The Last of Us Is Getting a TV Show, Which Seems Redundant

Greetings, and welcome once again to Replay, WIRED’s twice-monthly column about everything happening in the world of video games. It’s a holiday week, so you’d think that the news might be slow, but that’s far from the case. In fact, we have news about The Last of Us, DOTA 2, and, surprisingly, Super Mario Bros. 3. Strap in.

The Last of Us Is Getting a TV Show, Which Does Seem a Little Redundant

Finally, the hammer of decision has struck: HBO is turning Sony and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us into a television series. On the one hand, it’s a match made in TV heaven. HBO’s prestige programming is the perfect home for the game’s plotty, grimdark series of twists and turns, harrowing moments of the human soul, and scary monsters doing monster murders.

But that, in and of itself, is what’s so weird: The Last of Us is already more dedicated to film and TV-style storytelling than almost any game out there. You could easily lift the plotting and acting wholesale from the franchise and you’d have a pretty OK show. So how does this new HBO thing differentiate itself? Well, it has the talent: Craig Mazin, who helmed Chernobyl, will be executive producing, working alongside longtime series writer and director Neil Druckmann. No word yet on casting, though it’ll be hard to replace the iconic performances of Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker. Then again, Johnson’s character, Ellie, does sort of look just like Ellen Page …

A Valve Employee Banned a DOTA 2 Player for Hilariously Petty Reasons

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and small amounts of power corrupt hilariously. That, at least, is the case for one Valve employee, who, as explained by Rock Paper Shotgun, abuseD his power over the game DOTA 2 in order to, uh, ban someone who made him mad. Sean Vanaman, Valve employee and former founder of Campo Santo, which developed Firewatch, got mad at a teammate in the game, who goes by “Minijuanjohndoe” on Reddit, and booted him into low-priority matchmaking, a penalty doled out to those who break the rules. Thus, this guy had a harder time getting games and earning rewards for them … because he annoyed Sean Vanaman.

After being called out on the offense, Vanaman was investigated internally, and the Valve team found that, yeah, that mess was petty. He apologized, saying, “The team looked into this case and concluded the user clearly did not deserve the ban. Even if the user did deserve a ban, however, we all think it’s clear that manually banning users is not a good idea because of how hard it is to be objective in DOTA games that you are in. … That has been the team’s informal policy in the past, but it has clearly failed in this case. It won’t remain informal going forward—manual bans like this won’t be allowed anymore altogether. And sincere apologies to user u/minijuanjohndoe.”

Why that was not a formal policy is beyond us. But, at least, this won’t happen again. So feel free to annoy Valve employees all you want, gamers. They’re powerless to stop you. (Actually, please do not annoy video game employees recreationally; they have a very difficult job.)

An Original Super Mario Bros. 3 Cartridge Is Apparently Worth a Lot of Money

Super Mario Bros. 3 came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988, where it retailed for, you know, a normal amount of money. But an unopened copy of a rare version of the game recently sold for a lot, lot more.

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‘Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’ Is an Uneasy Mix of Two Very Different Worlds

So much about Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is like bowling in a run-down alley. Not just in the way Princess Zelda rolls her magic bomb into a horde of Bokoblins, sending them flying like pins, or in the way Daruk curls into himself and barrels into a huddled cluster of Lizalfos. No, it’s the way it feels: You might line up the kids’ ramp and let gravity do the work for you, or you might hook a well-greased bowling ball with calculated wrist torque. Given enough time, either way, you can knock all the pins down eventually. But since the alley’s janked up, there isn’t much satisfaction to be had by trying.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is an uneasy mix of smart and stupid. Out November 20, the hack-and-slash crossover melts Dynasty Warriors’ horde-mashing into Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s world, characters, and aesthetic. The former is a decades-old franchise about mowing down canon-fodder armies of assailants; the latter, a dazzling 2017 fantasy role-playing game with thinky puzzles and boundless opportunities to explore. From that medley of influences, it plucks out the “canon fodder” and “fantasy” and adds in just a whiff of “thinky,” making for a fun but thin Zelda spin-off.

