, three head, four. Off they came with Hercules’ blade, to sink into the dark waters of the swamp. Iolaus burned the stumps with a firebrand so they could not regrow. All but one.
Rookie of the Year | Matt Marrone
There is a modest room in midtown Manhattan that can make you feel smaller than even the tallest of Manhattan’s skyscrapers can.
Tucked away in the grand New York Public Library building on Bryant Park, a library I’ve been going to since I was a kid, is Room 100 – the Microforms Reading Room, where more than 150 years of newspapers and periodicals have been screened onto rolls of microfiche, wound onto plastic reels, and packed away in boxes labeled by publication and publication date, to collect dust until someone, anyone, comes around looking for a particular part of the past preserved in print.
Choose your box from the file cabinet – you may have to pull hard to get the drawer to open – and slide the film under glass, wind it into a machine, turn a knob and you’re scrolling through hundreds of pages of long-forgotten news, notes, opinions, sales ads and gossip.
Backlog | Gavin Craig
Far Cry 3 is a ridiculous game. A crew of twenty-somethings skydive onto a Pacific island where the heavily armed local paramilitary group immediately kidnaps them. The game’s narrative arc follows one of those twenty-somethings, Jason, as he develops from an entitled, aimless dudebro into a magical soldier-of-fortune covered in pseudo-tribal tattoos, slinging an AK-47 and a bazooka in holsters made from the skins of animals he killed with his own two hands.
In interviews, Far Cry 3’s lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem has indicated that the game is intended at least partially as satire, implicating the player in Jason’s increasingly enthusiastic bloodlust, but there’s very little in either Far Cry 3’s gameplay or storytelling that tries to convey a sense the game’s mayhem should be thought of as anything other than a spectacle of adrenaline awesomeness. Jason/the player gets bigger and bigger guns to kill more despicable bad guys and make even bigger things go boom. One of Far Cry 3’s two possible endings seems to try to indicate that Jason making the choice to go full-on supervillain would be bad for him and the people around him, but then it places the player in the exact same position they’re given if Jason chooses the “good” ending instead. Save your friends or murder them, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other.
In this sense, one can argue, that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a downloadable not-quite-sequel released less than six months later, is the game that Far Cry 3 really wanted to be.
HUD | Andrea Ayres
Over the past week, I’ve travelled to and from New York City. During my travels, I overheard conversations from people discussing their fear and disbelief about the outcome of the election. Strangers laid bare the most vulnerable parts of themselves as they looked for comfort, support or simply an outlet for their emotions. Many of these conversations would contain phrases like, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.” I reckon part of it is an inexplicable, all consuming need to feel connected to something, someone. There’s so much to say, so much to learn and I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this article because of that. I’m still processing exactly what my role is or should be within any conversation about the election.
Battle Jacket | Casey Lynch
By now, Metallica has spent decades more as multi-platinum purveyors of heavy arena rock than the scant five or six years they presided over the Bay Area thrash scene as the undisputed kings of metal. Hardwired . . . to Self-Destruct is as an earnest effort to rediscover their muse of yore, but it also a statement about who Metallica are today. The album is definitely successful at the latter – Hardwired is definitely who Metallica is now. The good news is they also manage to ride some that long lost lightning so little heard since their heyday along the way.
Here’s the Thing | Rob Rich
Love it or hate it, weirdness has been a part of videogames since before they were called videogames. I don’t mean the odd head-tilting joke or anything like that, either – I’m talking total absurdity. And this is a great thing! From Monster Party (all of it) to Katamari Damacy, from Earthbound to Killer is Dead, bizarre games can be downright evocative when done well.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for weird games, whether you‘d define them as breaking from established norms or as going full-bore surreal. I love seeing things in games that I may not have seen before, exploring themes that I’d never have considered and sometimes just getting lost in all the visual chaos. I know I’m not alone, either, because a fair number of strange games have done pretty well for themselves over the years.
