Gears 4’s achievements are in its intimacy and understanding of its history. Much of the game finds you in cramped, isolated corridors, fighting things you don’t understand for reasons you haven’t had time to process. It’s not a war so much as an attempt to crawl out of an abyss, alive for one more day. Gears has never felt as hopeless and frightening as Gears 4, nor has it ever recognized its characters’ mortality as effectively.
It sounds hyperbolic, but the amount of personality that has been stripped out of Live combined with the loss of developed multiplayer becomes increasingly depressing with each set. The crowds get bigger but the initial novelty fades and what remains is a stage full of people you don’t know. The crowd cheers and boos in time with your missed notes, oscillating back and forth as your vision blurs like some sort of rockstar purgatory where everyone comes prepared with “you suck” signs, just in case.
I’m sure it is entirely possible to enjoy Lovers playing with just a casual gaming buddy, but there is a certain intimacy created while playing it that seems designed expressly with couples in mind. The ships are small and everyone has to play multiple roles to succeed, and while no character is better or worse than another I found that S. and I naturally settled into our preferred positions on the ship, which isn’t all that different from how I prefer to cook and she tends to do the laundry. Roles need to be filled and sometimes you have to play one that is less comfortable than you’d like, but at the end what’s important is that you are supporting each other. Lovers fosters this dynamic in a way that showcases how fulfilling it is when you allow someone else to support you, rather than try to pull yourself through all on your own.
A Normal Lost Phone requires you to dig deep into another person’s life, uncovering their deepest secrets and in some cases even impersonating them for the sake of progressing through the game. This is rote territory for adventure games, but to apply it to the life of a trans person – one who is clearly not ready to come out as trans and for whom it would be dangerous to do so – feels violating in a way snooping through emails in Deus Ex doesn’t.
Games like Dropsy remind us of the power of small actions and simple pleasures. It reminds us that art doesn’t have to be challenging or complex to be meaningful, and that positive emotions are not as worthless as the world wants you to believe. It reminds us that it is OK to feel happy when things are going bad, and that there are still people who truly want to make the world a better place for everyone. It reminds us that it is easy to hate people and a lot harder to love them, and it does so with such earnestness that it is clear the game recognizes the difficulty of what it’s asking but believes it important enough to do so all the same. Dropsy is a game that is powerfully loving in a way most media only plays at, and I cannot overstate how rare and significant that is.
In looking backward Four Sided Fantasy reconnects with gaming's most baseline experience of a person, a screen, and the space in between, but it is in moving forward, sometimes clumsily but with determination, that the game finds something new to say about it.