The game opens 100 years before the events in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You start out as Link, and over time collect more playable fighters, including Zelda, Impa, Daruk, Revali, Mipha, and Urbosa, all rendered with loving fidelity to the original game. In various battlegrounds around Hyrule—lava-filled Death Mountain, the green fields outside Hyrule Castle—you encounter mob after mob of monsters. In Dynasty Warriors fashion, most take only a couple hits before becoming dust. Fighting your way through the scenarios’ winding maps, you ramp up to larger and larger bosses before completing the objective. At any point, including mid-battle, you can switch from one character over to another who’s better-placed on the map or has a more relevant combat toolkit. After a successful mission, you have the opportunity to level up weapons, craft food, upgrade into cooler combos, and mess with other systems before jumping into another scenario.

A little like a Soulcalibur-style fighting game, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s combat relies on these combos. Also like Soulcalibur, you can basically just button-mash. Link has a light sword attack (x) and a heavy sword attack (y). If you hit x, x, y, Link propels himself forward, sliding along the ground and knocking a line of enemies into the sky. If you hit x, y, and b, he slashes upwards before opening up his paraglider, from which he can drop down for a big attack from above. These combos balloon in complexity as the game goes on, and are decidedly fun to execute just right. They also help charge characters’ unique specials for cinematic, big-boy blowout attacks.

Every fighter has access to Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s runes: Cryosis, Magnesis, Stasis, and remote bombs, which manifest for each in exciting, different ways. Where Revali rains down neat lines of bombs, Daruk haphazardly tosses a cluster somewhere into the distance. Their unique animations are delightful, and for Zelda: Breath of the Wild fans they might momentarily transport you back into the original game’s magic.

Most of the fun I’ve had so far with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity has been within the first few minutes of unlocking a new character. It’s rewarding to optimize loyal nursemaid Impa’s battalions of Impa clones, or knock mobs into Daruk’s molten rocks, which explode into fiery lava. After those first few moments, the gameplay experience went downhill. I didn’t get out of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s fights what I put into them. One-two-three combos might level wave upon wave of Bokoblins with the bombasity of a WWE superstar, but a lot of the time I could have just hit x a dozen times. It’s a common complaint about these musou games, but here the combat’s shortcomings aren’t easily attributed to differences in taste.

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The Best PS5 Exclusives Out Now (and the Ones Coming Soon)

The Xbox Series X still looks like an expensive fridge, the PlayStation 5 a cheap modem. But really, who cares? What matters is the games.

WIRED UK

This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.

Last-gen, the PlayStation 4 killed the Xbox One in this regard, and now, at launch at least, it looks like it will continue this domination, with a reasonably impressive launch line up (though the Xbox hasn’t put up much of a fight.) Here’s the best of the games you can pick up during what is Sony is calling the console’s ‘launch window’—a maddeningly vague period of time that seems to cover everything between today and next summer.

Demon’s Souls

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The first of FromSoftware’s fiendish yet rewarding series is remade for Playstation 5. Unlike the rushed and glitchy Dark Souls Remastered, the game also looks stunning, truly next gen. It’s been rebuilt from the ground up—this is good news, because some of Demon’s Souls’ difficulty derived from clunky design choices which, though endearing ten years ago, needed an update. The smoother combat and PvP of the later iterations will be a particularly nice addition. A must buy.

The Pathless

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The Pathless didn’t stand out among the 27 titles Sony showed off during its big console reveal back in June, but to be fair, neither did much among that bewildering array of cookie-cutter sci-fi titles. This wasn’t fair, though, because The Pathless is a good game, and worth picking out among the launch titles. You play as the hunter, a master archer trying to lift a curse on a gorgeous painterly world, a feat you have to accomplish without a mini map. There’s a definite Breath of the Wild influence here, and that’s no bad thing.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

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Marvel’s Spider-Man, released in 2018, was a smash hit for the PS4 and one of its best exclusives. Unsurprisingly, web swinging between massive skyscrapers makes for an entertaining video game. In this continuation—think a giant piece of downloadable content with a new story and new quests—you play as Miles Morales, another Spider Man trained by Peter Parker. Parker travels abroad to see his girlfriend, and Morales must defend New York City from the evil Tinkerer.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

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The Ratchet and Clank series is a PlayStation staple, so it’s no surprise to see it appear here. The graphical leap Insomniac Games has achieved from this generation into the next is very impressive (which makes sense, since it’s been seven years). Rick and Morty-like, the cutesy duo leap through great rifts in space and time into colorful worlds, each one teeming with alien life. Looks like a blast. No release date yet, but expect to see it very soon, sometime early next year.

