Twitter Threads

A couple of weeks ago, Max Krieger wrote a really interesting twitter thread about the design of San Francisco’s Metreon building. It got a lot of traffic and was retweeted into my timeline a few times. I always find it interesting when multiple people point to a specific Twitter thread because Twitter’s awful design makes threaded discussions a nightmare to read. Like reading a novel by turning pages with a pliers - sure, you can do it, but it’s an awful experience.

I didn’t think much more of it until a few days later, when John Gruber also linked to the thread and, more importantly, linked to some of Max Krieger’s older twitter threads through threadreaderapp.com.

And, dear readers, this has changed everything for me.

Laid out in this more thoughtful way – flat and with no separations between tweets, with actually readable typography and with no cropping of images forcing you to break flow to see the full context – you can see how the twitter thread is a wonderful art form in itself. When it’s done right, of course (for example, you’ll see Krieger isn’t numbering his tweets).

Unlike blog posts like this one, tweets are conversational by design. You get a much better sense that of the author’s actual voice because they’re speaking to you rather than speaking at you. Combine this with a long-form discussion of a topic that the author is really genuinely passionate about and you’ve got something I could sit and read for days.


I recently read Cory O’Brien’s Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes, which is a jokey, lighthearted summary of the major world myths. But what makes it interesting is the way it’s written. This is not a dry, didactic lecture. The entire book written like an IM conversation with a friend or – to bring this back on-topic – like a well-done Twitter thread. Here’s an example of what it looks like:

And as I predicted, I devoured this book. Loved it. Not just because it was easy to read (which definitely helps when you’ve got a weeks-old baby), but because it felt like I was casually talking to someone I knew about something they were super knowledgeable and passionate about.

I’m not saying I want all books to be written in this way (but wow, can you imagine how great it would be if, say, Ulysses was written like this?), but instead I’d like for anyone thinking of starting a Twitter thread to keep these things in mind: keep your voice and remember that Twitter dot com is not designed for long-form threaded monologues, so imagine your words being presented with a designer’s eye.

Solo a Star Wars Story

You probably didn’t notice, but I deliberately avoided talking about The Last Jedi last year. And not because I didn’t have things to say about it (I do), but because there was too much noise around it and people seemed to be taking it all extremely personally, to the point where telling people you thought the film was fine was functionally equivalent to saying “it was the worst film in the world and you are a bad person for liking it”.

Now we’ve all calmed down a bit, let’s talk about The Last Jedi for a moment, shall we? I watched it again in Ireland over Christmas and stood by my assessment of “fine”. It’s got a great start and a great ending, but in between – the entire middle stretch of the film, basically from Finn waking up until the scene in the throne room1 – is extremely poor. It’s boring, it doesn’t do anything to advance the plot. In fact, at points, you can even detect a whiff of the prequels, which is not a favourable comparison.

I saw The Last Jedi twice and twice I came out feeling disappointed. Not because I’d seen a bad film (it was fine, remember?) but because I’d come out of a Star Wars film and wasn’t feeling giddy and excited. It didn’t give me that feeling of having seen something really great. The last time I remember walking out of a film feeling that sense of deflation was probably Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull2 - another film with all the basic ingredients of a thing I love with my whole heart but which just didn’t have that ineffable quality that worked for me.


The teaser trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story was released last week and I guess I should lower my expectations for what a “Star Wars” film means to me. I mean, I’m not saying it’s all bad. There are some amazing images in there – a Star Destroyer coming through a storm cloud, Han under the Millennium Falcon in a smokey haze – and you know what? All those reports about the studio hiring an acting coach for Alden Ehrenreich don’t worry me because that one little nod during the “It’s fine” moment in the trailer is such a perfect touch of Han Solo that I’m convinced the “acting coach” was probably more likely an “acting like Harrison Ford coach”.

But almost everything else about this trailer suggests a film that I could easily, happily skip and miss nothing. The whole “kicked out of flight academy” shit makes me think that there’s a solid chance the entire film might be an attempt to replicate the “Greedo shoots first” scene for providing unnecessary, shitty character motivation and, in doing so, make the character less cool.

I dunno, I’m sure the film will be fine.


  1. You like how spoiler-free I’m being here? ↩︎

  2. There’s probably a deeper comparison to be made between The Last Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but that’s probably for another post. ↩︎

Best Games I Played in 2017

As is customary with these posts (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), it’s worth mentioning that this is based on an incomplete sampling. There were so many games released in 2017 that I never even touched. For example, Horizon: Zero Dawn launched the same week as Zelda and there was no fuckin’ way I could handle two of basically the same game without putting a bit of distance between them1. With all that in mind, these are the best games I played in 2017.

