God, this year. I feel like every time I do one of these I’m talking about how I’m tired and it’s been a long year and so forth. But I gotta say I’m tired and it’s been a long year and that is a part of this list, I guess. This is so far word for word the same intro I wrote to last year’s column and if I’m doing another one of these next year I am really hoping I’ll be able to say “remember when things were bad? Glad that’s over!”. But things are bad, and now it’s time to talk about video games!
I’m not gonna lie, I had a hard time focusing on games this year that required me to do a lot of reading or story stuff. So apologies to games like Signs of the Sojourner, which looks amazing, but I haven’t had the bandwidth to get all deep into a narrative. I have really enjoyed games where you can eat people, though.
Other games I played this year that I couldn’t fit into this:
I don’t know if this is the longest one of these I’ve done, but it feels like it is? Get comfortable and let’s talk about some games. The ordering in this is rough aside from number one. Check out all of them.
I’ve seen Carrion described as body horror, but that’s only true if your body is primarily gristle, teeth, and tentacles. I guess anything could be body horror depending on your body. Like if you were made of water then watching a puddle freeze is body horror. We’re mostly water so, like, I’m just saying we need to expand our definitions. Carrion rules, I love how this guy moves. The tentacles gripping surfaces procedurally as I whiz through the complex, whipping dudes into the horror that is my entire body.
Best Demon’s Souls: Demon’s Souls
You know what’s a decent Demon’s Souls? Demon’s Souls 2020. It loses some of the weirdness and uniqueness of the original '09 version in some of the aesthetic choices and increased fidelity, but it’s still a great game. Fidelity is a fetish in the industry, and is often just driven by the need to demonstrate the power of hardware to drive sales and justify purchases. Like nobody ever asks why a game is going for realism like they do when a game has a lower-fi style. It’s just assumed you need the most realistic grass and horses and skin pores possible. But aesthetics don’t work like that, you can’t just up the -fi and have the same end product. And you don’t have the same end product with Demon’s Souls. But god, it’s still so good, and so strange, and I love the strangeness of this thing.
You already know about Tony Hawk, and his professional skateboarding, and the great and famous soundtracks to the games based on his abilities. When the remake came out people were like, "wow remember ska?" And yes, actually, I do remember ska. I was in ska bands for like 10 years once upon a time, and I listen to it a lot still. Did you know that there is a thriving ska scene these days? Because there is. If you like the ska-punk kind of stuff that’s in the Tony Hawk games, totally check out Kill Lincoln, Bad Operation, JER, and Catbite, to name a few. I did a t-shirt design for Devon Kay & The Solutions last year, and had their song 252 Brighton Ave in my head for months. Also among others Less Than Jake and Suicide Machines (both featured on the Tony Hawk soundtrack) put out new albums last year. This has been your ska-punk update.
I don’t have anything else to say about Tony Hawk other than it still rules and looks fantastic, and I like how when you wipe out you sorta glitch back into place instead. As someone in their late 30s I already appreciate the concept of immediately rewinding when you do a possibly lasting injury to your brittle bones. I hope Tony Hawk is well. Tony Hawk is one celebrity I think most people can agree on. He’s Tony Hawk. Nobody has much of a problem with Tony Hawk. We like him. It’s official.
Best Game That Is Also An Album: Teenage Blob
I’ve seen a few album/game combos before but never this charming. It’s so full of enthusiasm for what it is. Little minigames that only have to work for a few minutes, jokes that do their thing and get out. Also lots of Bis shoutouts in the background art? Anyone remember Bis? The final bit involves marionetting your little character to the front of a show floor. Throwing yourselves into each other, pressing as close as medically advisable and beyond. I’m writing this after nearly a year of quarantining and what I wouldn’t give to be in the middle of a large group of people in a very loud place. What is the loudest show you’ve ever been to? I’ve been to hundreds of them over the years and seen some very loud bands, but the loudest I can think of was finally seeing Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds back in 2017. My friend Karla bought us tickets and invited us out to Portland to see them with her. Big beautiful venue. Absolute wall of noise. Like, vibrated you to the point were suddenly more aware of having bones inside you. I miss that feeling. This game is a cool treat and I’d love to see this become a lot more common.