Bugsnax

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Bizarre but charming adventure puzzler—you may have already heard its irritating melody, written by British indie pop band Kero Kero Bonito. You play a reporter tasked with exploring Snaktooth Island. In a hallucinogenicly weird premise that you would only find in a game, you must examine and capture half-bug-half-snack creatures, with names like Tacroach and Weenyworm. (Yes, really). Catching Bugsnax is the goal here, and it’s a varied affair—luring out Bugsnax with ketchup for instance. There’s a definite Pokemon snap influence, which the developers have admitted, but there’s a deeper tale hiding beneath the Bugsnax catching. Give it a go.

Astro’s Playroom

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This little number comes bundled with the PS5 and, as might be expected, it shows off all of the console’s new innovations, particularly the DualSense controller where Astro the robot and his playroom reside. Guiding your ship using haptic feedback and the new adaptive triggers is a blast. The game also functions as a kind of Playstation history lesson – each world brims with artefacts from different eras of Playstation history. All in all, an excellent little game to play on the day you get your PS5.

This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.


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Ubisoft Removes a Controversial Voice in Watch Dogs: Legion

Hello, and welcome once again to Replay, WIRED’s twice-monthly column about everything happening in the world of video games. Welp, it’s been a heck of a November so far, hasn’t it? Compared to ::gestures broadly in all directions:: everything else going on in the world, things have been fairly quiet on the gaming front over the past couple of weeks. But there’s still plenty to catch up on. Here’s everything you need to know.

Ubisoft to Remove Helen Lewis’ Voice From Watch Dogs: Legion

Upon release, some players were concerned to hear journalist Helen Lewis’ voice in Watch Dogs: Legion‘s in-game podcasts. The reason for that concern, as outlined by Kotaku here, is that Lewis has a reputation among trans people for being, well, transphobic. Specifically, she wrote an op-ed in The Times which said “a man can’t just say he has turned into a woman,” in an effort to criticize legislation that would have made gender transitioning in the United Kingdom an easier prospect. In that same editorial, Lewis also said, “What the government proposes is a radical rewriting of our understanding of identity: Now it’s a question of an internal essence—a soul, if you will. Being a woman or a man is now entirely in your head.” Generally speaking, statements like these are a means of essentializing and denigrating the gender identities of transgender people, and specifically are rhetorical tactics used by many transphobes on the left—often called “trans-exclusionary radical feminists”—to cast doubt on the case for trans rights.

In response to complaints, Ubisoft issued a statement distancing itself from Lewis, who writes for The Atlantic and brings her gender-critical opinions with her. “The development team worked with an external producer to select speaker profiles for these podcasts and were not aware of the controversy at the time of booking or recording. While the in-game podcasters are following a preapproved script and are not speaking in their own name or with their own opinions, we understand this collaboration itself may be seen as offensive and we deeply regret any hurt this has caused,” the company told Kotaku. “In response, we will be replacing these two podcast episodes in an upcoming update and will reinforce our background checks for partners in the future.”

This is the problem when you fail to vet contributors to your products for offensive views: They end up having offensive views, alienating potential audiences and anyone with good taste. If companies like Ubisoft want to show that they support trans people, they’re going to have to work a little harder.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping Is Now a Furry Hangout Spot in VRChat

As you might have heard if you were anywhere near the internet over the weekend, the Trump campaign held a press conference outside of a business called Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia. What caught most people’s attention was that the location was next to an adult bookstore as well as a crematorium and was not, as many who heard the term “Four Seasons” might’ve presumed, in a hotel. But that, dear friends, is only the beginning of this tale. Following the now infamous press conference, YouTuber Coopertom recreated the whole Four Seasons Total Landscaping scene in VRChat, complete with Trump 2020 posters, and it has now become a hangout for virtual-reality furries.