Golf Story

To be perfectly honest, I spent a good portion of 2017 in a fairly shitty place. Not exactly a dark place, but it got pretty gloomy at times. Golf Story was exactly what I needed. A golf RPG that doesn’t care too much about either the golf or the RPG parts of its own game, it just wants to be entertaining. At one point in the game, the action pauses so that two groups can throw down in a rap battle. This game does everything it can to be fun and entertaining and that’s no bad thing. Also, let me tell you a little story: around 75% of the way through the game, I made a series of bad decisions and silly mistakes and ended up accidentally deleting my save game. I immediately started up a new game, no question or hesitation.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

I thought I was done with Assassin’s Creed games, but I guess not. Pretty early on in my game, I saw the pyramids off in the distance and decided that’s where I was going to go. I traveled across the desert, ignored all of the rest of the world and the game just to get to them. You know that bit in Lawrence of Arabia where Omar Sharif’s character makes his entrance? That’s what it felt like - like I was seeing that scene from Omar Sharif’s point of view. Because of this and thousands of other moments like it, Assassin’s Creed:Origins was more special than I ever expected or that it had any right to be.

What Remains of Edith Finch

There are some parts of Edith Finch that work better than others. The part with the scream-queen daughter was cute and I see what they were going for, but it felt a little too dorky for me. Having said that, when this game hits, it hits hard. Narrative and mechanical inventiveness are important qualities when making up lists like this, but more importantly, it’s the little moments that connect, that hit you in places you didn’t expect, in ways you didn’t expect. In Edith Finch, it was the bathtub section. Before it even started, I knew exactly what was going to happen and they handled it so perfectly that I was a mess of emotions after.

Stories Untold

Why aren’t there more games like this? Collections of short, idiosyncratic games based not around a theme as much as based around a feel. I started playing this thinking I’d give it a few minutes and ended up staying up waaaay too late just to see what it was going to throw at me next.

Everything

Like What Remains of Edith Finch, I think I was just in the right place — psychologically, emotionally, spiritually — to appreciate Everything, a game that tries to show the interconnectedness of, well, everything. Like if Alan Watts made a video game. If this sounds twee to you, I can totally understand giving it a wide berth. For me, it was the most ambitious game I played in 2017. And the one I needed most.

Gnog

Gnog is such a beautiful, hypersaturated, delightful toybox of a game that I played through it in one sitting, and had a great time. And then I immediately played through it again in VR and had another great time.

Super Mario Odyssey

I’d love to be all high-minded and talk about how this is a distillation of everything Nintendo has learned over the last 30-odd years of making Mario games. About how it’s the pinnacle of platform games. About how it reinvigorates Mario as a franchise in a way we haven’t seen since Mario 64.

But really, it was just Mario’s dance in New Donk City that did it for me. The moment I saw that, I knew I was in love with this game.

Doki Doki Literature Club

While I was playing this game, I was terrified someone would come into this room and see what I was playing. I was terrified they’d think I’d spent too much time on Tumblr and developed some new kink for anime waifus with ridiculous tits. But once I’d finished the game, I immediately wanted everyone else to play it too, ridiculous tits and all. It’s shockingly clever and cleverly shocking, pushing its engine (RenPy) to its limits and breaking the fourth wall like I’ve never seen it broken before. And it’s completely free, so give it a go.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If I even have to explain to you why this is on my list, then I guess we don’t know each other at all, do we? (Also, remember, Zelda is the name of the boy).


  1. I’m playing it now though, and I can say that, three hours in, it probably wouldn’t have made this list for 2017 ↩︎

David Foster Wallace on Attention

Here’s David Foster Wallace being interviewed on German TV in 2003

This sentence stood out for me:

It’s true that in the US, every year the culture gets more and more hostile — and I don’t mean hostile like angry — it becomes more and more difficult to ask people to read or to look at a piece of art for an hour or to listen to a piece of music that’s complicated and that takes work

Remember that DFW died shortly after the first iPhone debuted, before the birth of Twitter and Instagram and all that.