Oh you precocious dumbass kids, you do make fun protagonists. This is a game about some very likable and charming people, two kids and two adults, on a camping trip. It’s one of those now-more-common adventure games that I adore that are less about puzzles and items and more about inhabiting a space and a story in fun ways. There’s a bit where the camera is set in between characters sitting around a campfire and it rotates to frame each speaker in turn, and what they accomplish just with that and some changing poses is fantastic. I really liked this.
Best Bird: The Pathless
The Pathless is a very pretty game with quick and fun movement, but more importantly there is just the best bird in it, and it’s your good friend. You and the bird can solve puzzles together! The bird is interested in riddling out the secrets of its island home. I guess before now the bird wasn’t really equipped to operate the button/lever/archery-based mechanisms, and that must have been frustrating! But now you are here to help. Sometimes a big corrupted monster shows up and menaces your bird and that’s NOT OK. I was very protective of this bird. But even if things get really bad and your bird ends up struggling on the ground, you can always pick up the bird and pet it in a very fluid and detailed manner. You literally wipe off the evil corruption that is getting it down. You can also just do this when the bird is unharmed, and if you do it enough the bird will noozle you. This is just the best bird.
I don’t know how else to pitch Pottergame except to say that depending on what it’s riffing on it’s either a fun parody or a sharp, vicious takedown. The game pulls fewer and fewer punches as it goes, but never stops being hilarious. It helps to know that it’s a take on both licensed tie-in games of yore and the trajectory of JK Rowling from author of charming and beloved children’s books to whatever she is these days, and in doing so hits everything from British politics and self image to transphobic panic in general. I’m making it sound a lot heavier than it is. It is also far and away the funniest game I played this year. Laugh out loud stuff. A delightful, scathing romp through a magical world that isn’t so much recently broken as poorly assembled from the start.
Most People Mad At Me: Thousand Threads
So Thousand Threads is a game where you explore a large open world populated by a sprawling community of people who are mad at you. I mean they’re not necessarily mad at you by default, but one time a bunch of people were like “Franklin Crane attacked me! Someone should teach him a lesson etc etc” so I went up and whacked him over the head with a stick and knocked him out and everyone was happy. Franklin eventually woke up and started chasing me. So I had to knock him out again. Later on I was like a mile away and got hit with something and turned and it was Franklin Crane coming over the hill hollering at me! So I knocked him out again. Some time later I get jumped by a new guy and it’s none other than fucking Ralph Crane, Franklin’s dad! So I knock him out, only to find I’m now under attack from Linne Crane, Ralph’s wife and Franklin’s mom. The jerk flanked me was pelting me with rocks! I just have a stick! Lay off! It’s a very pretty and fun game but I warn you that these people can hold a grudge and word travels fast, so watch who you give a concussion.
*EDIT: “Most People Mad At Me: Thousand Threads” also works as a twitter joke. I couldn’t make it fit into that blurb so I’m dropping it here. You’re welcome.
I don’t know how you make a sequel to Spelunky, which is basically a perfect game. It was a fantastic year for roguelikey action games, and much of that can be traced in some way to another to Spelunky’s influence. I do not envy the task of adding or subtracting anything from Spelunky, and Derek & co did a fantastic job with it. Part of the answer was, of course, to add . Spelunky is hard to write about because it’s Spelunky. It’s one of those games like Super Mario Bros. or Tetris. It’s just the game you think of when you think of that kind of game. “It’s kinda like Spelunky but ____” is a description I’ve used many times over the past decade. This isn’t a very good entry in this list, but if you want a takeaway: Spelunky 2 is like Spelunky, and expands on the concept with some fun new mechanics and it all works very well. That is extremely high praise. If you haven’t played Spelunky, what are you doing with yourself? Go give it a whirl or 20 or 40 or 100. I award Spelunky 2 100 Whirls.