In a delightful video on Twitter, Coopertom tours the site with a group of his furry friends, clowning around and reveling in the delight of victory. According to Coopertom, the map took five and a half hours to make, a bit longer than the press conference that made the meatspace location famous, but still pretty quick. We live in strange, strange times.

Apparently, the PlayStation 5 Could Have Been Even Bigger

The PlayStation 5, which is due out for an official release on November 12, is big. It’s very big. Like, it’s bigger than my 12-pound cat. The PlayStation 5 is bigger than the largest laptop I have ever owned. The PlayStation 5 is bigger than some toddlers. And it could have been even bigger, according to designer Yujin Morasawa, who talked recently about the console to The Washington Post.

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A Final Fantasy Newbie’s Journey Through FF7 and Its Remake

I have an embarrassing gamer confession to make: I have never played any of the Final Fantasy games. I was much more of a Nintendo 64 person when I was young, and as an adult, the closest I’ve gotten to playing the famous Japanese RPG was picking Cloud in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. But at age 31, I wanted to give them a try.

So after 66 hours of gameplay, I completed the original FF7 on Switch and Part I of the remake on PS4. Playing through the story of Avalanche, a group of eco-terrorists bent on demolishing the evil natural-energy conglomerate called Shinra, was a fun and unique experience.

An Old Story Through Fresh Eyes

The games’ main narrative is a powerful allegory on environmental justice and the dangers of corporations amassing the power of governments. With the climate change issues we face in 2020, it has a visceral resonance in the present. Both games deal with a core moral and philosophical question: In noble causes, are the sacrifices really worth it?

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In the original, the rebels are somewhat distanced from the ramifications of blowing up Mako reactors. But in the remake, the player is face-to-face with the chaos. You see the destruction first hand, hearing citizens of Midgar search for their loved ones amidst the debris. Characters like Tifa ask vulnerable but tough questions, wondering at what point does the ends not justify the means, and whether Avalanche had caused the destruction it sought to prevent. Though the original isn’t bad at this, I think the remake gives the main characters more depth and more complex motivations, and it doesn’t let Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and Aerith off the hook as perfect heroes.

Since the game has been out since 1997, I already knew that Aerith was going to get killed by Sephiroth. Her death is one of the most loaded plot twists in video game history. As Niles P. Muzyk wrote in The Psychology of Final Fantasy, it affected both the story and the gameplay, as “the player depended on her healing role within the group … the party is placed under urgent threat to reorganize when the character with whom the player has bonded is suddenly gone.”

Waiting for the ax to fall undercut some of the scene’s power in the original game, yet I actually thought the destruction of Sector 7 was the more intense event between the two games. The catastrophe loomed over the rest of the game and made Shinra a much greater focus as a nemesis than Sephiroth was. I also thought the suspense in the original game’s scene was better augmented through silence and atmosphere than with the music playing shortly after Aerith’s demise. However, it did establish “Aerith Theme” as a leitmotif that gets stuck in your head and heart. When I hear it now, it not only reminds me of Aerith but has become the song I associate with Final Fantasy. I can only speculate, but Aerith’s death in Part II is probably going to hit me a lot harder than the original did.

Both games did a great job at balancing the macro of saving the planet from destruction and getting revenge against Sephiroth. The story makes the enormous task of saving the planet more personal, and therefore more obtainable. Most major games focus on singular heroes, but I really enjoy ones where collectives save the day. Though he is an iconic character (and I get busy with him in Smash), I can’t imagine that a game with just Cloud would have had the same resonance. Cloud and the gang save the planet, but they do it by saving each other.

