Maybe if they believe in the heart of the cards, we’ll all be fine.

Magic the Gathering post. As always, if you’re not into that, come back tomorrow.

Every once in a while I’ll buy large piles of Magic cards from people. I used to use Trademe back in New Zealand. Half the fun was rifling through in search of hidden gems. It was great. Bunz Trading Zone in Toronto has opened up these avenues once more. Occasionally users will post collections for trade. Once I put my feelers out to see if someone had a specific card. It took all of five minutes to get a response. Within hours I was at his place, looking through his old cards and finding all kinds of gold. The other day a guy posted about a collection of 7000+ bulk commons/uncommons and tokens he was looking to clear off his floor. I got in quickly and offered him a couple of tallcans. He accepted and I picked them up. Nice dude. I went home and spent 4+ hours pulling out everything of value. The value well exceeded the $10 I spent on beer for the dude. There were so many handy staples I’d given up when I left New Zealand (and dropped a large box of commons/uncommons at my local game store for new players to pick over). I sorted it all into colours, leaving the rest of the sorting for another night.

Having taken everything worthwhile, I wondered what to do with the box. There were still thousands of cards that were surplus to my needs. I realised I could put it back on Bunz to blow the mind of a new player. There were tons of great resources in that big ol’ box. A friend of mine chimed in saying her kid loved the game. I said he was welcome to them and all was good. Then I realised I had an opportunity to do something nice. Her kid is six and frankly, the whole box would overwhelm him pretty easily. Not saying he’s dumb, just saying it’d be way too much for him to mentally absorb. He’s a kid, but the game is recommended for 13+. It’s pretty complicated for a six year old. I resolved to go through the leftovers and make some simple decks he could play with his friends. I’d try to balance them, showcase different playstyles and allow them to discover what exactly they enjoyed about the game. I tried doing clean, basic concepts. I thought about what sort of effects would be awe inspiring for kids. What sort of creatures would seem super cool? Stuff like dragons and angels, right? I also tried to put myself into the mind frame of a six year old to think of how I could encourage simple maths, but edge in with some ever more challenging gameplay too. I was also hamstrung on some numbers, which is why there are two and three ofs. The decks I put together were Red/Green Landfall, Black/White Tokens/Lifegain and Blue White Control/Prowess. Here they are.

Red/Green Landfall:

4x Scythe Leopard
3x Snapping Gnarlid
4x Makindi Sliderunner
4x Valakut Predator
3x Khenra Charioteer
2x Grove Rumbler
3x Territorial Baloth
1x Shockmaw Dragon

Noncreature Spells:
3x Prey Upon
2x Magmatic Chasm
4x Lightning Strike
3x Hunt the Weak

10x Forest
10x Mountain
4x Evolving Wilds

Great, right? The gameplan is simple: Play creatures, pump them with lands, use removal to clear blockers and/or trample over. Evolving Wilds could be a cool level up moment for the kid, realising that he could get a double landfall trigger. Plus there’s a sweet dragon to rain fire down on one toughness creatures. Awesome.

Black/White Tokens/Lifegain:

4x Typhoid Rats
4x Mardu Hordechief
3x Ampryn Tactician
1x Healer of the Pride
3x Kalastria Nightwatch

Noncreature Spells:
3x Bone Splinters
3x Moment of Triumph
4x Raise the Alarm
3x Moment of Craving
3x Painful Lesson
3x Recover
2x Campaign of Vengeance

10x Plains
10x Swamp
4x Scoured Barrens

Home run! Play lots of little critters, pump the team, gain life, removal spells. A nice well rounded deck that should be easy to play. I figured kids would get a kick out of taking down a huge hulking beast with some teensy rats. Plus new players always love lifegain. I was pretty stoked with this one.

Blue/White Control/Prowess:

4x Fan Bearer
4x Niblis of Dusk
3x Student of Ojutai
3x Ringwarden Owl
1x Serra Angel

Noncreature Spells:
4x Disperse
4x Turn to Frog
4x Accumulated Knowledge
4x Luminous Bonds
4x Cancel
1x Sleep

9x Plains
10x Islands
1x Azorious Chancery
4x Tranquil Cove

Tapping, countering, card draw, lifegain, turning stuff into frogs. I feel like this one is likely to be a hard sell (do new players enjoy control decks? I never did) but teaches valuable game skills. It’s probably the hardest one to play right, but maybe also the most powerful deck? Not sure.