Checkpoint | Corey Milne
Dark Souls 3 is reportedly the last batch of souls we’ll be getting for a while. From Software looks to want to get the rest of the downloadable content out before moving on to new pastures. While this might ring tragic in some players ears, I can’t help but sigh in relief, especially as I make my way through the snow drifts of Ariandel. We’ve been here before. The cold dark of Ariandel is not dissimilar from the Painted World of Ariamis, an optional area in the original Dark Souls. Both of these places are accessible through a painting’s canvas. Both house the lost and forgotten. The crow-like denizens of these realms delight in tearing through your armor and flesh. Not so much lost as found.
The McMaster Files | Jason McMaster
I’ve loved board games since I was a kid. For many years, Trivial Pursuit was my jam. That was all before I discovered all the specialty games out there. Tyranid Attack, Advanced Space Crusade, Space Hulk and Talisman accounted for many hours of my youth. Moving plastic marines or stealers across the modular, puzzle-locked terrain of a derelict, infected ship helped me forget about my problems and escape to a world of adventure – if only for a short time.
It has been roughly 20 years since I first discovered the wider world of board gaming through the welcoming arms of Games Workshop. My love for plastic figures and cardboard cut-outs has done nothing but grow since that day. Now, a few months from 40, I own well over 100 games and that number is steadily climbing. I’ve bought games I wanted, that I couldn’t afford and I’ve bought games just for the hell of it. At this point, though, games aren’t my issue – I’m running out of friends.
Artist Spotlight | Francesca Berrini
Who are you and where did you come from?
I’m Francesca Berrini and I originally come from the East Coast, but I’ve been living here in Portland, Oregon for the past 12 years or so.
Jesus seems to be having a good time in most of your art. Doesn’t that contradict history? For instance, doesn’t science tell us that dinosaurs were actually party poopers?
This is one of the biggest science myths out there. It’s a proven fact that adding more pterodactyls can make any situation better.
Finally, now that the seventh seal has been opened and the Apocalypse is imminent, do you think your nuclear war cards will sell more, or less?
Well, what else are you going to send for the Apocalypse? Just try to find a good end of the world humor card in the Hallmark aisle
Unnoticed Absurdity | Matt Sayer
Videogames are weird.
One minute you’re balancing a slice of bread on a skateboard, ferrying it across a filthy front yard on its quest to become toast; the next you’re an alien prince rolling a ball made of mandarin peels and floppy disks through a giant casino. Absurdity thrives in the virtual realm, but it’s not always as obvious as a cold-blooded killer in a chicken suit; sometimes, the weirdness lurks right beneath our noses, out of sight and out of mind. It’s not until we stop and take a proper look at ourselves that we realize just how ridiculous our gaming habits are. Take, for instance, our obsession with jumping on everything . . .
From Chaos | Megan Condis
Magic is the rules of another reality that lurks under the surface of normality.
Of course, we intuitively understand that these feats of power must come with a cost. For magic to work in our favor, it must follow some set of rules consistently, making sense out of what seems nonsensical. Some magic systems function like economies of energy, with particular actions requiring an investment of life force from the practitioner. Others require prayers or invocations, secret words of power or sacred songs. Still others require totems that have been touched by some holy (or unholy) force. All require some kind of submission on the part of the magician to a greater power whose rules might seem strange or even random but who must be obeyed nonetheless.
This is an attitude that gamers can readily understand. Videogames offer us the chance to bend reality to our will. Wizards cast spells, martial artists summon mystic energies and heroes wield ancient artifacts infused with otherworldly powers. These are potent fantasies at a time when individuals often feel powerless compared to the giant, faceless social institutions in which they find themselves. After a long day of waiting tables or fielding angry customer service phone calls it can be quite invigorating to come home and blast a dragon out of the sky with a well-timed fireball or to put on a cloak of invisibility and wreak havoc in your enemy’s lair.