Worst Pizza: Tales From Off-Peak City
Part of this cool game involves making and delivering pizzas. You have a lot of flexibility in the ingredients, perhaps too much. I was very impressed with the pizza-making contraption set up here, and I believe that was a wood-fire oven so at least the crust is gonna be crisp for that classic Off-Peak City slice. But there is such thing as too much, and the machinery and ingredients here enable you to make pizza from the FULL SPECTRUM of the pizza quality scale. That is simply too much power. And the pizza suffers for it! The rest of the city is 100% normal though.
Going Under is a roguelikey thing that takes place in the tech sector, and it is downright disturbing how well the ideas and slogans of that place map onto a randomly generated dungeon brawler. I was going to explain what I’m referring to, but it’s 2021 and you’re on the internet, on a video game site--you know about everything this game riffs on, whether you want to or not. Venture capitalists, rockstar developers, visionary billionaire entrepreneurs, precarious workers, acquisitions and bankruptcy, disruption, so much money flying around with often very little to show for it but a string of shuttered apps with quirky names and some folks up top who somehow got even wealthier off it. All of this stuff is in the news even if you don’t orbit anywhere near that world. When Jack Twitter or Mark Facebook have something to say, it gets reported on. You don’t have to have worked this kind of job to recognize the chummy and twee language wrapped around completely ridiculous situations that are designed to chew up and spit out workers for as cheap as possible. One time I worked at a coffee place/sandwich shop and the owner was like “we are representing our excellence here” and I was like well you might be dude I’m getting paid sub-minimum wage to make cheesesteaks and fill coffees.
Going Under is funny, and the combat that centers on endlessly finding and swapping a huge variety of weapons and apps is just a whole lot of fun. And it’s also really pretty? The art style is kind of a take on the flat shapey vector art style that is recently being goofed on for its overuse by the sector parodied in the game, but you know what? That shit can look reeeeal nice when it has a great designer having fun behind it and it isn’t just being boiled down to bland nothingness by clients. Death to reductive meme-y critiques of art. Long live excellent “flat” design. Great game.
Most Unstable Cosmology: Battle of Angels
I have no clue where I saw this or how I came to download it, but I paid money for it, and so will some of you, and if this game is to be trusted, this is all the workings of angels and demons doing janky wrestling game moves on each other. I don’t know if you playing this constitutes good or evil winning. In this game you play as an angel cleaning up the streets and various other zones in the name of the LORD. This takes the form of finding situations where demons are going to cause some trouble, wrasslin’ that demon, and if you win, diffusing the situation. But then George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Obama make appearances. And one time you summon tigers to scare off some dudes who are threatening a woman with a gun. This is all the plan of God. It’s in the bible.
Every era reinterprets myth and legend in a way that tells you at least as much about that era as the source material. Hades is about working through your personal and relationship issues with a surprisingly wholesome bunch of people/gods/monsters while trapped in a neverending loop of futile drudgery and violence where the world is ever/never changing, but you can always return home with your hard earned dollars and spruce the place up a bit. You have doubtless by now heard that Hades is a fantastic game, a marvelously designed thing that balances the action and slow progression/mastery loop of a modern roguelikey thing with a surprising amount of character and story development. I had to uninstall it after beating it a dozen times because I had to go on living my life and this game was eating it. It’s as good as everyone says it is. And yeah, the take on mythology is extremely wholesome, and you might feel a few different ways about that. I ended up thinking it worked very well, which is amazing because it could easily have not worked if it swerved wrong. It’s the “you can pet the dog” version of Greek mythology. You can make the center of the underworld totally hygge. Hyggdes.
Best Dog: Tonight We Riot
Tonight We Riot was made by a and put out by a . It follows the progress of revolutionary socialists liberating zones from capitalists and the cops that serve their interests. It’s a very fun arcade-style game where you have to act collectively as an ever-growing group against a larger and more mechanized force. I would say it’s extremely 2020, but it’s extremely last 100++ years or so. It’s well worth checking out. Very cool game. Go play it! But I wanted to draw special attention to how it references and honors the famous Greek , Loukanikos. I played this right around the time I played Hades, and it struck me how both of these games feature fictionalized Greek heroes. The difference is that Loukanikos was real, and brave, and possessed some awareness in his dog brain of which side he was on. And the struggle that this dog was a part of is a real life struggle. So pour one out for Loukanikos and all riot dogs, for being good friends to people who need it.