So I put all these decks together and felt pretty chuffed with myself. I was excited to be able to teach this kid how to play and looking forward to him and his friends discovering the magic (pun kinda intended) of the game. Then I realised that all the decks were still way too complicated. How many concepts would I be introducing to them? Trample? Instants? Activated abilities? I should’ve started with vanilla creatures, possibly some flying and a couple of sorceries. I feel like this is gonna be way too much for a six year old. Am I underestimating a child’s resilience? I sure hope so. I put so much work into trying to balance them and now I’m worried it’ll all blow up in my face. I haven’t even taught someone to play for years. Aww geez. All I wanted to do was a nice thing for some kids. Will it all be wasted effort?

I sure hope not.


Hur hur hur. Token play at that game.

Magic the Gathering themed post. My usual disclaimer: If you’re not into it, come back tomorrow. Until then, I’ll be here talking about turning cards sideways.

I had an idea for an EDH deck. At the moment, it’s pretty loose. I know the kind of cards I’m interested in throwing together, but I have no concept of how they’ll mesh. It seems goofy and altogether quite fun. So often token decks tend to go wide. With this one, I wanna go weird.

Temur Tokens.

It all started when I saw Reef Worm spoiled for Masters 25. I’ve long been curious about strange cards like Reef Worm. It reminds me a lot of Mitotic Slime, which feels like a pet card I’ve never used. I look at the two of them and think about stuff like Warstorm Surge or Pandemonium. I like the notion of having them backed by a sac outlet like Goblin Bombardment or Greater Gargadon. Think about it, Warstorm Surge + Goblin Bombardment + Reef Worm? That’s 21 damage right there. If you used Mitotic Slime in place of Reef Worm you’d have 19. God forbid you had an Ogre Battledriver or Into the Web of War on the board, right? That seems all kinds of sweet.

Temur Tokens.

There are a heap of temur cards that make weird or unconventional token types and that fascinates me. Straight up Selesnya Tokens is such an overdone concept. Plus the only thing better than amassing wacky tokens, is doubling the amount of wacky tokens you have. Parallel Evolution? Parallel Lives? Second Harvest? Just think of all the camarids!

Why this colour combination? Well green obviously has the support cards, red gives you reach/sac outlets. Blue? Blue has your quirky generators. Cackling Counterpart, Supplant Form, Clone Legion, Stolen Identity, Spitting Image, Faerie Artisans, Rite of Replication, Mirror Match, Mirror Mockery, Mirrorpool, Aether Mutation? Artifact Mutation? Hell, why not chuck Soul Foundry in there too?

While we’re thinking on how to get more tokens, what kind of tokens would we want? Dragonmaster Outcast makes dragons. So does the rarely used Sarkhan Unbroken. I could finally find a slot for Arlinn Kord. I’ve had a fondness for Chronozoa over the years. Has its time come? Are there any great Embalm cards that’d fit in? Glyph Keeper? Vizier of Many Faces? I’ve always wanted to see if Goblin Rabblemaster can still tick up the damage in a multi-player format. I could even throw in Hanweir Garrison and Hanweir Battlements. When else am I gonna get that chance? Feldon of the Third Path is such a sweet card dripping with flavour. MY deck could ooze flavour (and be flavoured with oozes too. Tons of neat ooze token critters in this format). Dragonlair Spider and Dragon Broodmother are both big and fun. Tendershoot Dryad is no doubt gonna become a format staple, and with all these tokens I’m sure to be #blessed instantly. I’ve always thought of Emrakul’s Evangel as being pretty junky, but is it the right type of junky to upgrade our baby tokens and trigger Warstorm Surge a bunch? Is Descent of the Dragons another viable option? Bloodforged Battle-Axe isn’t a creature, but it makes a bunch of tokens. Oooh, is there some way that Brooding Saurian

I guess rounding out the deck would be ramp and the usual assortment of ways to protect my board. Heroic Intervention, Eldrazi Monument, Akroma’s Memorial, Asceticism, etc. We want these buddies sticking around.

