Show & Tell

Indie Game: The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo

Full Game / Full Video Playthrough

One of my favorite indie games for a while has been The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo, a horror Twine game by Michael Lutz. In it, you play as a child in the nineties who is going over to a friend’s house for a sleepover; their uncle, who works for Nintendo (hence the title), will be visiting at midnight. Throughout the night, the main character has different memories of playing Nintendo games and their friend acts suspiciously. When the uncle arrives, the player can choose to hide in various places or go and open the door with their friend; no matter what, the uncle takes over the screen with lines of code and “eats” them. The true ending is unlocked after experiencing some of the major endings.


The game explores themes of childhood, nostalgia, and fitting in, as well as how games shape our lives, as described in essays unlocked after completing the true ending. I also love the game because of how it creates a very specific tone using text, simple visuals, and powerful audio. Later in the game, it directly plays with the affordances we typically expect from video games, and ties video game functions (such as saving) and other aspects such as bugs directly into the narrative for the player to take advantage of. The use of game affordances as a narrative tool has always intrigued me, and games that do this have recently been breaking more and more into the mainstream.

Art Game Show & Tell – That Dragon, Cancer

That Dragon, Cancer is an autobiographical game created by Ryan and Amy Green about their son Joel’s fight with cancer. The majority of the game is a walking simulator, with the player taking the role of both parents as they struggle to cope with their son’s illness. The game focuses on ideas of love, loss, religion, and purpose, abstracted as chapters in their life with Joel.

That Dragon, Cancer does an amazing job showcasing what games are capable of, and I believe is an excellent example of an art game as it embodies values and affordances of both contemporary art and video games. The game defies the conceptual affordances laid out by the gaming community immediately. This isn’t a heroic game, or escapism, it’s a game about a real family’s struggles and hardships that are unavoidably brutal. Ryan wants players to face the harsh reality of death and to know that no matter what they may be going through that they are not alone.

The game also subverts formal affordances with its strict limits on the player’s agency. Often you can only walk and interact with objects, with little to no choice throughout, furthering the idea that this journey is inevitable. The characters are also abstracted, with the simple geometric faces not going for hyper realism, but a more or less blank canvas in which the dialogue from the real, struggling family can convey their emotion.

Finally the experiential affordances are entirely different from what one thinks of as the typical video game. There isn’t an inherent challenge for the player to conquer, or enemies to shoot. The player is living the lives of a family who is trying to survive, and is powerless to change anything. That Dragon, Cancer is about the player to facing and eventually accepting the harshest realities life has to offer, not escaping them.

As a whole, That Dragon, Cancer is a wonderfully unique game, both in it’s subject matter and approach to game design. It is unflinchingly real, not avoiding any of the paranoia, fear, or cowardice that comes when faced with an enormous struggle. The game design itself is incredibly minimalistic, with the undeniable focus being the story itself. It’s a game the provokes long and thoughtful reflection, and that captures a unique essence of fear and love that so many games fail to replicate.

Indie Game Show and Tell: The House on the Hill

House on the Hill

I don’t play many video games (gasp!), but those I do play are usually browser-based, and a lot are text-based games. One new of my favorite Twine games is The House on the Hill.

At the beginning you choose a character, and then you move through the house using cardinal directions and finding different rooms. You only get a few moves per turn, and depending on which room you end in you find different things. Notably, there is no map, so you have to build a mental image of which rooms lead to which. And you can’t see your stats, but are told when you lose or gain a point in their different categories. During the game, you realize that you are playing as a board game character, along for the ride in a friend group’s game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. After a slow first half, the game accelerates into stopping the betrayer.

I liked this game because of its game-within-a-game qualities, as well as the memorization that made it more challenging than I assume the board game is. It’s fun to play a “multiplayer” game with just myself (which also adds to the horror element being more impactful).

(This game also warrants a mention, for its accuracy above all else:

Indie game S&T: Samorost 3


I chose the game Samorost 3, a point and click puzzle adventure where the player interacts with a detailed and immersive world through the curious character Gnome. Gnome is equipped with a musical tool that allowed him to activate spirit like entities that inhabit objects in the environment. This game succeeds in many ways at knowing what type of game it wants to be, which is an immersive journey, and focusing on that in every way. The player engages with the game through discovery and solving puzzles in order to progress. The difficulty of the puzzles is balanced and relatively easy which has a positive impact by letting the player be equally as engaged in the challenge of a puzzle and the experience of solving a puzzle while existing in a new world. The art process utilizes a wide variety of digital painting and image manipulation (of things like horse hair and rocks) to create beautiful realistic outlandish visuals. The mastery and complexity in visuals is also matched with an beautiful soundtrack that mixes tribal tonnes, rich nature sounds, and an almost metallic biological noises at some parts. Headphones are a must.

I chose this game because of my personal affinity and it’s a strong example of how art intersects with games. In game art, as talked about in the readings, “challenge is often found in the unconventional themes and there mechanics to explore them” (Works of Game : On the Aesthetics of Games and Art). In In my opinion this game exists strongly in the space of art because of its ability to present challenge in the context of its unconventional visuals and mechanics.