I have basically given up on going to the cinema at anything approaching what could generously be called a reasonable hour. Now I like to go to the cinema as early as possible — most recently, I went to see It at 12pm on a Sunday — not just because I’m a grumpy misanthrope, and not because I’m the father of a two year old and am exhausted in the evenings. I go at these stupid times because I don’t want to be surrounded by crowds when I see a film. Because, on the whole, multiplex cinema crowds are incapable of sitting through a two-hour film without checking their phones multiple times.

And I’m pretty sure it’s only going to get worse.

My Favourite Podcasts

I wanted to make a list of my favourite podcasts, but I realised that’s probably too much of a movable feast. So let’s just say these are my favourite podcasts right now.

And you know what? Fuck it, I’m opening the comments on this in case anyone has any recommendations for things I should be listening to.

Reply All
Podcasts about technology and the internet are a dime a dozen, but what makes Reply All special is that it seems to come from a place of genuine curiosity. They want to cover every corner of a story. Their most recent season-ender was a great example of this: one of the hosts received one of those Indian hoax “we are a Microsoft support partner and your computer has a virus” calls, and rather than just belittling the caller, they went to India to meet them and find out more about their business. This show jumps to the top of my to-play list every time it comes out.
Good place to start: The Cathedral. An episode about the background of the game That Dragon Cancer. It was first broadcast just days before my daughter was born and, not kidding, it almost broke me.

99% Invisible
99% Invisible is mostly about design and architecture, but you don’t have to be a design or architecture nerd to enjoy the podcast. Every single episode teaches me something cool I didn’t know about the world and gives me a dozen or so Wikipedia holes to fall down.
Good place to start: Ten Thousand Years, where they explore the various suggestions people have given for designing a warning sign that will last ten thousand years, not knowing if language or symbols as we understand them will be around.

S-Town
This was NPR’s semi-followup to Serial, released shortly after they realised that, actually, no-one really cared about the second season of that show. It’s about a rural town – Shittown – in Alabama and it has the most amazing, almost unbelievably eccentric cast of characters you’ll ever hear. Yes, it’s slightly problematic (and gets even more so towards the end), but it’s still a great piece of long-form radio storytelling.
Good place to start: The first episode, obviously.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review
There are a lot of film podcasts I could recommend (Filmspotting is good, I guess? The Slashfilmcast is okay?) but none of them have the unique blend of film reviews and hearing two men argue and banter like a couple who have been married for forty years. This is genuine comfort-listening.
Good place to start: Mark’s Sex and the City 2 review, in full flappy-handed glory.

Dan Carlin’s Common Sense/Hardcore History
I’m bunching these together because they’re both pretty essential. Dan Carlin is a really smart ex-newsman with a love of history. And this is what he channels into his Hardcore History shows - meticulously researched multi-hour, multi-part episodes dealing with historical periods or events. They’re as good as any audiobook and history text as you can find. His Common Sense show is about (American) politics, but again coming from a meticulously researched, erudite and insightful starting point.
Good place to start: Blueprint for Armageddon Pt 1. Part 1 of a six-part, twenty-five hour series of podcasts about the first world war. Move fast, because after a while, he pulls the episodes off the RSS feed and charges people for them (if you want to drop a few dollars, his series on Genghis Khan is amazing)

Til Death Do Us Blart
The podcast’s own description: “Once a year, every year at American Thanksgiving the five men will watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and record their thoughts, feelings and opinions. These personal expressions will be broadcast as a free, annual podcast. Should a member of the quintet pass away, protocol dictates that his baton must be passed to another, thus fulfilling the promise of five people watching and podcasting Paul Blart 2 from now till the end of linear time." If this concept doesn’t immediately sound amazing to you then, yeah, maybe skip this one.
Good place to start: They started in 2015, so listen to that episode first, so you can really pick up and appreciate the subtle ways their spirits start to break in 2016.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect
Maybe it’s just me, but the most recent Radiolab episodes have been a little duff (“I prefer their earlier stuff” says the hipster dickhead). But that’s okay, because their recent limited-run series about the U.S. Supreme Court was fascinating. Now I’ll admit, this isn’t a subject I thought I’d ever give a shit about, but they brought along their great Radiolab storytelling ability and I binged the entire thing in a couple of days.
Good place to start: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. This is the story that inspired Radiolab to create More Perfect. And it’s one of the most heartbreaking podcast episodes I’ve heard.