Also, I think I’ve wanted an excuse to have a deck where I can play a stack of silly, splashy counterspells. I’m thinking Plasm Capture, Spelljack, Overwhelming Intellect, Gather Specimens, Commandeer. Nothing particularly good, but super janky fun that could swing games. That’s the kind of out of control controlling I’m into.

Does that sound like fun to anyone else?

Someone spiked The Masquer-ade.

I swear I’ve played four video games in my life. Maybe this is what growing old is, but I’m quite sure my existence has become a perpetual motion machine of constantly rediscovering the same four games in a cycle. Pokémon, Magic the Gathering: Shandalar, Diablo 2 and my most recent nostalgic pitfall (it’s not Pitfall), Vampire the Masquerade – Bloodlines.

I discovered the game way back in 2004 as a precocious little 17 year old. It was love at first bite (have mercy). Based on some tabletop RPG I’d never heard of, Vampire the Masquerade was about a cluster of vampire clans in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. In this world, vampires walk among us without our knowledge. It’s like sexy Harry Potter or something. The clans all have differing worldviews, but utmost is the idea of upholding The Masquerade, or keeping humans in the dark as to their existence. There are the aristocratic Ventrue, who look down on the others and get sick from drinking low status blood. The Gangrel are closest to their animalistic nature and can transform into wild beasts. The Toreador are artistic and mildly fey, masters of seduction. The Brujah are anti-authoritarian brawlers. The Malkavian have been driven insane by their curse and gained bizarre true-sight. So yeah, it’s just Harry Potter.

Why then was the game so good? Atmosphere. The world was immersive and comprehensive. You drifted through the downtrodden and walked amongst high society. The environments were fucking cool. Scattered throughout LA you moved through the Santa Monica boardwalks, downtown LA, Chinatown and Hollywood. The characters were well formed with great dialogue. It was funny and snappy, filled with clever references. It was contemporary and versatile. One quest had you sneaking about town seeking information on a cruel snuff tape. In another you had to stay in a graveyard policing zombies for the night. Or retrieving a locket from a creepy as shit haunted house. How would you navigate the game? As a master conversationalist? Seducing your way into completing quests? Pure brute force? Sneaking about the shadows? Trading in information? Hacking? Lockpicking? Intimidation?

The game was also buggy as shit. Troika, the studio tasked with bringing this game to market, were rushed. It uses the (then revolutionary) Halflife 2 engine, but to a much less impressive effect. By the time the game was released, it was riddled with issues. Graphical errors and glitches, looping incorrect sfx. At a few points the game would outright crash unless you edited the console. It became a cult hit, but sank commercially. Troika folded (RIP). The fanbase lived on. Yesterday I discovered that the most recent patch for the game was released a month ago.

To put this in perspective, this game is so good that people are still working on it 14 years later.

The patches fix broken elements of the game. A bunch of code was left in that never got finished. Character aspects, quests, weapons, a multiplayer mode. It’s a bummer to consider what this game could’ve been if Troika had been given the time to perfect it. As it stands, the community has done a pretty great job. They’ve done solid enough work that I’m diving back in, as I do every few years, to a game I love so much. I spent a few hours last night getting reacquainted and honestly I could spend the whole weekend doing nothing else.

That’s what you call undying love.

There’s a VR game we could all use.

I may have overdone it with the coffee today and I think my body is imploding. You’d think I’d be bouncing off the walls, but instead my corporeal form is in disrepair attempting to process it all. I’m wading through mental sludge and progress is both slow and plodding. Can you plod in a swamp? Is plodding tied to speed or specificity of action? In my head it’s onomatopoeic and relies on heavy footfalls. Do you make heavy footfalls in a swamp if any evidence is mired within dense and viscous liquid? Does a foot fall of nobody can see or hear it?

Why is there no Buddhist film making team called the Kōan Brothers?

