Three fingers of analysis when two will do.
I remember collecting small treasures as a little kid: single marbles, vinyl figurines from 50-cent toy machines, small wildflowers to press between pages of the dictionary, smooth stones to keep in my pocket for worrying and bouncy balls – bouncy balls in every size and swirly color. I could take these tiny things and find a bit of pleasure any time of the day. I could use any combination of them to make up rules and play a little game.
Even now, I relish opportunities to find small moments to simply play. Sometimes the days feel like they’re bearing down on me like the barrels thrown by Donkey Kong. Add in the raging garbage fires with the sentient flame babies that burn my butt during their twitchy first steps on the ground and I’d say you have an apt metaphor for my current state of affairs. Thankfully, simple pleasures aren’t hard to come by, even if their necessity is more urgent than ever.
Rhino Stew Productions released David Lynch Teaches Typing earlier this month, and the quirky comedy game is already garnering relentlessly cheery reviews. On the surface, “cheery” seems an odd adjective to use with a Lynch-related piece, but open the free-to-play Mac OS and Windows game and it’s easy to see developers Luke Palmer and Hyacinth Nil are in this for the lulz. By the way, one of the dev’s last names is Palmer? Coincidence?! (Yes.)
Borrowing the user-interface style and aesthetics of mid- to late-90s typing games, David Lynch Teaches Typing promises “that typing tutor you like is going to come back in style!” As the player’s disembodied hands hover over a Maclachlantosh 900, a squinty, pixelated David Lynch eyeballs them from the upper left corner of the screen while shout-speaking typing instructions in his signature cadence (his voice is actually game creator Palmer doing a very respectable impersonation). After genuinely teaching some typing, he suggests a quick break for coffee and a smoke and encourages the player to take as much time as they need. Then some other stuff happens – stuff that would be a shame to spoil here.
In this, the age of microtransactions and loot boxes, it’s refreshing to come across a game that exists merely for play’s sake. That is, after all, why I began to play videogames in the first place. It’s short, so I’ve played it more than a few times because I like the idea of David Lynch saying we’re doing brilliant work together and calling me “kiddo.” Like dragging a stick along a fence as I walk, I want to snatch little joys whenever I have the chance to take some.
Even in games with clear and long-winding objectives, I assign myself smaller, unrelated tasks. In Breath of the Wild, I ride Epona from one end of the map to the other, stopping only when the spirit moves me. More often than not the things that move me are observing wildlife unseen or checking the wall of an inn to see if there’s a new recipe to try cooking. I climb the tallest mountain in view or watch the moon set after a rainstorm. I spy on the petty dramas of the bokoblins posted in and around a skull-shaped hut. I sneak by if they’re sleeping, careful not to wake them. I generally DGAF about Calamity Ganon.
These bursts of pure play remind me of how I gamed as a kid, when I played truly unfettered and free.
These bursts of pure play remind me of how I gamed as a kid, when I played truly unfettered and free. When I first rolled my ranger character in Gemstone IV, the fantasy-themed multiplayer text adventure game I still play, I was ten or eleven and had difficulty grasping the concept of hunting in order to level, so I did what any decent ranger would do and picked various directions in which to wander. There were dark forests and coastal cliffs and an entire village of kobolds who guarded an old, magical boot that transported me to a sleepy town by a slow-moving river. The town was near where the river met the sea, so the shops sold rigging knives as weapons and chunky cable-knit sweaters for warmth.
I was in love with exploring such a rich world made of only words – it felt like living as the main character of a book. It’s also the game that actually taught me to type. I’d often find myself wandering into high-level hunting grounds and then scrambling to accurately type the directions to quickly go back from whence I came. I’d still end up getting clobbered by some mountain ogre, the beastie taking me down with one hit and cleaving both legs from my poor avatar’s body while she was at it. Or I’d end up poisoned and stuck inside a rotting, hollowed-out tree trunk. Other players would have to drag my dead body all the way back to the town square for healing and resurrection.
They’d ask, “How did someone with your training (low level) even make it out here?”
“I dunno,” I’d say, my voice ghostly and disembodied, “I was just playing around.”
These days my adult’s life doesn’t afford me much time to take on the long campaigns that are popular in single-player games. Even if I decide to divide and conquer and take the tasks on piecemeal, so often things can feel like a chore – not how I want to spend the small amount of time I have to “play.” I’m grateful for my ability to still make up my own little games inside of larger worlds, and I’m even more grateful for games like David Lynch Teaches Typing – another small treasure to collect, valuable precisely for its littleness and its ability to make me smile like I just scored a new bouncy ball.