Culture Consumption: March 2024

My month in books, movies, television, and games.

First, some cool news! Monochrome Heights, a challenging platformer with a unique mechanic created by Patrick Knisely of One Frog Games, now has a demo available! I’ve been working with Patrick to help develop and write the narrative for this game, in which Happy the robot must climb a tower to defeat an old comrade before she destroys the last of humanity.

Check out the trailer below and go to the Steam page to play the demo and wishlist the game.

And now it’s time for last month’s Culture Consumption.


Gwendolyn Kiste is one of my favorite horror writers — in a large part because of the way she centers female friendships and love. Her characters and their relationships with each other are interesting and complex and messy, and this is equally true with her latest novel The Haunting of Velkwood.

When the block of homes within the Velkwood Vicinity suddenly turned into a ghostly apparition with all of the families trapped inside, only three young women (away at college at the time of the event) survived. The site became a hot spot for occultists and scientist hoping to understand the strange phenomena and how it is tied to the afterlife. Haunted by pestering reporters and by memories they’d rather keep secret, the three young women attempt to move on with their lives, with varying degrees of success.

Years later, Talitha Velkwood is alienated from her former friends and living a kind of half-life in a grungy apartment with a crappy job that barely pays the rent. The dour routine of her life is dirupted, when Jack, a new occult researched of the Velkwood phenomena, contacts her about a new project to investigate the haunted neighborhood. Exhausted by her relentless present, she agrees to return home with him in the hopes of seeing her eight-year-old sister one more time. She steps back into the void of her own home and begin to dredge up the remnants of the past — and act that brings her back into contact with her fellow survivors.

An Apparently Impossible Adventure by Laura Madeline Wiseman is a beautiful collection of poetry that explores the magical and wondrous in everyday experiences. The narrator of this collection processes the isolation of mundanity and personal loss through a longing for magic. And these prose poems feel both confessional and like a kind of spell casting, drawing the reader into their world.

At the free special exhibit opening on contemporary fairy folk art at the university art museum, I’m sure fairies are hiding behind the trees in the photograph, behind the girl, the one like your sister, with the candy cigarette. This is America, the late 1980s of outlandish white ruffles, plastic wristwatches, hair sunbleached and wild.

from “Candy, Cigarettes, and Fairies”

The lake that was an ocean, the coffee can, backseat’s chrome, hours of sun on road, flooded trees, while nude beneath bark, shimmered. The back of her head silvered-blonde, the back of hers fire-streaked, my kid sister’s big eyes, glinted. The dolls unraveled from sparkly clothes, dark self from bright others, one country’s sunrise from another’s sunset.

from “Radiance”

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis is a philosophical exploration of the self, looking at the ways we perceive the world around us, how we can be flattened out by holding onto our routines and limited understanding, and how expanding or reconsidering our perspective opens new doors to the way we view and think about the universe around us. Using the medium of the comic form, the book simultaneously explores the nature of the comic book/graphic novel medium, which allows us to both take in the full page at once, while also translating philosophical insights in a visually and linguistically dynamic way. This was interesting read, one that I would be interested in returning to again to see how I might perceive it in the future.

A page from Unflattening.

Books Finished This Month:

  1. Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

  2. An Apparently Impossible Adventure by Laura Madeline Wiseman

  3. The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste

Total Books for the Year: 15

Still in Progress at the End of the Month:

Even Greater Mistakes: Stories by Charlie Jane Anders, Procedural Storytelling in Game Design edited by Tanya X. Short and Tarn Adams,  The Source of Self Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches and Meditations by Toni Morrison, Wandering Games by Melissa Kagen Fullerton, and The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

Short Stories & Poetry

A selection of works I recently read in journals and online publications, with a few lines from the text shared here.

Poem: “Let Them Say” by Theodora Goss:

Let them say of me that I loved beauty,
whether in the smallest things —
spider webs on which the raindrops hung
like crystal from a chandelier, the polychrome
velvet of butterfly wings, or the largest —
sunsets, mainly, during which the heaped-up clouds
bloomed like roses, but also stars at night,
all the usual lovely clichés
in all the different ways
one can love, with both fondness and rapture.

Short Story (Horror): “Notes on a Resurrection” by Natalia Theodoridou (PseudoPod):

the reporter

I heard about the story from the friend of a friend of an acquaintance, and didn’t put any stock in it at first. In my profession, you hear things like this with some frequency. You’d be a fool if you went running every time you heard someone cry fire. And if you end up getting your whiskers singed once or twice, you should consider yourself lucky.