I bought a VR headset yesterday simply because it was cheap. $10 down from $50. Came with a bluetooth controller and earphones. It’s not advanced and for the most part it’s just plastic housing for a mobile phone. Still, I’ve been curious to give VR tech a try for a while. I’ve always had issues with motion sickness and my pre-eminent worry is that VR will be a quick way to throw up. In the past it’s been a depth of field issue. With First Person Shooters if I can’t see the character’s hands, I get queasy. I tried downloading this game Zombie Shooter last night, but five minutes in I got sorta nauseous. I’m hoping it’s not a VR-wide issue. Youtube has a ton of 360 degree videos. Perhaps I’ll try one of them. It’d be sort of shit to be pushed out of an emergent technology because my brain can’t handle choppy visuals.

Wait. Maybe the secret is to overdose on coffee first. How many cups have I had today? Four or five? If my brain is too tired to properly process the information being fed into it, maybe that’ll smooth out the lacklustre frame rate. I can hack my body chemistry with bro science! Or I’ll see what my innards look like on the floor. Bad end.

I got distracted and stopped typing. I’ve gotta keep this train rolling by any means necessary. Is Barney the Dinosaur still around? Apparently it finished back in 2009. Odd as it sounds, when I was younger I half wished I was even younger so I could’ve enjoyed it. Of course I would’ve wanted to learn math from a dinosaur. Still, when it premiered I was old enough to take joy in mocking the show. I remember hearing about a Doom 2 mod called Barney Doom. Back in those pre-internet days, everything was hearsay and bootlegs. It was rare to get a hold of those prized rarities. They were like contraband. I’d heard of Barney Doom but never played it. As a seven year old, nothing sounded funnier than blowing Barney to bits with the BFG. Was it some latent counter-culture manifesting at my young age? Rebelling against what exactly? Saccharine educational content aimed at a younger generation? Woah, don’t cut yourself on that edge, kiddo. Then again, it sounds like the wheel has turned and Barney now has lessons I’d benefit from.

Now all that free love he was spouting makes an awful lot of sense.

Wandering aloud.

Yesterday’s Magic post made me a little nostalgic. Looking at origin stories is some high quality navel gazing. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I don’t know if I’m entirely done with the topic. Instead of rehashing my experiences playing the game, I’d like to pull back the curtains and take a greater look at the environment in which I flourished. I’m sure you think you know where this is going, right? I’m gonna veer into either a) a wonderfully supportive group of youngsters who bolstered one another into good sportsmanship or b) overcoming adversity and discovering my own self worth through rising above it.

How about c) I played in a hovel surrounded by constant weirdness and barely legal business activity?

Vagabond Takapuna. Neither of those words should mean much of anything to most people. For my teenage years, they were the entirety of my Sundays. Vagabond Takapuna was a small hobby shop located in the bustling heart of the Takapuna Village. When I say bustling I mean a cluster of dilapidated foreclosed storefronts. I think back in the 80s it was well regarded as a boutique shopping experience. I’d say it was our safe haven, but I hesitate to use the word “safe” anywhere near to Vagabonds. The area was filthy and spottily maintained. There was rubbish everywhere. The homeless dudes were entirely harmless, though you’d often find an empty bottle or two of methylated spirits lying on the ground. For us, however, it was paradise.

The store owner was a character unto himself. Dodgy Dave, we called him. An entrepreneur through and through. He bought the place in his first year out of high school on what I think was a small loan. He was all of 18 years old. For some time he couldn’t afford a phone line, so he’d siphon one from the hairdresser upstairs for outgoing calls. He didn’t play any of the games, but Dave had a knack for sniffing out a trend. He was a dealer by any other word. He was one of the few small stores around that not only sold Warhammer, D&D and Magic products, but provided play space. Best of all, there was a ne’er used courtyard with tables and chairs that doubled as an outdoor play zone in the summer. If it rained we’d just play on the dirty old village floors upstairs. At least they were covered. We made do.