Indie/Art Game Show and Tell: Night in the Woods

The game I showed was Night in the Woods. Night in the Woods is a narrative driven game that uses platforming elements and mini-games to tell the story of Mae, a college dropout who is returning home to her dead end home town of Possum Springs. The story is full of delightful characters and story threads and expresses the feelings of returning home after being away to find that while things look the same on the surface, they really aren’t.

To me, this game is important as it expresses a lot of the feelings of being excluded and trying to fit back in when the place you call home has changed without you being there. As someone who went across the country for school and is moving to the opposite coast for a job after school, the feelings of missing home but also not really fitting in back home ring true. The moments of trying to relive the glory days but knowing that you aren’t a high school student anymore and it won’t last ring true to my own personal experiences.

Indie Game Show and Tell

The game I chose for the indie game show and tell is Owlboy by D-Pad Studios. You can watch the release trailer here:

In Owlboy, you play as a young owl named Otus who can’t seem to get anything right. However, when pirates attack his village, he takes it upon himself to make things right again. D-Pad Studios worked 9 years on this game, and it shows in the gameplay and the artwork. The sprite work is incredibly detailed and well-done, the music is fantastic, and the gameplay is smooth and simple.

I chose the game because of this effort and detail put into it. The sprite work in the game is some of the best I’ve ever seen for a sprite-driven game. When I was playing through it I found myself completely immersed in the environment due to the detail and the music. Plus, it’s just fun to play. Otus can’t do much besides fly on his own, so you carry characters to help you. This allows for a lot of skill as you switch between party members and “change weapons” based on the scenario you’re presented with.

It also tied into the reading as it relates to the concept of games for entertainment, art games, and further, game art. The mechanics, story, and game itself was meant for entertainment. It’s fairly simplistic but utilizes its few mechanics to the fullest. The game’s backgrounds, designs, and music, however, give this game a very artistic vibe. It may not speak on any particular message, but just the sheer beauty of the environments is art. Combine these, and you see game art, the mesh between the game aspect and the artistic aspect of the game.

Appropriation S&T – Twice “What Is Love?”

This music video is for a song titled “What Is Love?” by a K-Pop group called Twice and features each of the nine members presented as characters in different iconic films such as Romeo and Juliet, Pulp Fiction, La La Land, etc.

Music Video:

Side by Side Comparison:


Appropriation Show and Tell: Countdown (Snuggie Version)

For our appropriation show and tell, I chose a video made by YouTube user Ton Do-Nguyen. He performed a full rendition of Beyonce’s “Countdown” music video wearing a snuggie. The video, and a comparison to the original, can be found here:

I chose this video to showcase appropriation, as it is transformative, yet not so much so that it parts ways completely with the appropriated work. In the video, Do-Nguyen replicates not only Beyonce’s actions but also copies the editing of the original video perfectly. This presents the viewer with a very recognizable work, which allows the contrasts between this video and the original to shine through. The fact that the subject of the video is a boy in a snuggie sharply contrasts with the iconic pop star of the original. The backgrounds of Do-Nguyen’s version look very much like a basement/parts of a house, giving the video a charming, homemade look, as opposed to the vibrant, polished backgrounds of the original. I think this video is an excellent example of how to appropriate a work and make it your own while still giving tribute to the original.

Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” vs. Matt Cardle’s “Amazing”

My choice for the appropriation show and tell ended up being the use of notes and rhythms by Ed Sheeran in “Photograph”, copying Matt Cardle’s “Amazing.” In it, you can clearly hear the same note pattern from Cardle’s song in Sheeran’s, just sped up and an octave higher.

Here is a video playing the chorus side-by-side with each other, and you can clearly hear the resemblance:

I’m very interested by this because it seems to be one of those “big fish vs. little fish” battles. Matt Cardle, a former X-Factor winner, is not nearly as big as Sheeran is. Sheeran can easily win this battle popularity wise, as people won’t pay nearly as much attention to Cardle’s song. A lawsuit was filed over this by Cardle, which was settled out of court for $20 million.

This, to me, seemed suspect. Sheeran has the resources and the money to fight this and probably win out of sheer money and power alone, but he decides to concede. In my opinion, this seems to be an admission of guilt by Sheeran. It also sort of makes you wonder: did he expect a lawsuit out of Cardle? Did he include the bit knowing full well that he had the money to pay whatever Cardle wanted and still turn a massive profit off of it? These sort of situations beckon these questions, questions that likely will never be answered.

Appropriation Show and Tell: Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons is an artist who regularly runs into plagiarism lawsuits. The contrast of the outcomes of two lawsuits helps illustrate the difference between plagiarism and transformative appropriation.

The first example of this from the Roger v. Koons suit:

Koons exactly copied Roger’s personal photograph in a sculpture, which sold for a high price. Roger wasn’t credited or given any of the profits. He lost the lawsuit on the grounds that his “parody” argument was weak and that the work was not transformative enough to qualify under a free use creative license.

Meanwhile, this painting by Koons was deemed transformative, because even though he copied another photographer’s work, the collage element and possible cultural statement fell under free use in the eyes of the court. There’s a thin line (at least legally) between appropriation and outright plagiarism, and Jeff Koons walks that line even if he often crosses it in some people’s eyes.

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