As a gamer, the most important thing you can do is to learn how to care. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to care about games. That would be crazy talk. No, I’m saying that you need to care about people. That’s it. Just care about people. And games are a great place to start. That’s because games are the ultimate empathy machines.
The essays in this book are a collection of everything that Anita Sarkeesian has written on empathy. The essays have been collected from several sources, one of them being her Patreon, and they are roughly ordered from newest to oldest. Sarkeesian, as a feminist and activist, has a lot of experience with being a target of online harassment, and she uses this book to explore how online harassment can make people more callous, and how in turn, callous people are more likely to harass others.
Of the many games Devolver Digital has released in recent years, Deconstructeam’s The Red Strings Club is one of the few I didn’t like. Not because of the compelling story, but because of the banality of the gameplay, to the point where I wished the game was originally a graphic novel. I didn’t know what to expect from his next project, Essays on Empathy. The flamboyant (and somewhat smug) title doesn’t give away what it’s about. The last thing I could imagine was a collection of completely different and totally imaginative indie games, all developed over a weekend of game jamming, but still full of written and creative ideas. The empathy test presents ten games in one package. They are more elaborate than regular minigames, but shorter than the shortest indie games, and are in what could be described as the limbo of technical demonstration. However, it is rather difficult to speak of this collection without first discussing each of the ten titles included here individually before assessing the quality of the collection as a whole. What can be said about the ten games as a whole is that they follow a similar graphical style to The Red Strings Club, but with an extra dose of detail. Without exception, they all had absolutely fantastic soundtracks that still sounded very different. Without further ado, let us examine each of the ten pieces from the collection Essays on Empathy:
A very simple metroidvania that consists of mining diamonds in underground caves to build a spaceship that will take you away from the planet you are on. It suffers from confusing gameplay, including spinning a hook to create platforms on which to move. You should also be careful how much ore you carry, as this will negatively affect your running and jumping ability. It’s not really an exciting game, but the soundtrack is great.
Supercontinent Ltd – is an exceptionally exciting and well-written mystery about… Phone calls. This may seem like a boring premise, but hear me out. In this mix of a visual novel and cyberpunk puzzle, you become a hacker who can imitate the voice of others and use your disguise to obtain information that advances the plot. Without giving away the plot, Supercontinent Ltd. tells the story of corporate intrigue and the reasons for power among people. The gameplay is silly and vague, but it works pretty well. If you use the right voice with the right person at the right time, you’ll feel incredibly smart, because the game doesn’t hold your hand at all. You’ll feel lost at first, but once everything falls into place, you’ll get through this phone thriller in no time.
BEHIND EVERY MAJOR
The developers themselves say that Behind Every Great One, a game about being a caring wife in a brutal relationship, is the hardest game in the collection. It’s a heavy subject with a sad story, but unlike other games that are hard to swallow, I didn’t find the core mechanics and plot engaging enough to support what is essentially a reflection on a difficult and slightly toxic relationship.
FLORIST ETERNAL HOUSE
Another weird concept that ended up being much more intriguing than it needed to be. Eternal Home Floristry is a game where you play as a one-armed gay assassin who works as an apprentice in an old flower shop. It will teach you the power of bouquet composition, as each flower you choose to arrange will express the different feelings you want to convey in a given situation. It only takes four bouquets to make them, but I enjoyed every moment of this fascinating experience. It’s all based on a fantastic writing style, with unexpected twists and well-written characters. Sure, there’s a little too much drama in one or two segments, but this game is easily one of the best in this collection.
Limbo Library has a good story: The game was made in collaboration with a friend who had a birthday at the time, but the game itself… It’s a little weird. This game is about finding a comic book as a perfect gift for dad. You can check the description, online reviews written by trolls and other praise. There’s not much interactivity here, and it’s more of a novelty game than an actual game.
ZEN AND THE ART OF TRANSHUMANISM
The Red String Club pottery mini-game is back. In fact, as the main menu explains, that game jam project was the basis for the core mechanics of this game. If you enjoyed that part of the developers’ previous game, you can expect the same here, without any restraint or anything that makes it seem difficult. If you don’t like this pottery mechanism, don’t worry.
ANGOLASTER JANUARY 2021
A pseudo-open world story about being stuck in the snow, dealing with personal family problems and being abducted by aliens and given a feeding tube. Engolaster’s January 2021 seems a bit lacking in terms of story and presentation, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a full game with the same intent.
A Vivid Life is one of the most experimental games in this collection. It tells the story of a girl who discovers that her skeleton is not her own and decides to steal an X-ray machine and find out more about herself by running away from home with it. It’s challenging, because it has a lot of self-inflicted moments, but it’s damn engaging. David Cage wants to put down such a compelling story, even if the gameplay is sparse and, frankly, a little clunky at times.
EXPENSIVE KINSHIP MATERIAL
A truly bizarre experience in which you control a mythical creature that can grant the wishes of the inhabitants of a dying city in exchange for pieces of flesh from themselves or their loved ones, if they tell the monster their darkest desires. A woman may want to be impregnated by another woman, and a homeless person may want to be a goy to spare his family. Dear Substance of Kinship is short and a little disappointing, but the story and setting are absolutely captivating. I wouldn’t mind playing the full version with the same idea, if it had better controls and a bit more depth. One of the best games in this collection, without a doubt.
DE TRES AL CUARTO
Imagine what would happen if Slay the Spire was a game in the comedy genre. This is the essence of the film De Tres Al Cuarto. I loved the game’s concept of using cards to make up stand-up jokes, but a very slow start and an uninteresting plot kept me from enjoying the game as a whole. I wouldn’t mind a whole game based on this one, though ….. with a slightly better promotion system, of course.
Essays on Empathy is like a collection of elevator pitches, small technical demonstrations of what Deconstructeam will develop in the future. Some games in the collection are too vague and sometimes pretentious to be fully appreciated, but others, though short, have potential. For example, I would love to play a full game of De Tres Al Cuarto or a full version of Dear Substance or Kin. Overall, it’s entertaining entertainment full of unique ideas, even if not all of them ultimately deliver.
|A little more detailed than The Red Strings Club’s art style, but far from the best 16-bit pixel art I’ve ever seen.||While most of the games have very simple controls, some games in this collection have little or no gameplay or suffer from a number of control errors.|
|This point is common to all ten titles. Their soundtracks are absolutely fantastic. They are very different in their genres.||Lots of good ideas with enough potential to become whole games, but some of the mini-games here are either too shallow or too vague to even be appreciated as works of art.|
|Final decision: 7.5|
Essays on Empathy is already available for the PC. Verified by PC. A copy of the book Essays on Empathy was provided by the publisher.
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