Dave did alright for himself, especially as a young small business owner. The game that put him on the map, however, was Pokémon. He sunk everything he had into the Pokémon TCG and it made him a household name in the surrounding areas. A vibrant playground arose from the phenomenon and the Vagabond family grew. I don’t know why parents felt safe leaving their kids there. Hell, I’m not sure why my parents thought it was a positive environment for an 11 year old, but things worked out. Despite how dire everything looked, I never heard of anything happening to a single child. We took care of our own. With a bit more money coming in, Dave hired a couple of guys to run the store while he pursued a business degree. Oh, and bought a Porsche. I think he was still in his early 20s. Vagabond bubbled along happily, with its constant crowd of misfits and weirdos.

As the years passed, Dave would rarely come into the store. If he did, it’d usually be to brag about some kind of business venture he’d discovered. I still remember clear as day this one time he walked in with an ear to ear grin. “Hey guys” he said “you’re looking at a soon-to-be millionaire.” We figured it was Dave just talking shit, but we listened anyway. “There’s this new show in Japan, it’s massive. Nobody here knows about it yet. It’s about this card game, like Magic, but here’s the thing: You can buy the cards in real life. I’m already set to become Auckland’s prime distributor. I feel like getting a boat!”

As always, Dave was right. Turns out Yu-Gi-Oh was a smash hit.

With all the cash, Vagabond moved away from the Takapuna Village and into a high end strip shopping area. It was bigger. Cleaner. It had a dedicated phone line. The atmosphere was brighter too. Things were great. Dave bought his boat. He opened a downtown location. We saw less of Dave as the years went by, but he’d pop in periodically. He kept the stores, but began investing in property. I think at some stage he was sourcing medical supplies for in demand nations. Interesting guy.

So that’s the backdrop for my formative years as a burgeoning geek. Nothing fancy, but a lot of substance. You know what? I’m glad for all the grit. Despite how it sounds, there really was something special about the place. The community was as patchwork as the environs, but you know what? It was ours.

Now the players? Well there are some stories there…

Did I just cast Ancestral Recall?

Magic Magic Magic. It’s all coming up Magic right now. I swear I spent most of the weekend absorbed in this game. I collectively streamed around eight or nine hours of GP Indianapolis, then went off this afternoon to draft. I’m a 31 year old man, where did this all come from? How has my hobby percolated for the past 17+ years to reach its current fever pitch? Let’s Time Walk back to the year 2000, fresh from surviving a silly bout of worldwide hysteria.

Come to think of it, let’s jump back a year or two from that. In intermediate school I was obsessed with Pokémon. How obsessed? Well I knew the alt code to do the é thing without looking (alt+130). I played all of the games and made sure to read up on “Pikablu” and the rest of the rumoured pokémon from the upcoming Gold and Silver games. I was the prime demographic for the Pokémon TCG. I loved it and dived in deep. My friends all played and we had a vibrant kitchen table scene. A casual gamer at heart, I had no interest in entering tournaments. I just wanted to play with my mates. Skip forward that year or two I mentioned and their enthusiasm had waned. Most of my buds had outgrown the game. I needed a new hobby and fortunately, one of my old Pokémon TCG mates was happy to oblige.

I’m sure I didn’t bury the lede. It was Magic the Gathering. The cards looked strange and old. The art was interesting and evocative. The rules were complex and dynamic. I spent lunchtimes watching my friend play in the library with a couple of other guys. He had a green deck that accelerated out big creatures that his opponents had trouble taking care of. Llanowar Elves and Blastoderm. Seal of Strength and Saproling Burst. It looked awesome. I tried to pick up the rules by watching, but it was slow going. The metagame shifted. My friend put together some deck called Thunder Puppy with huge under-costed creatures like Mungha Wurm and Bog Elemental. I saw how powerful black removal was, destroying these huge creatures out of nowhere. Notorious Assassin seemed an impossible threat. Someone brought in an Enchantress deck that was crazy good. It pumped out small creatures that got enormous when lingering enchantments pumped them up. Then they’d refuel, drawing cards for each enchantment they played. I wanted in, but I also didn’t have much in the way of money. They taught me the rules more then lent me their decks to join them. It was great.