The Gameplay Couldn’t Be More Different

A 'Final Fantasy' Newbie's Journey Through 'FF7' and Its Remake
Courtesy of Square Enix
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The Genshin Impact Backlash Is Here

Streamers, YouTubers, and TikTokers have glommed onto Chinese role-playing game Genshin Impact like it’s a magic top hat unspooling an endless rope of content. On the surface, it’s an excellent game, a free-to-play, anime Breath of the Wild, with crowd-pleasing world-building and charismatic characters. In less than two weeks after its late September release, it grossed over $100 million and took the title of the most popular Chinese release ever in the West. It was the number one mobile game by consumer spend globally in October, according to app analytics company App Annie.

One recent TikTok video might explain that success. A group of seven men screaming like lit-up football spectators huddle around a Genshin Impact player at his PC. His mouse hovers over the game’s “Wish” button, which converts in-game currency into chances to receive rare items and playable waifus or husbandos. With a click, he redeems 10 wishes. As his roommates cheer him on with cries of “con-tent, con-tent, con-tent,” 10 glowing streamers appear in the sky, each signifying a randomized reward. One is orange—a rare item. That’s when the screaming starts. He got Venti. There was a less than 1 percent chance.

In an interview with WIRED, Genshin Impact developer MiHoYo attributed its good fortune to its free-to-play model and presence on PC, PlayStation 4, Android, and iOS. Players and critics think that’s naive. As one of the most popular “gacha” games ever in the United States, Genshin Impact is forcing players to grapple with a game mechanic long described as “predatory.”

Gacha is a term traditionally reserved for “pulling” or “spinning for” characters or items in (often free-to-play) mobile games from China, Japan, and South Korea. A version of the mechanic has existed in Western games for over a decade in the form of random rewards or weapon skins in first-person shooters. In Overwatch, for example, you can buy in-game currency, redeemable for loot boxes, which may contain character skins or player icons. And top-grossing apps like Marvel Contest of Champions similarly invite players to spend real money on long-shot chances at better characters.

Genshin Impact costs nothing to play, and even without spending cash on wishes players can enjoy the bucolic scenery and fantasy plot lines. But it’s hard not to get FOMO when the correlation between money and fun is so obvious, especially when popular Twitch streamers and YouTubers have made such sport out of it. And while players can earn free wishes by reaching certain benchmarks, to get and max out all 23 characters or experience the full game, they have to open their wallets.

There’s no exact conversion, but wishes other than those you earn by playing generally cost players a few dollars each. You’re guaranteed a five-star item or character every 90 wishes, but otherwise they appear a vanishingly slim 0.6 percent of the time. One Redditor said he spent $2,400 maxing out Venti. Last week, the YouTuber Mtashed quit the game after dropping $5,440.

“I refuse to promote the gacha system in this game anymore,” Mtashed says in a recent video. “There are very addictive practices in this game. I am sorry if I ever baited you into wishing yourself.” He is on the verge of tears.

Mtashed has made thousands of dollars off his videos and can write off Genshin Impact wishes on his taxes. For his fans, the only upside is unlocking more of the game. They could end up having some major financial regrets. Twitch streamer Lacari recently shared the same sentiment when a viewer asked how he could have spent so much in such a short amount of time. “If you’ve spent over a thousand dollars in this game and you’re not streaming it, I suggest you don’t spend any more,” he said. “And it’s not content at all. You’re actually just getting scammed.”

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‘Watch Dogs: Legion’ Tackles Surveillance Without Humanity

Back in 2015, when creative director Clint Hocking and his team began crafting the near-future world of Watch Dogs: Legion, some of the biggest tech companies in the world were confidently predicting skies buzzing with package-delivery drones and streets full of autonomous vehicles. Everyone would be using cryptocurrency, playing AR games, and making stuff on 3D printers. So into the game they went.

Technology moves faster than game development. For a speculative fiction game about mass surveillance, that creates some problems. “Technology companies—Tesla, Amazon—had started talking publicly about pretty aggressive timelines, schedules, and regulations,” Hocking said in an interview with WIRED. Navigating the marketing babble, his team overshot the mark. On October 29, Watch Dogs: Legion will release as both a game and a time capsule from 2015, back when a couple of big, stock-inflating daydreams painted a picture for 2020 that’s still far from materializing. It’s cute, like remembering how in the ’80s, your geeky friend wouldn’t shut up about how Star Trek’s holodecks would so totally happen. Except these forecasts are from just yesterday.