100 Hours of Nonsense | A. J. Moser
Why do we collect and explore in videogames?
Todd Howard appeared on stage at E3 2011 to show off Bethesda Game Studios’ progress on The Elder Scrolls V, demonstrating off the scope of Skyrim’s landscapes by saying “See that mountain? You can climb it.” This year, Nintendo live streamed over eight hours of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, almost none of which featured any hints at the game’s story or characters. We watched Link run, climb, jump, dive and swim across a number of colorful environments, but with no context as to why he was doing so.
Open-world games seem intent on featuring an impressively detailed map that offers repetitive objectives and inconsequential collectibles for the world’s completionists to pursue. The ambitious No Man’s Sky took the open-world concept to outer space, but failed to deliver anything meaningful aside from collecting resources to fuel and upgrade your ship.
Stop Making Sense | Harry Mackin
Harry Mackin isn’t sure we could make sense even if we wanted to.
One thing sticks out to me about the childhood feeling I seem to miss so badly: it happened when I didn’t understand. I was most susceptible to change when I was confused, anxious, and confronted by something totally new and different. Something nonsensical to me.
It may be essential to human life to construct narratives about ourselves. Maybe it’s how consciousness makes sense of all the stimulus. Maybe that’s what selfhood is; a story to help life make sense. If all that is true, though, I think we have an obligation to fight against this narrative drive. We must never become so comfortable with who we are that we can’t be changed in an instant.
Senseless Violence | Khee Hoon Chan
Hotline Miami means less than you think . . .
“Hey, man! I gotta tell ya something important. This…all of this, is not really happening. Take a look,” said Beard, as you glanced over at the entrance of the convenience store he worked in. A writhing, bloodied corpse, with his skull bashed in and bits of brains exposed, was sprawled on the ground. He gurgled in agreement as your friend continued, “What you saw just now did not actually happen.”
I distinctly remember that scene from Hotline Miami, a trippy game set in the neon-soaked streets of Miami. As a contract killer named Jacket, you shoot-dodge-smash your way through mobs of gangsters and police officers with extreme precision, as the game drenches you in palpitating, aggressive synthwave music. It is easy to get lost in the rhythm of violence, but in between stages, Hotline Miami offers some respite by introducing you to Beard, a bespectacled hipster manning the counter of a convenience store. Greeting you warmly like an old friend, he shares his thoughts on the chaotic Miami climate, while giving you whatever you need – for free. “You would have done the same for me, too,” he adds. After that, it is back to the frantic pace of shooting, dodging and smashing meatbags.
Where the Meaningless has Meaning | Nicole Carpenter
Nicole Carpenter explores alternate reality games – a world built out of an interconnected web of seemingly meaningless details.
Alternate reality games are not bound to one platform. Pay phones, websites, emails – these are all elements rife with history in the realm of alternate reality gaming. Much of this started in 2001 with The Beast, an alternate reality game designed by Microsoft to market Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence. It’s not the first alternate reality game to exist, but it’s arguably the earliest game with the biggest impact on the rules of the genre.
It begins with the entrance into the game, trusting that potential players are intrigued enough by little pieces of nonsense. The Beast began – and ended – with no real direct reference to AI: Artificial Intelligence; it was, instead, considered a way of building the film’ world. A foundation. Still, the connection to the film was always clear: one of the first bits of evidence – a clue that sparked the idea that something was up – was hidden among a series of film credits in the movie’s trailer.
Among the costume designers and film editors, the name Jeanine Salla was slipped in – the sentient machine therapist. She’s a key figure in The Beast, yet to most watching the film’s trailer her name would simply go dark. The game’s players aren’t aware they’re playing until they’re already doing so. Another trailer for AI: Artificial Intelligence tempted potential players with a phone number to call – and call, people did.
Up for Interpretation | Tiffany Kelly
Ever wonder what language the Sims are speaking?