I loved Maneater so, so, so much. It joins Crackdown, Red Faction: Guerilla, and Just Cause 2 in my little mental hall of fame of open world action games of this sort--unlocking zones to crash around in, doing violence and racking up wanted meters, but with unique mechanics that make them endlessly playable. It also reminds me of the Tony Hawk games in that I ended up doing a lot of running (swimming) starts before pulling off a difficult trick jump to grab a spinning sparkling collectible license plate hovering 30 feet above the water, under an elevated highway. The game has a very blatant theme, involving environmental disaster, inequality, and capitalism, and if you have for any reason fantasized about actually eating the rich, you can take your garbage-eating murder fish and flop across a golf course gobbling up patrons. You actually spend a decent amount of time out of the water later in the game, and sort of waggling and bouncing your way down the street chasing pedestrians never gets old. You also battle shark hunters, cops, the fucking mafia, and all manner of normal undersea creatures. At one point I was picking people off of a boat and throwing them up in the air and tail-whipping them 30 yards into the air to hit a switch to open a gate. It’s that kind of experience. You can upgrade your shark in all kinds of ways throughout. By the end I was like 30 feet long and had electric powers, able to zap both man and sea-beast. Few know that sharks can do this. I mentioned before that the game has a very overt message, and it is in part delivered by running nature-documentary narration throughout that is often genuinely funny. Extremely fun carnage. Maneater is the #1 jam of the summer.
Best Video Game News Item: The VOW Strike
Back in July 2020 a group of freelance writers for a very writing-heavy game called Lovestruck went on strike. More and more of games and tech in general is made by contractors, as is more and more labor in general. You might have heard of this gig economy thing. According to US labor law, freelancers don’t share the same protections for organizing that full time employees do. This is very very handy for the companies that employ them. The Voltage Organized Workers stuck their necks out, and did so publicly. They did so with the aid of CODE (Campaign to Organize Digital Employees), which is a very exciting campaign that was also involved in the recent unionization efforts at Google. People donated thousands of dollars to cover the lost wages of the striking workers. And three weeks later, they won. Among other things, they wrangled pay raises that averaged around 78%. It made history in this industry. Hell yes.
God, what a game. I’m going to assume this is also high up on some other lists on Giant Bomb this week, and if it isn’t that’s a crime. I’d suggest looking up interviews with the developer Naphtali Faulkner, who goes into the inspirations and ideas that went into the game, because I can’t do them justice here--particularly in how the game comes out of Māori culture. What I do want to talk about is how Umurangi Generation is the cyberpunk game for the world of now. It maintains a lot of the elements you might associate with cyberpunk (overbearing capitalism, tech nightmares, universal surveillance, climate disaster, neon and trappings of counterculture) but it doesn’t feel like it comes from the '80s or '90s. It’s a game where the reality of the end of the world is as close as the fires in Australia, where the all-seeing corporations and cops are out in the open, and where the world really does feel like it’s on a countdown. It’s a game that grapples with the idea of normalization, where new existential threats become just the way things are now, the cost of doing business. It doesn’t feel like you can just get all badass and overthrow the evil corporation, nor does it offer the possibility of becoming happily complicit in it. As a side note it is also extremely biting and funny at times in its commentary on video games as a medium and industry in these times, especially when it comes to the futile drive to be “apolitical”. Also the crack about twee indie games where the protagonists in the fantasy world look like graphic designers. I laughed.
To run the game through my very American vantage point, I was struck by how firmly the game comes down on the issue of policing. Nowhere do you see cops being heroic. They are standing guard with guns, keeping lines in order, that sort of thing. But you find evidence of police murder and violence everywhere. Memorials to the dead, often with little drawn portraits, are found here and there. Records of how this person stood up to the cops here. Graffiti that just reads “Cops Come Here To Kill Us”. In the US, 2020 was a year of historic uprisings against our rampant, forever-long epidemic of police violence, which accordingly saw tremendous violence done overwhelmingly to protestors by police and people aligned with them. Vehicles were prime weapons, with cops and other people gleefully plowing through protestors. Playing Umarangi Generation during that summer felt like yes, here’s a game that gets it. It doesn’t spend time asking about the internal struggles and private virtue of the people with the armor and the guns, because that goes out the window when the order goes out to fire on someone, to pop off tear gas, to make arrests, to crack skulls. The game doesn’t so much posit a grand solution to any of this that you can go and do now, and it really doesn’t have to. Nor can it really.