The Daily
This is the New York Times daily news podcast. It’s a short podcast – about 15 minutes each – and it their format is usually to cover a single story in more depth than other news podcasts (e.g. NPR’s Up First, which is also pretty great). For example, while everyone was going on about how there’s some bad shit going down in Burma, The Daily actually went into a decent amount of detail, giving the entire background, laying out who the major players are etc.
Good place to start: It’s a daily news show - grab whatever is most recent?

Junk food cinema
I get it. There’s no shortage of podcasts where a group of friends sit around and watch films and talk about them later. It could be its own category in iTunes. But where most of these (e.g. The Flophouse) come from a place of detached irony, the guys behind Junkfood Cinema genuinely love the films they talk about. They recently did a “Summer of 87” season, covering films from, yep, the summer of 1987, and their enthusiasm for every single film was so strong, it made me want to watch the films too.
Good place to start: Pump Up the Volume is a perfect example of this happening. My wife and I listened to this episode on a drive home from her mother’s house and immediately settled in to watch the film when we got home.

My Brother, My Brother and Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fan. That’s good enough for me.
Good place to start: MBMBaM 369: Bro’s Better, Bro’s Best Ch. 122 - 133 - a collection of the best bits from the 10 most recent episodes.

The best homemade cacio e pepe

One of the things I miss most about living in Rome (apart from the awesome friends we had to leave behind) is not having steady access to decent cacio e pepe. I’ve written before about my love for this dish, how it completely changed the way I think about food. And it’s the first thing I order whenever I’m in Italy.

To make things worse, I’ve never been able to successfully recreate the dish at home. The versions I make are always too gloopy, or it’s too wet, or it’s too flavourless.

Until Kenji.

In my house, Kenji Lopez-Alt is to food what Mark Kermode is to films. Nothing gets made without first asking “how would Kenji make this?” and consulting his book, The Food Lab (which might be my favourite cookbook). So, on a whim, I checked out what he had to say about homemade cacio e pepe. And he’s got a video about it. I made his version tonight and it was, without a doubt, the best cacio e pepe I’ve ever made.

A couple of notes about his recipe:

  1. Don’t use fresh pasta for this. The timings are for dry pasta and they’re relatively precise - if you use fresh pasta, your pasta will be done before the oil has had time to cool down, so your butter won’t emulsify with it. Plus, this is just a personal thing, but I think fresh pasta is kinda wanky anyway. If you’re trying to impress someone with this dish, you’re much better of spending your money on better quality cheese.
  2. Maybe use normal olive oil to fry the pepper at the start. Even being as gentle as possible, the extra virgin just has a sharpness to it that can overpower the cheese. Drizzling extra virgin at the end is plenty.

Films I Watched in 2016

For the last few years, I’ve been using Letterboxd to keep a track of every film I watch. According to my Letterboxd profile, I watched a total of 92 films in 2016. Which is the same number of films as I watched in 2015, which isn’t bad, considering my wife and I had a child in early January, which severely limited our trips to the cinema.

I also scored each film I watched, with a maximum score of five. Which lets me pull out some statistics1!

My year in film

The average score across all films was 3.1 / 5, which is pretty good2! The lowest score I gave a film was 1 / 5 (actually, I gave it to two films: Camino and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). The highest score this year was 4.5 / 5. The films I rated the highest this year were Rogue One (which I saw twice), Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Green Room and Steve Jobs.

92 films averages to 1.8 films a week. The graph of when these films were watched tells a bit of a story of the year. First week of the year, when my wife was heavily pregnant and ready to pop, we watched five films. Then, the entire month of April, when my baby was waking four or five times a night? One film.

I only reviewed 43 of the 92 films I watched in 2016, which is a shame, because my little reviews are more helpful to me in remembering why I gave a film a particular score. I could barely remember watching Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, but my review – my little note to amuse no-one but myself – reminded me why I gave it 1 / 5.


  1. For context on the scoring, I have given nine films a perfect score of 5/5↩︎

  2. Last year, the average score was 2.8 / 5, so either films are getting better or I’m doing a better job of avoiding bad ones, I guess? ↩︎

Best Games I Played in 2016

Every year, I do a roundup of my favourite games that I played throughout the year. Previous years: 2013, 2014, 2015

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Okay, so technically this game came out in 2015, which is a great start to a year-end list for 2016. I played it when it first came out and it just didn’t click with me. I’m not sure why. I knew going in that it fell under the ‘walking simulator’ umbrella. But I guess I was expecting more of a Gone Home style experience, where the game gives you an environment to explore and examine and a story that you uncover — or flesh out — for yourself. Except, as I found out, EGTTR is not that type of game. It’s more like a radio play crossed with a heavy dose of Sleep No More. So, last month, I went back and played it like that, like it was a play that I was witnessing rather than actually being any part of, and the game bowled me over. It’s poetic and beautiful without ever being mawkish and it’s one of a handful of games to have ever made me cry.