My friend bought a box of Mercadian Masques and we made decks out of the commons to battle each other. I made an aggressive green one, unable to forget my friend’s initial deck. After we’d played a bunch of matches, he let me keep my deck. I kept thinking of that Enchantress deck I saw and collected all the enchant creatures (now named auras) I could. My friend convinced me to shift into green/white to take advantage of flying and other forms of evasion. The deck got better. I started winning sometimes. On weekends I’d go back to Vagabonds, our old Pokémon TCG stomping ground. There I spent most of my teenage Sundays. It was basically my church. I played more and more, making a ton of decks. I met a bunch of eccentric characters (including my first girlfriend). Some of those friendships are still in place. When I left Auckland back in 2013 (yup I fast forwarded 13 years), I brought all of my decks with me. I figured I could widen my social circle in Toronto by meeting other players.

It took a while. At work I saw someone messing around with a card game they were working on and said hi. They told me that there was a small circle of Magic players in the building and said they’d be happy to introduce me. I had my in. The Magic playing group were great. All older guys, relaxed and played for fun. Nobody was cutthroat and the environment was super friendly. We played drafts, had EDH nights and started hanging out for non-Magic reasons. Over time I assembled a larger group of friends who were into the game and sorted out a Facebook group for us to organise games. It’s become one of my central friend groups and a cornerstone of my life here.

The game has expanded beyond a hobby into a real passion. I love it. I’m always excited to get time to play. I love seeing how the wider game has evolved over time. When I do go to card stores to play, I adore to see kids being excited out of their minds like I used to be. If I play them, I’m encouraging. I don’t talk down and try to help them out when I can. It’s so fulfilling to see how their eyes light up when I hand them a stack of my draft chaff for their collections. I remember being flabbergasted when adults gave me tons of cards for free. The cards aren’t worth anything to me now, but they’re worth the world to them. I’m happy to have become the kind of adult player I looked up to as a teenager.

I flat out love this game. I read endless articles on different formats and decks. I spend hours watching streamers follow strategies I’d never consider. My interest in tournament Magic has evolved to the point where I’m happy to watch as others would consume Football matches. Magic is a huge part of my life now. I’ve got an abundance of memories from my years spent playing and have no intention of slowing down.

I guess you could say I’m under its spell…

Great, so now I’m scared of schoolgirls.

This entry is gonna have major spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club. If you don’t know what that combination of words means, you probably won’t care. In short, DDLC is a free to play Steam game that presents as a dating sim, but morphs into a psychological horror. It’s all kinds of twisted. If you’re looking to play (or, like me, would be intrigued enough by that short sentence to give it a try), I might ruin some fun surprises.

Okay, so as I said above, DDLC is a psychological horror game masquerading as a cutesy dating sim. Realistically, you’re playing a story with a few options that can lead to alternate endings. A bunch of people online have figured out ways to maximise plot outcomes, etc. YMMV, but I tend to enjoy the experience more organically. I’m happy to make mistakes and see where it leads, even if I’m not on track for the optimal ending.

The game starts with your best friend Sayori meeting you before school. She’s manipulates you into joining her Literature Club at school. There you meet the three other members: Monika (the Club President), Natsuki (a childish first year obsessed with cute stuff) and Yuri (a demure bookish gal). The game progresses, with the only interactive options being making choices or poetry. The poetry mechanic is just choosing words on a page that correspond to the different girls you’re trying to woo. I accidentally kept getting Yuri options, though I was trying to gun for Monika (she seemed cooler). When you get closer to one of the girls you start getting distinct scenes with them. Yuri started sharing her book with me and we’d read side by side, getting physically closer with each session.

Sayori, my best friend, started getting a little distant, while strangely intense phrases would slip from Yuri’s lips every once in a while. She’d say something eerily haunting or perceptive. Maybe she’d identify a little too strongly with a murderous character or something. Still, my poems kept moving me towards her. I was wondering when the game would get creepy. Hints started flowing. After sharing our poetry with one another, Monika decided we’d do a live reading at our school festival. I was paired up with Yuri to work on decorations. Sayori became quiet and solitary. My character made plans for Yuri to come over and work on the decorations. Sayori freaked out and confessed her feelings for me. Her latest poetry had continued refrain of “get out of my head. Get out of my head” or something of the like. In the morning before Yuri was to come over, I went to her house to find her crying in her bedroom. She admitted that she’d been depressed her whole life and at this point couldn’t handle it. She was breaking down. My character told her he’d be there, he’d help her through it always. He asked if she wanted to come over and help with the decorations, but she declined.

