The Roundup: From The Game Developers Conference To Destiny 2 To DeepWell To Wilde Flowers And Beyond

By Ronald Gordon

Greetings and Salutations! Welcome back to the Roundup! It’s the Critics Circle’s glimpse at news, reviews, and so much more in the vast radar that is the Gaming Community. Last time, we focused mainly on our Members of the Circle and gave them the spotlight, but this time our Interns have come back with reviews and essays for any that are interested.

Before we start with the Interns, the Circle actually has some news to celebrate, yet another successful mentoring program. Once again engaging with local schools, Founder Harold Goldberg, Circle Member Whitney Meers, and Senior Intern Isaac Espinosa, visited Mott Hall III Middle School and met a group of 12 youths who were passionate about gaming. Harold attributes some of the class’ gaming knowledge to “the work of educator Ryan O’Callaghan, who’s prepped these young people with stories of gaming’s past and its present. Students seemed to already know my narrative history book,” which is a wonderful thing to see. With gaming as a whole becoming a broader topic to explore as the years go on, it’s wonderful to hear that some teachers are willing to educate students that are curious and show them the history behind gaming or how the industry works. We hope that more teachers take the approach that Mr. O’Callaghan took in the near future, as the Critics Circle would love to continue bringing kids the same joy that the 12 youths at Mott Hall III felt. 

For our first review of this Roundup, we have Makeda Byfield who brings a review of Apple Arcade’s Wylde Flowers. Makeda found herself drawn in by Wylde Flowers’ storytelling and character design to a point where she dedicated 30 whole hours to it. That’s a surprising feat in the mobile universe, to be sure, but “Off the bat, I was pleased with how diverse the characters were. I noticed a dark-skinned black man and a pride flag waving in front of the mayor’s office in the opening sequence alone!” showing that Wylde Flowers brings diversity to its characters with the way they’re designed. The characters alone made Makeda feel warm and welcome as “there finally seems to be some discussion about diversity and inclusion in games,” which is a wonderful thing to embrace. (Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Ballou, one of the game’s narrative writers, is a former New York Videogame Critics Circle intern.)

Next up we have a heartfelt story from Jeison Liranzo. Recalling his times growing up in the town of Licey al Medio in the Dominican Republic, Jeison grew up feeling lonely and having little to enjoy. “On Sunday, cousins and friends weren’t usually there because they would go visit their relatives that lived far away and others went to church. I didn’t really care about religion so I never would go to church: I was alone for the day.” It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us face even now: the loneliness of having no plans when everyone else you know does. Jeison did eventually find a way out of the slump that one sinks into when alone, and his way out was playing games with his family. That play started with a simple card game using mints as a prize, and eventually Jeison received the Nintendo 2DS as a gift from his mother. “Through everything that happened, the 2DS was always my best game friend because it was the only way I could bring myself to smile again. I would think of everything that was happening to me as a journey – just like the people in the video game had done.” Jeison’s story makes me feel his struggles growing up, in turn making me enjoy his previous articles more because they’re not just coming from someone who simply likes video games. They come from Jeison, a young man who used video games to help him go from a lonely boy in Dominican Republic to a writer in the U.S with a dream to write. 

New senior intern Jade Entien didn’t just review just one game this time around, they reviewed many from the always updating Indie Game hub site named Itch.Io. Jade took five of these interesting indie games and gave them a quick review, picking various titles from genres they personally enjoy. The games they chose to review all seemed to have something different that Jade was looking for. Spookware by Papercookies, Strange Toilet by TheThil, Blood Camp by 616 Games, Emily is Away by kyleseeley23, and Get in The Car, Loser! by Love Conquers All Games: are all games that have the Jade stamp of approval in terms of a fun experience. “If you’re ever looking for a compelling or bone-chilling game to pass the time I would definitely recommend the ones mentioned in this review,” they wrote.  Jade’s closing thoughts on Itch.io urges anyone to try out the site as they have. “Thanks to the countless genres I can promise you that with Itch.io your new favorite game is just a few clicks away.” 

I’d like to highlight the work of Circle Member Stephen Totilo at Axios. He wrote an article about Destiny 2’s Five Year Anniversary, detailing how and why new content is still being released for the game. In his quick and concise manner, Stephen lists via bullet points the top points he managed to glean from an interview with Destiny 2 General Manager Justin Truman. The how of Destiny 2’s content updates is fairly simple: “Bungie’s method: Hundreds of developers work on the game, year ‘round, as Destiny 2 evolves through weekly gameplay updates and storyline progression (the game can feel like a weekly TV show).” Stephen notes that Bungie keeps a consistent flow of content being made for Destiny 2’s players. Why the constant updates? Truman says, “We want it to be a single evolving world,” which is a great thing in terms of keeping the game alive but not when issues come up, such as “The ‘vaulting’ controversy: As Bungie adds, it subtracts missions, planets and storylines—much of it material players paid for — removing them from the game.” In the end, Totilo notes that this strategy will most likely upset long time fans and cause unwarranted discomfort for newcomers who might be unable to find their footing. Destiny 2’s new content releases feel both like a blessing and a curse. 

Beyond the Circle

In recent years, Mental Health has taken the spotlight as one of the most prevalent concerns of the global populace. Thanks to the stressing times that we encounter in everyday life, the constant presence of COVID-19 and the continuing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, it’s no surprise that many people find it hard to maintain a stable mind and calm headspace. With Mental Health being as problematic as it is, companies are beginning to push for advocacy and aid to those who might be struggling. This, of course, extends to Gaming as well, and that’s where DeepWell comes in. 

Co-Founder of Devolver Digital Mike Wilson recently announced that in partnership with Ryan Douglas, a Medtech innovator, he will be launching a whole new company. DeepWell Digital Therapeutics, will have a focus on aiding those who struggle with Mental Health issues through the medium of gaming, by helping to develop, fund, and publish games with a heavy emphasis on this important area of concern. Through the use of science and research, DeepWell is already moving towards making games that will serve as both an enjoyable experience and a legitimate treatment for those afflicted by Mental Health issues. “DeepWell is bringing entertainment and medical science together to build upon the proven fact that video games can be good for you, and, thanks to global digital distribution, they’re an important tool to make treatment affordable and accessible,” said Wilson regarding DeepWell and its goal. In fact, Wilson has made donations to the Circle games and writing education mission – because education itself can be part of student health. If you’d like to know more about DeepWell and its team, feel free to visit their site here: DeepWellDTx.com.

Finally, DeepWell announced its first Mental Health Game Jam, which runs from May 1 – May 22. The purpose? According to the press release, “It challenges developers to create games to prove the power of games in positively addressing mental health issues and will challenge the game dev community to:

  • Demonstrate how games can be leveraged to educate and inform about the challenge of mental health
  • Help dispel the misperceptions and social stigma about openly discussing and addressing mental health issues
  • Celebrate and embrace the spectrum of neurodiversity.”

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