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After an insanely busy few months in video games, things are finally starting to quiet down. April’s release list looks positively barren compared to February and March, and even the Wordle mania appears to be fading a bit. And for once there’s no pressing news for me to write about, so this is the ideal time to hand the metaphorical mic over to you.
The thing that Pushing Buttons readers ask for most often is more game recommendations, and I get emails every week from people keen to share what they’re enjoying at the moment, or telling me about a game that the newsletter reminded them of. So this week, we’re doing a reader recommendations special, from games about love to games to fit in around a busy life. Thank you to everyone who’s written in over the past few months – the Pushing Buttons inbox is always full of great stuff, and I love reading it.
“As a parent of toddler twins working a full-time job, I can certainly empathise with gaming being the last thing to ever get attention, but chip away we must. I’ve managed a few sessions on the aquarium-sim Abzu whilst the kids watch the fishes swim by, and occasional bouts on Cat Quest masquerading as Daddy day care.” – Alex Frascina
“I played Journey only 2 years ago after a recommendation from a friend of the spouse. ‘Two hours to yourself and a good set of headphones – you’ll love it,’ the friend said. Love it? It was amazing, I have never played a game like it and left with an emotional attachment that I just can’t shake off. Even my 5 year old daughter has completed the game; she loves it for completely different reasons.” – Jamie Harman
“I’m so glad you mentioned This War of Mine. Never has a game had such a profound effect on me. When it originally came out, I kept waking up in the middle of the night wondering what I could do to stop my characters falling into despair and depression. I felt totally responsible for them. In the end, I had to go cold turkey to stop myself obsessing about it. What is particularly sophisticated about the game is the way it doesn’t give you any instructions, which parallels with civilian experience of war itself. You have to just muddle through and there are no easy answers to ethical questions: is it justifiable to rob an elderly couple in order to stop your children starving? As a way of engendering empathy, it is incredibly poignant. Did you know that it is used in Polish schools as a way of social and ethical education? I would love it to be used in our education system, particularly as an antidote to games like Call of Duty that many children play.” – Emily
“Haven is a game about love. Now, I am long past being a teenager (understatement) but I think there is a charm about this game and it drew me in. It’s a story about two young lovers escaping to a new planet, from a world where all marriages are arranged. The graphical/art style and storytelling is refreshing. Well worth a try for a young or old romantic, or someone just wanting a bit of relief from finding a better gun to shoot things with.” – Denny
“I am still heartbroken after playing Old Man’s Journey – a simple yet addictive mobile puzzle game on the surface, but with an underlying message about lost love, living with regrets, and grief. I’m still not over it! The soundtrack by scntfc is also spectacular.” – Lynsey Graham
“SpiritFarer is a wonderfully beautiful and simple, elegant and gently addictive journey through love and grief. It brought me to tears several times and made me give my other half a fierce hug because I had an urge to make sure that they knew how much I loved them.” – Andy
“Firewatch is one of the best games I have ever played about love. Your relationship with Delilah can be so gloriously organic, from just professional to a friend or even a romantic interest, even though your interaction is never anything more than a conversation over a walkie talkie … Of course the real beauty of it I think was I think the ending, which was made a lot more impactful the more you put into that relationship. I recall reading steam reviews and angry forum posts from furious (presumably) younger players who I think perhaps hadn’t had as much experience in relationships – I think not getting what you want, even when you’ve chosen it and worked towards it, can be so much more memorable when done well.” – Thomas
“As an old (72) gamer, I find many games simply too demanding of my age-degraded abilities. I also find it impossible to find anyone my age to team up with in multi-player games. I played 7 Days To Die for more than a year with the zombies turned off. It was engaging and fun and I also picked up enough skills and confidence that I could play it with zombies on … Then DayZ came to the PS4. Watching gameplay on YouTube, I was intrigued by its one simple demand: stay alive. With great trepidation, I gave it a go. It is difficult, true, but I wisely played on empty community servers, so I could learn the basics, unmolested by psychopathic kill-on-sight players. I was very fortunate to find a welcoming, start-up server, THEFORGOTTEN, run by a friendly, middle-aged Mancunian named Dave. He walked me through the game, patiently teaching me the ins and outs of its mechanics, emphasising its fun and accepting its absurdities. I’ve come around to his POV: DayZ is a brilliant game. Plus, stealth is essential and I’m much better at sneaking around than confronting zombies.” – Barrie Abbott
What to play
I was tremendously sad to hear of the passing of 32-year-old Indonesian game developer Mohammad Fahmi this week. I’m going to recommend the first game he conceived and wrote, Coffee Talk, a thoughtful and unusual collection of slice-of-life stories set in late-night coffee shop in a fantasy Seattle. Your customers – humans, elves, werewolves – turn up, order drinks and vent about their troubles, and you provide a listening ear and a hot beverage. The interpersonal (and intercreatural?) drama in this game feels believable and intimate, and there’s something about the quiet work of making drinks for fantasy beings with piercings and interesting hair that encouraged me to slow down and relax. Thanks, Fahmi, for bringing this game into the world.
