friend simulator is a videogame about virtual pets. in friend simulator, the simulated pet is not a real pet - it is a stuffed toy instead. it would be easy to recurse into an extended bit about "simulating the simulated" here, but i'm going to resist - it's not really the point of friend simulator.
instead i wanna liken it to how do you Do It? (Nina Freeman, Emmett Butler, Joni Kittaka and Decky Coss), a game about exploring your sexuality as a young child by mashing Ken and Barbie doll crotches together. both games are explicitly about capturing a moment from childhood, recalling a memory common enough it might well be a specific memory of yours. but where HDYDI has a lot of frisson (your mom is coming home! you might not understand what you're doing, but you know enough to know to feel weird about it!), friend simulator has slack. there's no urgency to the setup - no frame that gives a sense of narrative pressure. eg: the game persists state so you can close the browser tab and return later to the same situation. it's just you in there. as the title of this blog post says, "no record is kept of what you say to your friend". this is a space free from judgement.
this feels really radical in a videogame space, to me! to give you space to just be, to not put in either larger or smaller interaction loops to hook you into returning. to give you tools but also the responsibility for deciding for yourself why to use them. the things you can use on your pet differ - some fall to the floor, some stay attached, the light toggles on and off, the toys can come out of and get put back in their chest - but there's not even the small consequences that attach to, say, the combs & scissors of Toca Boca Hair Salon. the interactions available to you are verbs - but there are no consequences beyond what you yourself enact.
i guess the really novel quality is allowing boredom to enter & dominate the videogame space. boredom was such an important thing for me as a child. i remember wishing for the summer to come, a big 6 week expanse of nothing, waiting to pit myself against that emptiness. it spurred on wonderful acts of creation and fantasy (and less wonderful acts of conflict with my siblings, admittedly). as an adult, as an artist, i'm relearning the value of quiet spaces, time to burrow deeper into myself, to ask questions quietly into a void and listen to what i whisper in response. a game that celebrates that is rare, and quietly radical, and that's why i like friend simulator.
ps: i guess maybe it's unsurprising i'm into boredom in games? see my calming sphere (and writeup) and Always Stuck Minding The Store for examples of me evoking boredom in my own work.
05 February 2018