Before I Begin

In constructing a review for traditional games, there exist several useful criteria by which they can be judged. These include gameplay hours, immersion, mechanics, visual design, narrative strength, difficulty, sound, pricing, and so on. “Art” games and often independent games in general are not so easily parsed. In fact, many of these criteria simply do not translate. It can be said that mainstream games tend to fall into a certain genre; they set out to meet certain requirements that are expected of them by the user. Generally speaking, they compete with every other game in that genre and try to achieve the most fun and addicting gameplay possible. This is not necessarily true of homegrown games which are more akin to interactive experiences than what we tend to think of as “games”. Suffice to say neither type of game is more valid than the other, they merely warrant distinction. This is important to keep in mind the for the following review because, unlike most other game reviews, the enjoyment level of Like Camping certainly cannot be distilled into a numerical quantity. I cannot even recommend that someone play or not play it (actually I totally could but only because I’m bias). Instead, I can only endeavor to express what experience can be had playing the game and you can then hopefully make the decision for yourself whether Like Camping constitutes a game worth playing. All that being said, let’s jump in.


Synopsis

For an introduction, I’ve included a picture of Like Camping’s description and display from its time at GQCON (The Queerness And Games Conference) where it was recently featured.


Interview With The Creator

I was fortunate enough to talk with smolghostfriend about the game and their design process. The exchange is summarized here:

What was your inspiration for making Like Camping?

I originally started with the idea of the controller and what I wanted to make in terms of an alt controller. My work in textiles really influence me a lot in considering the tactile nature of interaction. So I started from the idea of a touch based controller that would control the game that you played, from there I built up the idea of the controller and the whole experience I wanted to create for the player. The tent was included to make it an installation piece to contain the experience within its own small world and play with immersion in that by controlling the environment the interaction takes place in then I would be able to create a cohesive and enjoyable experience for the player.

What experience do you want players to have while playing?

My intention with all thing in Like Camping was to make things soft; feel soft, sound soft, look soft. I wanted the experience to be soothing and meditative for the player and to create something they could truly get lost in and just become fully immersed in the world they are exploring while also experiencing the soft nature of the controller that is taking them through this world.

Why did you feel the need to incorporate the MakeyMakey controls?

The MakeyMakey controls were an easy enough way for me to create the alt controller, providing me already with the pre-programmed set up that I was able to just hook up the controller to and have it working. Using it helped me avoid any technical complications thus allowing me to focus more on the controller and the experience of playing with it.

What was your biggest hurdle in making the game?

The biggest hurdle was really my own knowledge and experience. This is actually the first 3D game I have ever made and my first experience in working with Unity in a larger scale project. So I ran into a lot of hiccups in terms of my lack of knowledge or in that Unity was not as cooperative as I thought it would be, so I actually had to remake pretty much the whole game three times before I figured out all the issues I was encountering.

What, if anything, would you change?

There isn’t honestly anything I would like to change at this point in time. The game is simple and short and sweet and that’s all I really wanted it to be. I love the aesthetics I was able to create and the interactions with the world. The atmosphere I’ve created I feel is good as it is and it wouldn’t feel the same if I added more or changed it in anyway. So for now I am very happy with it and wouldn’t change a thing but we will see if that feeling changes with time.

Tell me about your experiences as a queer game maker.

Although the focus of my games isn’t often on queer identity or experiences it does inform the way I approach making games. Being queer makes me heavily consider interactions in terms of narratives. Some of my games I like to remove the character all together, creating a first person view that allows the player to navigate the world in a disembodied way without having to think about themselves and the physical space they take up, which is often a complicated experience. And when I do create games with narratives I do intentionally work them to be applicable to all in terms of experiences but at the same time prioritizing queer narratives and experiences that queer folks can identify with.

But I think my main drive as being a queer creator is creating things that are soft, and soothing, things that can heal and as well things that make you feel empowered. Being queer often so much is taken from you and existence can be a struggle, so to have things that exist to make you feel nice, to make you feel empowered, things that can offer a bit of respite from the harshness of the outside world and just give you a break for a little while. I want to offer other queers that experience to feel soft and to feel nice and just enjoy little moments, cause we all really need it from time to time.


Review

My experience with Like Camping, a multimedia experience by designer Smolghostfriend, is limited somewhat in that I did not attend GQCON and therefore was not able to experience the game it all its cozy glory. I have played a demo build with standard controls, however and this review will be made under the qualification that its true nature is achieved via its tented enclosure at GQCON and similar installation spaces.

Like Camping is a surreal, calming, and overall beautiful game. The experience starts as soon as you enter the embrace of the tent that constitutes the gameplaying area. The game itself is wholly linked to the enclosure via the makeymakey designed pillow controller. The effect is profound; mentally and physically Like Camping feels distant from the stresses of the physical world. It is a poignant examination of the interplay between analog and digital. The creator here has taken the word “mixed media” to yet unexplored territory, challenging in the process what we can justifiably call a game.

To reflect upon this further, it is worth attempting to establish just what a game is. Most games are problem based by nature; you, the player, experience obstacles that prevent you from achieving a set of goals. In contrast, the intent of Like Camping is to provide solace, not challenge. That is not to say there are no goals; there are a variety of secrets to uncover that urge your exploration of the game’s soft, pastel environment. Ultimately identifying each of the game’s secrets results in … well you’ll just have to see for yourself. What beckons the player here is not bloodlust or completionism but curiosity and a desire to fully engage with the dazzling sights the player is greeted with. A day/night cycle and pleasant soundscape further cements the player in the “tentiverse” that shields the player from outside light.

gameGif

Like Camping operates under the headings “casual” or “hardcore” no better than a trip to the spa or a big whiff of your favorite candle. It exists outside this binary. The purpose of its experience is different than most games but no less legitimate and certainly no less enjoyable. While there is nothing explicitly queer in Like Camping’s gameplay perse, the challenging of established (patriarchal and violent) norms in gaming certainly warrants its inclusion in Queer Pro Quo. It comes 100% recommended. If you would like to learn more about the game and its creator, check out their website here.

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