So I made decorations with Yuri. She brought her supplies, involving a strangely ornate knife for cutting ribbon. My character touched the end of the knife to see how sharp it was and accidentally drew blood. Her eyes widened and involuntarily started sucking on the finger. My character was taken aback and a little weirded out. Nevertheless, we made all the decorations and she went home (though not without professing she had a large knife collection). When I went outside, I saw Sayori waiting there. She was having a breakdown and I had the option of confessing my love for her or doing nothing. I figured I might as well see where that would go. She said she felt nothing.

The next day she was late for school. I went back to her place to check on her and walked in on her having hung herself. “THE END” came up onscreen. It was a freaky tonal shift.

The screen glitched out and the game restarted. My saves were gone. The game played through as it had before, except without Sayori in it. Glitches started happening all over the place. Dark dialogue options began occasionally appearing in incongruous font. The music became detuned and unnerving. Monika started giving me warnings about Yuri. Yuri and Natsuki would argue and without Sayori to smooth out the conversations, they got aggressive and threatening. Yuri left to go make tea and after a while I went to check on her. I walked into the hallway to hear a gasp and see her with cuts all down her arm. The game glitched, then rewound. The dialogue reoccurred as if nothing had happened.

Every once in a while, characters would reference actions that’d taken place, but other characters would deny knowledge of them. Yuri became more and more unhinged. Natsuki grew concerned. During one scene the game glitched and Natsuki’s eyes popped straight out of her head with blood trailing behind. Then glitched back to normal. The closer my character got to Natsuki, the more she’d let loose about her knives and love of blood. She confessed her love to me and, after I refused, she stabbed herself right there in the classroom. Her dialogue became gibberish and kept repeating. I set the text to “skip” and it went on and on for minutes, just total nonsense and unreadable characters. The light changed, day turned to night, into day and back again a few times. Natsuki walked into the room and asked if I’d been there all weekend. She saw Yuri’s corpse and vomited. Monika walked in and sighed. She apologised and admitted to tweaking the character’s neuroses in order to make herself seem more appealing. A DOS style text box opened up and she ran code to delete the other characters.

The game restarted once more, but focused solely on Monika. She said she got rid of everybody else so we could be alone. She was staring straight at me and said she was in love with me. Not the character, but me, the player who was playing the game. We were in the club room, but outside the window was nothing but the emptiness of space. Her dialogue options were bizarre and rambling. She mentioned having gone into the local files of the game to alter the code. I checked the local files through Steam and deleted her character, then went back to the game. She screamed and glitched out, cursing me for dooming her to the void, but professing that she still loved me. She restored the other characters. The game reset again.

This time there was no mention of Monika. The other characters were back, but Sayori was class president. She said she knew everything that happened with Monika and intended to stay with me forever and ever.  Monika’s stepped in and said she was sorry for endangering me. The game reset again to a black screen. A young woman’s voice came over the speakers. She said she’d written a song for me and wanted to play it. The game’s theme began playing on piano and she sang along while the credits rolled. She thanked me for playing and professed her eternal love for me. It was weird and sorta sweet, nicely capping off a five or so hour playthrough.

The game was such a breath of fresh air. For one, the format made it feel like there was a lot more choice, but really it was all on rails. I played it until the early hours of the morning and for real, it was pretty goddamn creepy. It’s this kind of stuff that makes me so stoked to see how gaming has evolved from its early days. Indie games are pushing the format onwards to bizarre and wonderful terrain. Even if I have spoiled basically all of it, I’m sure it’d still be a blast to experience. If you have Steam, it’s free. What’s holding you back?

I mean, it is legit terrifying, so there’s that.