Umurangi Generation is about hanging with your stylish friends, trying to find joy in the gigs you take on to survive, bearing witness to the world, and hoping beyond hope that you aren’t watching its death. It’s a very claustrophic feeling but it finds the notes of grace in it that come from the broken beauty of the world and the people living in it. It’s a game that longs for a better tomorrow, but in the meantime it revels in the joys available in a world on fire. Here’s to the last generation to watch the world die.
Almost exactly one year ago as I write this, we said goodbye to our cat Ico. He had been with us for 15 years, since a month before Bethany and I got married. We had never been without him. But he’d grown older, and his lungs and body in general were failing him. I wish we’d had more time with him. He’d been there always, always my late night work or TV partner. A loving grouch, one of the very best personality types. We had promised to never be those people who keep a pet alive longer than the point where they stop enjoying life, and Ico was right at that point. He had a hard time dealing with the stairs and he was clearly in pain a lot of the time despite his continued love for snuggling on the couch and biting me. We were also moving in the next month and the new place had a larger staircase and a whole new house to learn. Moves were already hard on him in the past and we didn’t want his last month or so to be one of confusion and panic and physical difficulty. So after exhausting all of our options and getting the verdict from the vet that he didn’t have long to live, we made the decision to put him down.
Kentucky Route Zero has, among other things, always been about loss--how we come by it, and what is left after. By the time the last episode came around, the game felt heavy with it, like when your clothes are soaked. The loss of a leg, then an entire body, then a friend, then a town. The loss of a home, a place to be, the ability to be anywhere at all. Debt ate people alive like a wasting disease, drove them to self destruction, or when all else failed, simply crushed them. Capitalism does this, over and over again. It marks out the contours of so much of our suffering, like a mime doing that invisible box thing. You can’t see it but the walls are there all the same, and it’s shrinking. You are left with the feeling that you’re managing loss, just deciding when is the best time to let another thing go. An empty space is still a thing, even if it's defined by absence.
The vet came on a Thursday afternoon in late January. In order to make this easier on him we gave him a double dose of his pain meds an hour before, which made him chill and sleepy. He took one last nap in the pale winter sun, sky conditions that ceased as soon as the van pulled up outside. Clouds rolled in and a snow squall started. Very dramatic. We laughed at it because we were very desperate to laugh at something. Bethany held Ico, and I sat in front him, comforting him. The vet injected him in the back of the neck with a drug to knock him out. I was the last thing he saw as he went limp. Once he was totally passed out, she began injecting the drug that would kill him. As she examined him, she informed us that he was actually in worse shape than we knew. Poor baby, she said, stroking his still head. But for as bad as his body had become, his heart just would not stop. The vet was bewildered, and put larger doses into him. It took the equivalent dose needed for a large dog to finally put him down. Hell yeah, buddy. Make them work to stop your heart. I was proud of him.
Kentucky Route Zero has, among other things, always been about the mundane processes of life and the resilience people are demanded to have to make it through it all intact. Jobs have to be done, medical procedures undertaken, closings and reopenings and moves, repairs and replacements. Bethany and I do a lot of driving around rural Pennsylvania and every time we roll into a small town somewhere my mind always goes "where does everyone here work?" and one of the things that makes KR0 so resonant is that it too immediately thinks about this. The game might as well be a tour of jobs, be they stable work or sporadic gig. A gas station attendant, two musicians, office worker, researcher, restaurant proprietor, doctor, delivery runner. KR0 understands that the economics and what we do to manage them dictate much of what we can do in our adult life, and what we spend the most time doing. And very often that thing grows outside of the bounds of the 8-hour, 5-day a week ideal that people fought and died for. It creeps into all parts of your life so even if you lose that job, your job just switches to whatever else you can possibly do to keep a roof over your head.