But this?

I keep asking myself why didn’t I stop them. I was there. I was the only sane one, right? Personally unaffected by the tragedy. That’s what the judge said, anyway, even though I was never prosecuted. Not by the law, anyway.

Poem: “Specimens of Those Who Wanted to Leave” by Elisha Oluyemi (Broken Antler):

on the day i should be made lonely, i thought of specimens—
of a house full of tokens, of miniatures, of viceral
reminders of those who would leave me.

tongues in boxes, heads on platters:
it’s not grotesque if you did it with tears


Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) battles his cousin Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler)

Dune: Part II continues the tale of the desert planet Arakis, which is home to spice, the most valuable commodity in the universe and a driver of space travel and political power. The movie reveals the outcome of the feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen — and the growing religious fervor among the Fremen who come to Paul Atreides side as he battles the Harkonnen and the Emperor.

Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of my favorite books, and over the years, I’ve seen nearly every iteration of the Dune franchise (I only missed the Children of Dune SciFi Channel miniseries and the Spanish fan film). So, I really appreciate the direction that Denis Villeneuve has taken in adapting this story by leaning into not just the political infighting rampant in the tale, but also showing the manipulation of the Fremen by Paul and his mother and Chani’s growing relations with Paul, their shared love, and her justifiable anger is also beautiful to see. According to IMDB, Villeneuve is working on the development of Dune Messiah and I am so curious to see how he carried this storyline forward.

Left: Mad Max (1979); Top Right: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985); Bottom Right: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

With Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga coming out soon, our local theatre hosted a Mad Max Marathon. My friend and I only managed to catch three out of the four films, including the original, Thunderdome (because Tina Turner), and Fury Road (which is so amazing to see on the full screen). I really love this series and it’s post-apocalyptic zaniness full of raging car chases and over-the-top characters. It makes me quite excited to see the Furiosa spinoff, and I hope they do a good job with it.


Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), a leader under political attack from fellow council members, and Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), his Portuguese translator.

John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), an English sailor and navigator, and Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), acting as translator.

Shogun is a phenomenal historical drama set in 1600 Japan, which is currently ruled by five regents following the death of the previous ruler. However, when four of the others become jealous of Yoshii Toranaga’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) success and initiate a plan to oust him from control, which would simultaneously result in the execution of Toranaga and those in his retinue.

When an English ship crashes in Japan, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), an English sailor and navigator, becomes wrapped up in the political rivalry. His knowledge of English warfare and of the role that the Portuguese has been taking prior to his arrival could be tip the tides of the conflict.

The show is visually stunning and narratively captivating, with a host of complicated and fascinating characters, each with their own drives and motivations. Seeing these disparate groups and cultures collide makes for fantastic view, and I’m looking forward to seeing this mini-series wrap up.

Detective Wayne Hays (played by Mahershala Ali)

After loving the first season of True Detective, my roommate and I decided to see if we would like season three (skipping two, because we heard it wasn’t as good). The third season focuses on the investigation of two missing children, with Detective Wayne Hays (played by Mahershala Ali), a former tracker during the Vietnam War, leading the search. As with the first season, the episode jumped between timelines, including the 1980s when the investigation was taking place, the 1990s when the case was reopened, and 2015 when the Detective is an old man looking back on his past work. The editing style slips between these moments in a way that suggests the detective’s slipping memory. While this season did not immediately capture my attention in the same way, Ali is phenomenal in this role and his performance keeps me interesting in seeing more.


Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (screenshot by me)

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (Night School Studio) is a narrative adventure game about Riley, a 32-year old woman who returns to her home town to work on a local project to monitor signals in the area. Partnered with Jacob Summers, she is tasked with placing transmitters at strategic points in the remote hillsides. Planting the first transmitter results in a sudden burst of light and launches the characters into a deep mystery full of ghosts, a local cult, and inter-dimensional time travel.

Lost Signals expands on the mechanics from the first game. As before, the player can use the radio tuner to tune into strange frequencies and interact with supernatural elements, but they can also use the radio throughout the night to listen to news and music on various stations, which might provide helpful information. In addition, the player can use a walkie talkie to connect with various people, learn about them and their lives, and receive and give aide.