Available on: PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4
Approximate playtime: 5 hours
What to read
Sony is about to unveil a new game subscription service, according to post-Game Developers Conference rumours, and also Bloomberg and Video Games Chronicle. It is likely to consolidate PlayStation Plus, the online service that gives you monthly free games, and PlayStation Now, the cloud-streaming thing that gives you access to loads of Sony’s classic games for a monthly fee. Will it compete with Game Pass, the absurdly generous game subscription that Microsoft has been throwing money at for the last few years? The PlayStation back catalogue is Sony’s ace in the hole here, if you ask me.
Speaking of streaming services, Netflix has just bought another game studio, Boss Fight Entertainment. That’s its third acquisition in the past six months, showing that the TV giant is ramping up its interest in interactive entertainment. “We’re still in the early days of building great game experiences as part of your Netflix subscription,” says Netflix’s Amir Rahmi in the press release. The future of games could legitimately be Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and Netflix. I reckon it has a better chance than Google or Amazon, both of which have made expensive and ultimately unsuccessful attempts at getting a piece of the games industry in recent years.
Pity the poor guy who owns the @willsmith Twitter account this week – he’s a video game comms worker and tech podcaster who did not slap anyone at an awards show recently.
In The Atlantic, postgraduade student Luke Ivan Jukić writes about the new(ish) phenomenon of university students who’ve learned most of what they know about history from strategy games such as Paradox’s Europa Universalis. It’s a long read but an interesting one, a critical look at the limitations Paradox’s approach to history in its games, in which things like slavery or the Holocaust are often passed over. Nonetheless, most of the academics quoted in this article agree that games are a more interesting and, increasingly, more popular road into history than moves or TV. Ignore the amusingly old-man-yells-at-cloud headline.
Josh Wardle, the creator of viral mega-hit Wordle, gave a talk at last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, revealing some lovely details about its creation. As Axios’ entertaining summary reports, the original version’s word list was downright evil: yorps? Gawcy??
What to click
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 review – no surprises in Sega’s film sequel
Far: Changing Tides review – a stirring apocalypse fable
Halo review – hit sci-fi game morphs into middling $200m TV series
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands review – a teen psycho dungeonmaster, goblin revolts and lute-shredding
Reader Wendy Ann asks: “I would like to graduate from games on my iPad to something more exciting. Please can you advise me on which device I should get?”
I think there’s only one right answer here: the Nintendo Switch. It’s a console that you can play both at home on the TV, or our and about (or in bed) on its built-in screen; it’s easy to use; and it has a huge and varied catalogue of games, from 2-hour story games to puzzle classics to epic adventures such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Practically every interesting indie game of the past 10 years is available on the Switch, and Nintendo’s own games – like Mario Odyssey, Animal Crossing and spooky comedic adventure Luigi’s Mansion – are universally high-quality, welcoming, and entertaining. Your other option is a PlayStation 4: it’s nearly ten years old now, but that means it’s cheaper, and has hundreds of games to choose from. It’s not quite as user-friendly as the Switch, though, and can only be played at home on a TV.
Please keep emailing in your questions for Question Block, folks! Just email us on [email protected]