Rise of the Tomb Raider/Uncharted 4

I don’t think it’s cheating to put both of these games on here. They’re both really fun games that are great at different things. Uncharted had a great, grown-up story (a hero trying to settle down and re-adjust his priorities) and had the best free-flowing combat of any game I’ve played this year. In the previous Uncharted games, I’d hide behind cover and pick off the baddies one-by-one. In this, I was finally whizzing around the levels like the badass the game wanted me to be. Tomb Raider, on the other hand, had better, uh, tombs. Better puzzles that took advantage of the environment. The Baba Yaga DLC (which comes loaded on the PS4 disk) is stunning and a wild departure from what you’d expect from a triple-A blockbuster game.

TIS-100/Quadrilateral Cowboy

Look, if I can put Uncharted and Tomb Raider together on this list because of a thematic link, I can definitely put TIS-100 and Quadrilateral Cowboy together. In TIS-100, you have to solve a series of programming puzzles by writing assembly. Assembly! It’s frustrating and you spend most of your play-time just staring at the screen, not typing anything. And oh my God, it’s so rewarding when you finally figure it out. Just like real programming! Best part is that when you solve it, it shows you a leaderboard of how you did compared to your steam friends. If you’ve got nerdy programming friends, this is a huge pissing contest and it’s great.

On the other hand, Quadrilateral Cowboy is about hacking to pull off elaborate heists. William Gibson meets Oceans Eleven. The game’s action is more physical than TIS-100. You type your commands into your ‘deck’ in the game. For example, you program a door to open for five seconds, which should be just enough time for you to grab your deck and run through before the door shuts but not so long that the alarm will trigger. The real fun comes in stringing together a series of commands so that things will happen in sequence and allow you to steal the maguffin. Get that timing just right and you felt like you’re in Mission Impossible or something. But like, one of the good ones.

The Witness

Stop me if you’ve heard me tell this story before. When I was in my early twenties, I taught myself how to juggle. And the hardest part, I found, was just getting my brain to learn to let go of that third ball when two were already in flight. I spent weeks trying to throw that third ball in the air. I just couldn’t do it. My hand wouldn’t release it. Then, one day, something clicked – and I mean clicked, like I felt a physical sensation in my brain – and I could suddenly do it, no problem.

The Witness was that feeling again and again and again. Puzzles you think you’ll never be able to do, then suddenly, something clicks and you’re able to solve them. And then you build on that knowledge when you encounter the next thing you think you’ll never be able to do. Rewarding and beautiful.

Firewatch

Firewatch starts with a strong emotional flourish every bit as powerful as the opening of Pixar’s Up. And the genius of this bit of storytelling is that it completely affects the way you play the game, the choices you make. It’s a walking simulator – a nice hike in the woods simulator, really – with a deep undercurrent of melancholy and loss. The development team has a pedigree that meant I was at least expecting something interesting. I wasn’t expecting something so mature, so confident and so emotionally resonant.

Hitman

This year’s Hitman got so many things right. The slow roll-out of episodes meant that you didn’t feel that compulsion to just finish one level as quickly as possible so you could move onto the next one. You had time to get comfortable with each level and slowly ease yourself into the game’s mechanics. It also meant you were encouraged to explore, to try different things, try absurd things. But the thing I loved most about it was how ridiculous it allowed itself to be. It embraces the silliness of the game, from the opening training level set on a soundstage with a cardboard helicopter, right through to the Christmas DLC where your targets are the burglars from Home Alone. This was the first Hitman game I truly enjoyed.

Anatomy

There were a lot of quote-unquote ‘horror’ games in 2016 (I feel like the world reached peak ‘survival’ game this year), but these were mostly of the quiet-quiet-LOUD jump-scare variety. That’s fun and all, but it’s so one-note, it gets a little repetitive. Only one game genuinely chilled me this year and it was Kitty Horrorshow’s Anatomy. A short, brutally efficient horror experience, which gives you the most mundane environment – a suburban home – then changes that out from underneath you on subsequent playthroughs. This is the simplest game on this list but it’s the one that’s stuck with me the most.