Communicating via walkie talkie in Lost Signals. (screenshot by me)

I love the narrative of Lost Signals —possibly even more than the first game. A part of it is that I feel more connected to Riley, who is older and more mature than the teenagers who were the focus of the original. Riley is grounded, an Army veteran, and is capable with a good head on her shoulders. She’s imperfect, but is doing her best as she faces both major changes in her adult life and faces the strange and mind-bendy challenges she faces throughout the night. The story is fascinating, a bit melancholy, and laced with creepy cosmic horrors — all things I love.

Pilgrims (screenshot by me)

Pilgrims (Amanita Design) is a charming puzzle game, in which you play as a pilgrim who wants to go on a journey. The player has to gather a group of quirky companions and collect certain objects in order to proceed. Combining certain objects with certain playable characters allows for a wide variety of options for solving puzzles. Although I beat the game quickly enough, I got the impression that there were a multitude of other methods for beating the game that I missed.

The hand-drawn art style is fantastic and narrative is playful and fun. Although there is no dialog, the animation and actions taken provide a clear sense of character and allow for an fun and humorous story to unfold.

Horizon: Forbidden West takes Aloy to Hollywood in the Burning Shores DLC. (Image: Media Kit.)

I jumped back in to Horizon: Forbidden West (Guerrilla Games) — finally getting around to playing the Burning Shores DLC released last year. But I didn’t exactly get to the DLC, yet. My immediate instinct was to work through some of the side quests and collectables that I left behind after completing the game last time — so that involved quite a few hours of gameplay. Just being back in this world, facing off against machines and human enemies reminded me just how much I love these games. And I got a chance to reconnect with some of the companions and hear their thoughts following the end of the main story line. All of which is to say, I’ll be talking about the DLC itself in the next Culture Consumption.

Minecraft. (Image: Media Kit.)

When I joined Syd (aka thechosengiraffe) on her stream to discuss game development, poetry, and the writing life (watch here), we also played Minecraft (Mojang Studios) — an experience that was delightfully chaotic, since I have not yet mastered the art of being able to conduct a thoughtful conversation, while also evading zombies, skeletons, and creepers.

Nevertheless, dipping my toes into the Minecraft world sucked me all the way in and I started playing on my own, figuring out how to mine, build a wonky home, and survive the terrible, terrible creatures of the night. On one afternoon, I signed on expecting to just play for an hour or so and suddenly six or seven hours of my life disappeared. (One of the most magical moments during this session was mining deep into the earth and stumbling upon a gorgeous cave full of bioluminescent plants and adorable axolotls.)

However, I haven’t been back in the game since that day. On the one hand, I love the openness of the gameplay, with the inherent ability to mine, build, or explore in whatever way you please. On the other hand, it’s so open that I don’t always know what to do with myself in the game when there is no clear direction or goal to work toward.

I’m sure I’ll jump back into it eventually. I think I’d like to try to eventually beat the Ender Dragon. Or maybe I just want to build a really cool base. Or… I don’t know. Something.

A Dark Room (screenshot by me)

I first played A Dark Room (Doublespeak Games) on the browser many years ago, but recently I’ve been playing the mobile version. The game is a text based game, in which the player wakes in a dark room and slowly begins to gather resources. As they gather items, the player is able to build homes that attract other villages and eventually gain enough materials to explore the world beyond the roaring village.

The more the palyer grows your village, the more you things go a little off. As the leader of the village, the player inherently begins to abuse and take advantage of the people who work there, driving them to serve your needs as a play. As the screenshot above states, “make them work. through eternal night.”

I would like to comment on the storyline as a whole, but I have not been able to beat the game on the mobile app. Although I lasted longer than the last time I tried playing on mobile by being more aggressive in attracting villagers to work, which allowed me to gather resources up front — so that I would be well equipped when I wandered out into the world.

But like last time, I eventually ran into an enemy that obliterated me and cleared out all my gear, including valuable and hard to obtain weapons like a rifle that provides significant help in defeating more challenging enemies. As a result, I lacked the gear needed to further progress in the world. Since it’s not easy to get that gear back when you’ve already cleared out the easier caves and explorable areas, I’m kind of stuck. Or, at least that’s how I feel. I don’t remember the browser game being so painfully difficult after crossing a certain threshold. Not sure when or if I’m going to come back to this one.

That's it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?


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