If you’re looking for a remarkably easy to help the Black Lives Matter movement, indie game platform Itch.io has unveiled something kind of spectacular.
The Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is a big deal. Itch.io, who host countless indie titles, has teamed up with an unparalleled number of game makers. For $5USD (you can always pay more), you get over 1704 titles. All the proceeds are being split between two groups: the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Community Bail Fund. This, right here, is a brilliant and direct way to send money right to where America needs it.
The world is a very complicated place right now.
Actually, that’s not fair. The world has always been complicated, just maybe not for you. But since 2016 and the election of Trump, things have really escalated. And right now, America is the focal point for a long-overdue uprising. It isn’t pretty, but as friends have been telling me of late, why the hell should it be?
And I know, I know. Keep games and politics separate, I hear you say. But you can’t separate politics and art. Games are made by people who live in the world, interact with it, suffer because of it’s bigotry and bias. Games are an art form, and art can be an incredible way to discuss and interrogate the wrongs of the world we live in.
One of the feelings I’ve been combatting lately is helplessness. The world is watching America right now with a kind of terror; this could be a transformative moment, long overdue, or it could be the beginning of something far, far more terrible than we can imagine. But we can’t all vote in US elections, we can’t all march in the streets in support of our American friends or family. The gaming community, however, is a great deal more activated, aware and diverse than you might suspect. Which is why this bundle is such a fantastic initiative. As of this piece being published, The Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has raised over two and a half million US dollars. They have a goal of hitting five, but I suspect they’ll coast over that in no time.
Indie games are often a hotbed of ideas which don’t really see the light of day in mainstream games, so this bundle is also a brilliant way to expose yourself to just what games can do when small-scale devs pour their passion and their real-life experiences into their work. But with 1704 games in the mix (and rising), where the hell do you start? After you’ve picked up the bundle, what are you actually supposed to play?
Actually, between the time I wrote this piece and came back to edit it, Leaf Corcoran (creator of Itch.io), announced that the number of games included had jumped by 1000 and the earnings over 3.6 million. Developers, it seems, all wanted to pitch in and help out, and it seems to be working – major studios are throwing down offerings to help Black Lives Matter which are by and large pretty mild. The indie game community is going in hard.
Well, I’ve curated a list for you of my favourites so far. Feel free to hit us up with any gems you’ve found in the mix, but these are the games from The Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality which have me utterly enthralled.
If you’re after something with loads of heart, Quadrilateral Cowboy is perfect. It’s sort of hard to describe – it’s a hacking / heist game with oodles of environmental storytelling, but it’s genuinely such a treat to see something like it in this bundle. Brendon Chung, and his outfit Blendo Games, also made the sublimely odd Thirty Flights of Loving.
A Short Hike
A bunch of my mates lament the fact that they don’t have a Switch, and as such can’t disappear into the soporific embrace of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. What did I recommend in its stead? The utterly magical A Short Hike, wherein you’re a bird stuck on a camping trip who explores and thereby discovers the joy of… well, taking a short hike. An unbearably wonderful experience.
Oikospiel Book 1: A Dog Opera in Five Acts
Ever play Proteus? You should play Proteus.
Anyway, Oikospiel Book 1 is from the genius who did the music for Proteus, and is an utterly bewildering sojourn through… god, I don’t even know how to sum up Oikospiel Book 1. It’s part interactive album, part Lynchian mind-job, but it’s also kind of like a relaxing, meditative version of a William S. Burroughs novel.
Get on it.
Wheels of Aurelia
In Wheels of Aurelia, you’re a young woman driving through Italy picking up hitchhikers. The period touches, attention to detail, dialogue, art and music in Wheels all speak to a deep love for the genre. Driving whilst making dialogue selections soon puts you firmly in the head of the protagonist, and exploring all of the various story threads is a brilliant way to unwind.
Wide Ocean, Big Jacket
A glorious, effusive, deeply compassionate look at being a kid on a camping trip with adults. People had been pestering me to dive into Wide Ocean, Deep Jacket since it’s release, and having played it, I’m now pestering you to do the same.
The premise of Astrologaster is an odd one. You’re playing through a pop-up book, exploring a story about an astrologer trying to cure people’s ills in England during the time of the plague. The exposition is sung by a comedic chorus, the plot is dry and witty and absurd, and the mechanic of diagnosing people’s ills by consulting the stars is a delight. If you’re after something frothy and loveable and eminently British, get on this one pronto.
Sure, putting Celeste in here is a bit of a no-brainer, but when the developers of this smash-hit added it to the bundle I couldn’t not. It’s a combat-free platformer about battling depression and mental illness, and it has one of the greatest game soundtracks of recent years. It’s a completely transformative gaming experience, and you owe it to yourself to dive on in.
Don’t Wake the Night
Inspired by Paraguayan folklore and stories, Don’t Wake the Night has you playing as an omniscient spirit summoned to a meeting. All you can do is poke trees of shove rocks, and listen to the group as people react. But you can’t listen to them all, and so you’re forced to make choices based on the snippets you choose to overhear. It’s a fascinating spin on storytelling told through a unique indigenous lens.
What is Kids? Well, it’s contemporary art that you play. In essence, tiny, faceless children sprint headfirst into a large black hole and it’s up to you to curate the experience. At once unsettling and delightful, Kids is something best played with very little priming beforehand.
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
William Pugh, of The Stanley Parable fame, made this fifteen-minute game which is narrated by UK comedy wunderkind Simon Amstell. If you’ve played The Stanley Parable you’ll have some idea as to the tone and flavour to be savored here, but Dr Langeskov is a tight, punchy, finite experience. It’s also an incredible, stupid, buoyant quarter-hour and you should be playing it right now if at all possible.
There are so, so many other games you should be playing in this bundle. I didn’t even touch upon Oxenfree, Night in the Woods, Minit, Beacon, 2064: Read Only Memories, Nuclear Throne or Overland, which are of course worth many hours of your time. But there’s also a wealth of lesser-known titles you should be playing. The Night Fisherman, OneShot, Signs of the Sojourner, Vignettes, Sewer Rave, Pet the Pup at the Party, A Mortician’s Tale, Haque, Eat Girl, Night of the Consumers, or Far From Noise. Honestly, the bundle is insurmountably big, and you could lose days in there rifling through treasures.
But if you intend to do so, consider giving more than the minimum amount. Hell, buy it for friends, even those who aren’t particularly down with Black Lives Matter. It’s an incredible cause, and a great way to aim funds directly at where they’re needed in America right now.