Overwatch

I’m terrible at shooting games. Just terrible. I’ve got old man hands, slow reactions and poor situational awareness. Oh, and I panic really easily. But here’s what I loved about Overwatch: none of this matters. You can have all of these things and still contribute to you team’s success.

Inside

Stylistically, this is kind of reminiscent of the developer’s previous game, Limbo. But while Limbo was a cold, austere game with beautiful visuals, there’s something warm and human1 about Inside. A few minutes into the game, you’re followed by a gang of chicks. It’s one of the cutest things you’ll see. Tiny chirping pixels following you around. A little while later, a puzzle involves you sucking these chicks into a machine so they get spat out the top to hit a block and knock it where you can use the block. Then the chicks all run off. Except one. A chick — a tiny group of pixels — doesn’t move. And it’s devastating.

The Last Guardian

For the first couple of hours with The Last Guardian, I was worried. I was finally playing the game I’d been waiting almost nine years for. The game whose original announcement had me rushing out to buy a PS3 the next day. The game that was the spiritual sequel to two of my favourite games of all time. And I wasn’t enjoying it. It was cold and clunky. Was this what I’d been waiting for? But then I got to the part they’d shown in countless trailers. Jumping from bridge to bridge. And when Trico reached out to catch me with his mouth but missed and then swung his tail around for me to catch, I found myself holding my breath. Even though I’d seen this happen before. And I knew the game had worked its magic and got its hooks in me, hard.


  1. And sub-human - that little mermaid girl still gives me nightmares ↩︎

A Platform for Trolls (continued)

I’ve been thinking a little more on the problem of [giving a platform to trolls][1].

On the same day that Donald “I don’t settle” Trump settled his Trump university lawsuit, he also tweeted his disapproval at the way Mike Pence was addressed by the cast of Hamilton. One of these was an enormous story with long-ranging implications, the other was someone being pissy about hurt feelings. Which of these was the main news story on lots of newspapers (including hte New York Times)? The tweet, obviously.

During the summer, Twitter took the extraordinary step of issuing a lifetime ban on “@nero" – Milo Yiannopolis – for directing hate speech. This almost instantly decimated the “gamer gate” movement on Twitter1. It was like someone opened the windows and let in some air. Twitter briefly became a slightly nicer place.

Now, imagine twitter banned Donald Trump. I don’t know why, but you could easily argue “hate speech” too. Imagine the effect that would have on the news cycle. Non-issues would be avoided. “Rich white man has hurt feelings” wouldn’t generate pages and pages of think-pieces. [We could focus on issues instead of imaginary ‘scandals’][2]. Imagine how much less toxic the world would be.

Sure, Twitter’s investors would have a goddamn heart attack and never let it happen, but still, it’s nice to imagine, isn’t it?


  1. It’s not entirely dead, but without anyone actually driving or directing the clown car, its effect has been dramatically reduced. [1]: http://lowbrowculture.com/post/platform-for-trolls/ [2]: https://www.engadget.com/2016/10/20/climate-change-took-a-backseat-to-scandal-at-the-presidential-de/ ↩︎

Choice and achievements

I’ll make a bet with you: you give me a game that presents the player with a quote-unquote “moral choice” – who you fuck/marry/kill – and I’ll bet you cash money that there’s a trophy or an achievement for at least one of your choices.

Games like Mass Effect (the classic whipping boy for “choice” in games) have a black and white sense of morality. You’re either a saint to everyone you meet or you’re a complete asshole. These games have achievements for playing exclusively in one way or the other, which just encourages the player to min-max their moral compass and not necessarily make the decisions they actually want to.

This is what I loved about the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider. The bad guy is a total dick to your character throughout the game, so when you finally beat him (spoiler alert: you beat the baddie at the end of the game), you’re given the choice to either walk away and leave him to die or walk up to him and straight-up merc that prick.

By the time I reached this part of the game and I had to decide what to do, I followed my typical first instinct in these situations. I paused the game, then went online to find out if there was a hidden trophy for either decision, because if so, that’s the choice I’d make. Games had conditioned me to expect my choice to be rewarded, one way or the other. “Ding! You took the moral high ground, here’s a trophy!”

With the final bad guy in Rise of the Tomb Raider, there’s no trophy. No extrinsic reward telling you that you did a good job. So, unusually for a game in 2016, you’re free to do whatever feels right for you.

And that’s so refreshing.