After he was gone, we had our time along with Ico’s body. We snipped a bit of his fur, for a keepsake. After a while, the vet came back in. She wrapped up his body in a little blanket and I watched out the window as she carried this little bundle, our great big giant cat, to her van, and pull away. Bethany and I sat and cried on the couch, then went out for tacos, then came by the still-unfinished and unlivable house under renovation to measure some spaces. I stood in a room lit under a bare hanging bulb, the air cold around me, staring at the fresh unpainted drywall and the room covered in fine white dust, talcum-like. This old, old house becoming something new.
Some time later Ico’s body was loaded into a furnace and burned. Most of what was him as we recognized him went up into the air. We received his ashes back in a week or so. They were white, talcum-like, with little white flecks of bone. He was home, in a way, but he never left really.
Soon after that we began the delayed moving process, right as we started hearing about this virus thing that was happening and might get pretty bad. I thought about how I’d had Swine Flu when it came through in 2009, and how I sat playing the original Demon’s Souls while I drank water and slept, us not having health insurance at the time and therefore no access to a doctor. Well, how bad could it be, I thought. It’s a year later and around 400,000 people have died from it in the US.
Kentucky Route Zero has, among other things, always been about what happens after disaster. Those who are gone aren’t restored, not bodily anyway. But they’re here. What happens afterwards is you bury what you’ve lost, and build again. You have to do this as a community. You have to have solidarity in it, or everything is lost. Solidarity is seeing your struggles in the struggles of others, and seeing theirs in yours, and holding yourself and each other to your common purpose. What you do for the dead after they are gone is a way of putting that into action. One of the ways they remain is in our dedication to them, our continued struggle. In the final moments of this game that took most of a long, tumultuous decade, you come together and sing. Not just as a way of paying tribute to who was lost, but as a way of defining what remains. We remain.
What happened in 2020 wasn’t just bad luck, or stupid people who wouldn’t social distance, or an astoundingly evil presidential administration. Granted all of those things were big problems and aided in the catastrophe. But where I live isn’t somewhere that could possibly have dealt with it, regardless. It certainly could have gone better in better hands, but it’s not chance that better hands and better plans weren’t in place. This plague was almost perfectly designed to be near impossible to stop in the US- it mostly affected people who weren’t wealthy, it hit people in all of the jobs that are looked down on. Suddenly those burger-flippers that don’t deserve a better wage were Heroes. Heroes are very cheap. All it costs to make someone a hero is some words, maybe some sort of public salute. I’m sure after this is over they’ll build a monument to all of those people. Dead heroes are much cheaper than living humans. The ability to respond in a way that would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives has been bled out of my country over the past half century. There’s no infrastructure for this, no trust it could be done, and the dominant political idea is that the market must take precedence. And it did. The rich got richer at home or safely in a protected bubble. Millions of people lost their jobs. And my family members kept going to work outside of those safe zones, because they had to. Rent and mortgages, saving up for a car, feeding the dogs, medical bills. The economy had to keep going. There was no other solution. No alternative. Andrew Cuomo released a book taking a victory lap for his leadership in the first months of Corona. The book came out in October as cases were ramping up. USPS, Amazon, UPS, Fedex workers delivered it to people’s houses and it was read indoors, in a time of quarantine. Hundreds of thousands more died.
The final Kentucky Route Zero act takes place in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe. The ground is still soaked, the wreckage strewn around, dear friends gone in the night in more ways than one. What is there to say at a moment like that? “Well, we should probably clean up, and see to our friends, family, and neighbors, and figure out what to do going forward, together.” A community is destroyed, but it only really ceases to exist when people stop rebuilding it, stop helping it be born anew.
The week before we left the rental house last January, we discovered something in the basement. The mice that Ico had been keeping at bay had been busy since his death, stealing sunflower seeds Bethany kept in a bag to feed the birds out back and dropping them in a large crack in the floor. We came down one morning to grab some boxes and saw what looked like a miracle- tiny green shoots, baby plants from the lost seeds, pushing the floor up, cracking the concrete further. Incredibly small and delicate, pale green, reaching up, desperate for what little sunlight got down into the basement. A memorial for my friend, and new life all on its own.