Hocking’s team didn’t have a crystal ball, or an all-knowing AI, to tell the future. But even pushing aside the unpredictable, like the Covid-19 pandemic, Watch Dogs: Legion’s vision for the impending surveillance dystopia flounders because it tracked tech, not people.

Watch Dogs: Legion takes place in a painstakingly reconstructed, sometime-in-the-future London, now a lightly gritty surveillance state. The government has done a poor job responding to years of economic turmoil, and a private military-surveillance organization called Albion has essentially replaced the police with combat drones and shiny checkpoint scanners. You play as an operative in the chaotic-good, anti-corporate hacking collective DeadSec, recently framed for a mass bombing attack.

You’re not just an operative, though. Watch Dogs: Legion populates its world with over 9 million playable characters, procedurally generated with faces and bodies matched through algorithms to animations, voice lines, and backstories. In a little box above them, you’ll see where they’re going, along with their relationships, jobs, and proficiencies. As a DeadSec operative, you can tap passersby on the shoulder to recruit them to your cause.

“In earlier Watch Dogs games it was fairly superficial. Your ability to profile people was shallow,” says Hocking. “You could see a couple facts about them, a couple things in the storyline. It was much more about the story. Now in the game, the people are much more simulated, much more deeply real.”

Two of my starting character options were podcasters. (The future is full of podcasters.) I went with podcaster Sebastian White, a milquetoast delinquent type who hacks into online video games and likes to swear. He, or somebody else I recruit, will eventually go up against the real villain, a terrorist entity known as Zero Day, whose avatar early on in the game told me, “It’s time for a hard reset.”

Playing for several hours, I never once felt like I embodied Sebastian White or receptionist Margit Horvath or anyone else on my team of recruits, whose epistemic status exists somewhere between heroes, nonplayable characters, and toy soldiers. Watch Dogs: Legion’s humans are difficult to connect to when a new recruit’s origin story is, unwaveringly: You walk up to a random person on the street, hit a button, candidly profess membership in a reportedly violent terrorist group, ask if they want to take down the government, and then drive across town to do them some hazardous favor. Afterward, they suddenly reach commensurate levels of anti-government sentiment and are indebted to you forever. Oh, and they’re all competent hackers.

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The Queer Appeal of Dead by Daylight

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to this peculiar horror game he was playing on Nintendo Switch. The game, Dead by Daylight, originally came out in 2016, but quickly enveloped my life. Working from home with minimal social interaction and looming financial precarity put a heavy strain on my mental health, and a horror video game where I’m constantly fighting for survival felt like a kind of virtual exposure therapy.

If you haven’t played before, here are the gameplay basics for Dead by Daylight. Five players are in each round: one killer and a team of four survivors. The team of survivors work together to repair generators, while the killer attempts to catch the survivors and impale their bodies on giant hooks strewn across the map. If the team of survivors is able to repair five generators, then any survivors who have not been sacrificed by the killer can try to escape out the exit gates.

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I am definitely not the only member of the queer community currently obsessed with Dead by Daylight. The game is quite popular with Twitch streamers who use the LGBTQIA+ tag. Even Trixie Mattel, from Rupaul’s Drag Race, is an avid fan of the game and recently played Dead by Daylight on Twitch as part of a charity stream.

Dead by Daylight fleshes out its survivors and killers with detailed game lore exploring their backstory and motivations. In June, the development team behind Dead by Daylight, Behavior, acknowledged a lack of diversity in the game’s lore: “We did set our character’s preferences in the past, notably in heterosexual relationships,” the developers posted on the game’s official Twitter account.

We spoke with five Twitch streamers who are members of the queer community and regularly play Dead by Daylight to investigate why a video game that was not intentionally created for the queer community has gained such traction with this audience.