All the characters on the Sims speak a nonsense language called Simlish. Sims creator Will Wright has said he created it to purposely leave the dialogue up for interpretation.
Simlish made the game enjoyable. Instead of analyzing diction, sentence structure and cliche lines spoken by characters, I focused on ‘winning’ –keeping my characters alive and happy. I didn’t want to know what a Sim was saying when she threw a tantrum in the street or worked on her charisma by talking to her reflection in a mirror. Not knowing created a sense of mystery.
Unofficial Simlish-English dictionaries do exist on the internet, as fans have tried to make sense of the language. For example, “nooboo” apparently translates to baby, and “chumcha” means pizza. I interpreted these words differently – or not at all – when Sims spoke, which is the point of Simlish.
Persona 4 Shinto | Brian Crimmins
Brian Crimmins reveals the secret Shinto themes at the heart of Persona 4.
The Midnight Channel is an important setting for the game. It’s an other-worldly realm that only a select few can even enter. The main characters can do just that and it’s their duty to enter this mysterious world, fight off the Shadows that lurk about it and rescue those trapped inside. What’s interesting about the Midnight Channel is what a strong resemblance it bears to Shinto shrines. . .
[The] parallels become relevant when we consider how one is supposed to behave when attending a shrine. Although shrines are seen as existing between the human world and the realm of the kami, these spaces ostensibly belong to the specific kami that inhabit them. This means that you enter the shrine on their rules and kami want you to respect their home.
So enter their shrine with a calm mind, wash your hands, and rinse out your mouth before you offer your prayers to the kami. The important thing is that you face them in a pure state.
The Game Outside the Game | Jimmy Andreakos
There’s a lot more going on when you gather around the table for a board game than you might think . . .
Remember that everyone is an archetype. You might have a friend who always gives up. You have a friend who cheats. There’s gonna be that one couple who either always play as one or when separated only attack each other. There is the pedant who dictates the rules in a monotone voice. Someone is going to try and control the other players; “are you sure you want to do that?” Someone will take the game way too seriously – or not seriously enough – and someone is going to complain about everything.
There might be a secret alliance, there might be a perpetual victim who thinks every move by every player is a personal attack against them. Maybe one of your friends is a ‘good guy’ and always winds up a king maker. Someone might be competitive enough to turn your casual get together into a life or death struggle for the survival of their ego. All of these gamer archetypes aren’t separate from the game, they are the game.
When Winning Isn’t About Winning | Sarah McGill
For that matter, who needs a winner?
Tabletop instructions have a ‘How to Win’ section and there are nationwide tournaments that end with someone declared champion. But there are an increasing number of games with hazy or non-existent win-conditions, like Espionage Party, The Quiet Year and Elegy for a Dead World. A win-condition can be created for any of these games, but there are more rewarding ways to experience them. These games give players an opportunity to create immersive and complicated stories.
When asked how to win Espionage Party, I tell players to complete their character’s objectives. During the game, players immerse themselves in a character, blackmailing enemies, declaring their love through song, ducking into private rooms to reveal they’re a spy and many other things. The objectives give characters a sense of purpose and actions to take if they’re uncertain what to do next. If a player completes all their objectives, they could be said to have won and many players like to measure it that way. However, the relationships and character interactions are what make the game interesting.
Revving the Engine: Voidrunner | Stu Horvath
Stu Horvath talks to RealityArts about their upcoming space flight simulator, Voidrunner. Sponsored by Unreal Engine 4.
Voidrunner doesn’t seem like a typical dogfight game – how does the introduction of FPS controls change the genre?
Ismail Kemal Ciftcioglu: Space sims or dogfighting games have had their own specific player range for years. Because using space ships or planes in simulation style gameplay is not very easy, and therefore not for all players, the genre isn’t popular like shooters or MOBAs. We introduced first person shooter controls to our gameplay mechanics so it is easy to fly and fight, [but we did it in such a way that] you can still feel the sense of flying.