Kentucky Route Zero has, among other things, always been about the bravery and sturdiness of normal flawed beings, be they human or robot or animal, dealing with realities they never asked for, and making a life in them. Broken equipment, broken people, all come to life again. Old busted TVs revived to become weird-ass art installations. New meanings, new life. Continuum of existence in some way that is only possible due to the space left by something that is not longer there. Ghosts in the static. Speakers long still and silent springing back, pouring out music you didn’t know what even there, in the air, floating around you all along.
On a bright sunday in June we got a pair of two month old kittens, Fern and Sid. Fern is wise beyond her years, smart as a whip, and melancholy. She is a bobtail and has freakishly long back legs which she uses to jump on top of every furniture item she can. Sid on the other hand is a Maine coon kinda guy, all dark fluff, not unlike Ico really. He is just full of good vibes and chill as hell. They were from different litters but had bonded as babies when they met at the foster home. Fern was near death when she came in and Sid reportedly looked after her. Best friends for life immediately. A few weeks after Sid got here he began to get sick. Trouble breathing, wasted away to a pound and change, constant snot and distended abdomen. Also he couldn’t meow, he just sort of crackled at you. He was in and out of a few vets and the animal hospital often over the next two months, each time getting a little better and then crashing again. There are diseases that kill kittens that are just very hard to treat, and we were just trying to figure out if we were going to have to, for the second time that horrible year, say goodbye to a cat. I couldn't believe we were having to go through this again so soon, but then again I could. The entire past year or two has been experiencing disasters and watching them happen around us. I thought of Fern sitting alone on the stairs.
Kentucky Route Zero has, among other things, always been about living through the end of history, and asking what happens after that history finally does actually end. The answer of course is that history never stopped. It’s still going. It took almost a decade for KR0 to get there, as the world around it only made it more true. I sincerely think it is one of the finest games ever made. I feel lucky to have witnessed that journey in real time. God, these days I feel lucky to witness anything in real time. This past year I saw people in the streets, I saw them stand where they knew they were in danger, because they chose that over turning their backs on their communities. I saw them kicking and pushing cop cars away to protect their neighbors from being evicted days before Christmas, at the last days of this long plague year. The core of this--the solidarity that makes you push back against forces that seem unmovable--what will eventually save us all looks like that.
Sid wanted to live. He romped and played and snuggled and clearly wanted to be here. He didn’t quit, and neither did we. A couple months into this ordeal it was discovered that he had a polyp in the back of his throat that was likely causing the issue. It was huge, the size of a quarter in his head, the monster from Carrion slowly strangling this frail animal who was fighting valiantly to hang on and stay here, with Fern, with us, in the house with the big staircase. The one Ico never got to see. It was a risky operation for a cat so tiny and frail and we were warned it was likely he would never wake up from surgery. At that point he was in an oxygen tent, it was the only way they could keep him breathing. We said OK, go ahead with the operation and then we waited by the phone. I made my peace with losing him.
But they got it out. He woke up, and could breathe fully for likely the first time in his 4 months of life. By the time we picked him up the next day it was like he was a brand new cat. He could breathe and was accordingly full of energy, and he could meow now. He hasn’t shut up since, really. He plays fetch with us all the time, jumping and sprinting all over the place and crashing into objects because he hasn’t mastered coming to a stop, like a kid learning how to rollerskate who will just roll until they hit a wall or grass. And he’s grown to be huge. He’s not even a year old and he’s this giant bear to go along with Fern’s equally giant bobcat vibe. I see them all curled up together on the couch and I think that saving Sid was in part about our love for him, but also about our love for Ico. I wanted Sid to live because Ico had lived, and my responsibility to Ico outlived his body and now extended to someone else. Ico lives on in the survival of this weird little space bear silently sleeping a few feet from me right now. A cat dies, and a new cat lives.
The time will come when the storm ends, the waters recede, the ashes return in the mail, and we look around and find there is still much to love, and much to work for. The new cats will sleep beneath the ashes of the old cat kept in the painted urn on the shelf in the house with the big staircase. All parties lost and found accounted for. Then we will be home.