Sammy, aka simplesammy, primarily streams as a survivor in Dead by Daylight. He is especially drawn to the character of Zarina. “I was honestly so surprised when she was released, because I relate to her so much. My dad is a Syrian immigrant to Canada, and her story is similar. She is the child of two Arab immigrant parents (reference) who come to the U.S,” he said.

In the game lore for Dead by Daylight, Zarina Kassir considers changing her first name to Karina. Sammy identified with the pressure to adopt a more Westernized name, “My name is Sammy. That’s my full name; it’s not Samuel.” In English, the name Sammy is often considered a nickname, but “…in Arabic, it means of a higher caliber. It actually has a beautiful meaning.”

While he culturally relates to Zarina, Sammy admitted that Dead by Daylight might benefit from additional queer representation among its characters. “For a game that has so many queer people playing it, why not have one of them be somewhere under the umbrella?”

Sammy compared the experience of watching a Dead by Daylight stream on Twitch to watching “a mini horror movie” and mentioned the popularity of the horror genre within the queer community. “When it comes to Dead by Daylight specifically, you can be a survivor being chased by a killer. In a way, that is an allegory for queer folks who run away from the cishet society’s views of what their life should be.”

Joe, who streams as justsaynotojoe, was drawn into playing Dead by Daylight by watching other people stream as the survivor. “I think the thing that appeals to me about Dead by Daylight, is the same thing that appeals to me about a lot of horror movies. You’re rooting for that survivor. You’re rooting for that final girl, especially. Gays love a strong female character surviving at the end.”

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Anatomy Opens the Creaking Door to Haunted House Tales

Haunted house stories are having a moment. It might be quarantine. Or it could be Netflix‘s fault—its release of The Haunting of Bly Manor has reinvigorated the discourse about what makes a good haunted house story and whether or not Mike Flanagan, the horror director who, between Bly Manor and Hill House and Doctor Sleep seems to be veritably obsessed with them, really has what it takes to make one that feels both scary and fascinating.

Haunted houses are special because houses are special. They keep us safe—until they don’t—and are both entirely familiar to us and entirely unfamiliar, as anyone who’s had to deal with serious home repairs could tell you. People have intimate relationships with the places where they live. And that’s a powerful entry path for horror. Or, as the opening line of Kitty Horrorshow’s 2016 video game Anatomy puts it, “In the psychology of the modern civilized human being, it is difficult to overstate the significance of the house.”

Horrorshow’s game starts with a tape player in an empty kitchen and a single cassette. When you put it in, the narration begins, a faux-academic exploration of what houses mean, why they’re special, and, most important, how people might think of them anatomically. Is a kitchen a stomach? Is a living room a heart? In what ways are houses like us?

All of this occurs, by the way, in an empty, modern suburban home. Two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a little narrow set of stairs. One peculiarity of haunted house stories is that they’re often period pieces. It’s the distance, I think: Old ornate Victorian-style homes are familiar without being too familiar. We want to think about how scary houses can be without actually letting that horror fully inside. Anatomy, a small game released on itch.io for PC, refuses that distance. This could be the house you grew up in. Or one you rented, for a while, in college, a lonely, dull little home at the end of a lonely, dull little cul-de-sac. It might be a lot like the one you live in right now.

The voice in the tape continues: “But of all the structures mankind has invented for itself, there is little doubt that the house is that which it relies upon most completely for its continued survival.”

Anatomy understands the haunted house story. It understands why houses are scary and fascinating, and why artists from Henry James to Shirley Jackson to Mike Flanagan have been so obsessed with them. And alongside scaring you, Anatomy also wants to teach you. It is, in some sense, an exercise in explaining the joke—its narration delves into what is so frightening about a haunted house. But it’s an exercise that’s so effective and so deeply dialed in to the core of human fears that even when you understand it, you’re still unnerved.

Here’s how it’s played: You find that first tape, in the kitchen of an empty, dark house. Then a message onscreen tells you to find another tape, in another room. In this way you explore the house, gathering tapes, listening to this voice contrasted with the uneasy, shadowy presence of the house. A presence that grows, as the house becomes more and more alien, as it begins to feel like something is there. Or maybe it’s just the house itself, broken the way Hill House was in Jackson’s novel. Then, a question arises: Whose voice is it on those tapes?

