Tuesday 17 December 2019

PC Game Review: Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

PC Game Review: Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

Review by Casey Douglass

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

Playing online games with strangers often seems to bring out the worst in people. No matter how much you try to keep things in perspective and tell yourself you are just a nickname to someone, being verbally abused or insulted can still hit home. Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) is the polar opposite of this experience, as it’s a game in which you share what's troubling you, and in which you can send and receive kind words instead.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)If that last sentence made your heart beat a little bit faster, don’t worry. It’s all done anonymously, with the letters you send simply being signed with the first letter of your chosen nickname. There are also safety warnings about not sharing contact information etc, which is very sensible. People can post “Requests” where they share what they want to share, and you can browse these and decide which ones you’d like to reply to. When you click Reply, you have a number of lines in which you can type your answer. You can even attach a sticker to brighten the recipient’s day, with the potential to unlock other stickers as you interact with people. The person receiving your letter can’t respond beyond sending you a sticker back as a thank you. That’s it, end of exchange. While on some levels, that might feel disappointing, I personally think that it adds to the charm of Kind Words. You don’t have to get into a prolonged exchange with someone to possibly help them have a brighter day. At times you’ll wish you could say more, but for the most part, I think it’s a good limitation to have in place.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)A lot of research has gone into the power of writing and how it can help people who are struggling with something. Give James W. Pennebaker a Google to find all sorts about how disclosure can boost mood and function, as just one example. There is also a panoply of information about how feeling compassion towards others (and yourself) can bring health benefits, and it’s hard not to feel compassion for most of the people who write on Kind Words. In the days that I’ve been on there, I’ve seen people post about porn addiction, loss, loneliness and fears about the future. I’ve also seen people just wanting to share a funny experience or a pleasant dream, so it’s not all “heavy” by any means. Kind Words gives people an outlet who might feel invisible in their everyday life, or who don’t feel they can voice their troubles to the people around them. It also seems to give a far better feeling of connection than any social network seems to offer. There is less meaningless bullshit for a start.

As far as I can see from the developer's Twitter postings, the letters appear to be moderated by a mixture of auto-flagging word lists and manual moderation, so if someone is posting stuff that is really unacceptable or worrying, regular users are unlikely to even see it, and if they do, there is a Report button to flag up your concerns. I would imagine this extends to the paper airplanes that you can also send. They are a more instant way to send a very brief message floating through other players’ rooms. These are usually a quote in my experience, or a brief sentence saying “You rock!” etc. A nice little feature.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

The bedroom in which the game takes place is a cosy graphical space in which your in-game character sits at a desk, listening to those lo fi beats mentioned in the title. As you post, reply, and earn new stickers, these can be used to decorate your room with models of what the sticker represents. It’s another nice touch and a pleasing thing that gives the kind words you’ve received a visual representation in your environment.

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)

Popcannibal released Kind Words on 12 September 2019. By 30 September, over 250,000 letters had already been sent, far surpassing the developer’s hopes:
When we dreamed up this little trust experiment, we never imagined it would get this big. In fact, before launch I did a stress test on the server with 60,000 fake messages and laughed to myself "hah, we'll NEVER get close to that".

I find myself dipping into Kind Words a couple of times a day, whether I’m feeling troubled or not. It might be that I just want to see if there is anyone struggling with something I can offer words of encouragement about. Or it might be that I’ve been playing another game and want my last interactions with people online that day to be kind, rather than just the memory of being told to kill myself by a salty bad loser.

I bought Kind Words on Steam for just over £3 in a sale, but its RRP is only £3.99. For either price, I think I would have been happy with my purchase. You can find it on the Steam Store here.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Birds of Naukan

Dark Ambient Review: Birds of Naukan

Review by Casey Douglass

Birds of Naukan

I often like to listen to some dark ambient that has a shamanistic or ritualistic element, so when the opportunity to listen to Creation VI and Ugasanie’s Birds of Naukan fell into my inbox, I was easily intrigued. Birds of Naukan is a re-issue of an album originally released in limited form back in 2015. It’s a collaboration between the two artists and is dedicated to some of the sacred places of Chukotka, the northernmost region of Russia, with spectacular tundra scenery and history.

As you might expect from an album that is focussed on that kind of landscape, the music is laden with field-recordings, tribal sounds, chants and a feeling of cold exposure. The opening track: Nuneangan is a great case in point. It begins with the sounds of birdsong and trickling water, a bit of thunder and an echoing quality that seems to hint at being in the mouth of a cave. It isn’t long before other notes and tones emerge, from one that sounds like the shushing of a boiling kettle, to horns and a kind of guttural gurgling. It’s a texture-laden opening track, and I particularly liked how the soundscape darkens as it progresses.

Track two is Yttygran, a track that has a quite ominous quality, with scraping and rustling sounds, playing along with the boing-boing sound of a mouth-harp. This track felt like it was a slow build-up of forces, the sounds taking on the nature of the wind inhaling before it screams. Near the midpoint, footsteps can be heard making their way through the landscape, walking the listener into a different space of high shimmering resonant sounds and an insect-like swarming buzz.

Track three is Souls of Whales, and it begins with a deep, whispering rustling, and a sound similar to someone running a finger-nail along a plastic comb’s teeth. About one third of the way in, drum-beat and bone sounds make way for the sound of the sea, crashing waves and piped notes. Things turn a little more ominous towards the end as some of the calls and cries that can be heard take on a wolf-howl aspect, to me at least.

Next up is Pegtymel, the longest track on the album. Something about this track hinted at a “fever dream” like quality, the dog-like barks and pleasing mouth-harp tune sitting amongst a drumbeat and voices that take on the element of screams as the track plays out. A track with quite a ghostly feel to it.

The final track is The Keepers, the shortest track at just over five minutes, and one that eases the listener back to the real world by way of more mouth-harp, the rise and fall of drone, and a furtive ethereal quality that is chased away by hints of birdsong at the end.

Birds of Naukan is a pleasing album, probably containing the most mouth-harp of anything I’ve ever listened to, but that’s no bad thing. The instruments and field-recordings used in each track really do create a feeling of an ancient culture in an even more ancient land. I also think it’s a great antidote to the mind-numbing Xmas music that is plaguing much of the Western world right now. Who needs a fat git in a red costume squeezing down your chimney when you can have the stark beauty of the Russian tundra filled with the voices of the ghosts who once lived there. There’s no comparison as far as I’m concerned.

Visit the Birds of Naukan page on Bandcamp, and check out Yttygran below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Birds of Naukan
Album Artists: Creation VI & Ugasanie
Released: November 21, 2019