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More happens in Anatomy‘s short run time, but summarizing it here would be to the game’s detriment. But know this: What makes Anatomy feel vital four years after its release is the sense that it wants to welcome you into horror at the same time as it plays with horror storytelling. It pushes you to think about why scary things are scary, what deeper psychology is at work when you’re afraid of the dark room at the end of the hall or what might be behind that locked door.

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Amnesia: Rebirth Has Evolved Beyond Jump Scares

Amnesia: Rebirth is somewhere between the two. It’s got more story than The Dark Descent and asks big questions like SOMA. Unlike The Dark Descent, it focuses on the story and eschews the easy jump scare and unlike SOMA it feels less heady and more visceral. Rebirth isn’t a game about jump scares and a castle, no. It’s a game that tasks players with journeying into the dark recesses of protagonist Tasi Trianon’s mind.

“For SOMA it was all about making a narrative that dealt with consciousness and what it means to be human,” Grip says. “There was of course a hope that this would resonate with streamers as well, but that was never the primary objective. We are doing a similar thing with Rebirth where we have our ambitions elsewhere. As long as we achieve that in players it doesn’t really matter if the game goes viral or not.”

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According to Grip, the streamers pushed Frictional Games to create games that would challenge their new audience. “These reactions were also a huge inspiration for SOMA,” he says. “We thought: could we get players to have this strong emotional reaction to a much deeper subject? And the idea to explore the mysteries of the mind was born. So in that sense, streamers back in the day and their jump scares were foundational to what the company is doing now.”

It’s hard to write about Amnesia: Rebirth without giving away its secrets. To reveal even early plot spoilers or scares is to diminish their power. It’s an exploration of Tasi’s psyche and immediate past, shockingly feminist, and a subtle game about the horror of colonization both European and eldritch. Like The Dark Descent, Rebirth asks players to avoid monsters and rewards them for avoiding the dark.

Unlike The Dark Descent, Rebirth wants players to think about where those monsters came from. Many of them have a personal relationship to Tasi and are more than just faceless monsters waiting in the dark corners of the Earth. One lengthy encounter in the trap-filled ruins of an alien civilization about halfway through the game is one of the most terrifying moments I’ve had playing a video game in years. The pulse-pounding terror came not just from the visceral moment to moment action, but the personal connection the protagonist had to the beast.

Frictional Games knew it couldn’t recreate the success of The Dark Descent. It pushed itself to do something different. “Had we tried to make Rebirth better than The Dark Descent in terms of scares alone I would be nervous as hell,” Grip says. “We would not only fight the actual game, but people’s nostalgic perception of it. But since we are trying to do something different I don’t really feel that pressure at all.”

The Dark Descent succeeded on YouTube because it allowed players to share their terror. It replicated the feeling of being in a darkened movie theater and screaming with a crowd when the monster jumped for the hero. Rebirth is a more personal journey, one that defies easy categorization and may not stream as well.

Rebirth is interested in pushing the player forward through the journey. At the base difficulty, getting trapped by a monster or Tasi losing her sanity in the darkness will trigger a game over. The player loses control of Tasi as darkness covers her visions. When she comes to and the player regains control, the monster is removed from the area and the player can proceed without the challenge of the encounter.

Personally, I loved this because it allowed me to push the story forward without worrying too much about death or failure. During one particularly difficult encounter in a ruin, the game respawned Tasi at the exit of the ruin after I failed twice. For some, knowing that death or madness is never the end of the game will take all the tension out of its scares. This also highlights a big difference between The Dark Descent and Rebirth. The Dark Descent goes for the cheap scare. Rebirth wants you to ponder it’s horrors long after the monster has been left behind in the darkness.

I think Rebirth is a better game than The Dark Descent. It asks weird questions and forces the player to make choices moment to moment that affects the outcome of Tasi’s story. It made me feel like a terrible person more than once, and terrified me often. It has jump scares, but it’s true horrors lie deep in the dark heart of its protagonist and the player who controls her.


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