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Hey Baby, Do You Dyad? A Letter Series
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Hey Baby, Do You Dyad? A Letter Series

November 22, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

From: Leigh Alexander
To: Quintin Smith
Subject: Re: Re: dyad

Quinns --

Oh, right, TWO buttons. How could I be even slightly confused when your explanation makes it sound so crisp and intuitive?

Some of my favorite games are the ones where it's hardest to explain why they're good. Or why I like them. So here's another question: Are "I like this" and "this is good" the same thing?

Because I'm having a hard time deciding something about Dyad. I want to say "it might be good, but I don't like it" or "I might like it, in spite of the fact it isn't good," and I can't decide which of these is true.

That's part of the reason I'm picking your brain about why you like it. Because it's so absurd it makes you laugh? That's what you said about music. You also said that about sex. Do you get the same absurd humor from sex as you do from, say, your vivid mental image of Brendan falling into a wet, rubbery cleft?

Maybe you really were a junkie as a kid and this is the consequence.

I think people laugh a lot to avoid intimacy. That's also why they get high, incidentally, because feelings are scary. That Bounce House was scary. Dyad is scary! Like a broken carnival ride. I don't think you were that far off.

As I write this you're at my place, in my living room on my marigold corduroy couch and you are making incredibly tortured noises. I can hear you even though my door is shut. You are distinctly not laughing. I once saw a guy shoot up at a party, rubber strap between his teeth. He made a noise like that.

So it gets you high to throw yourself against absurd infrastructures. Does that mean Dyad is a good video game? Do you like it?

If I went in there right now, slapped your face, erased all things Dyad from my PSN account, would any part of you, however small, experience secret relief?

Jonesing for your reply,


PS: "You've got to travel deeper down our tunnels?" What were you thinking when you wrote that?!

From: Quintin Smith
To: Leigh Alexander
Subject: Re: Re: Re: dyad

Dear Leigh,

I stand by the fact that sex is funny. It can be tender, yes. It's an expression of love, sure. It's also a haphazard meeting of tumescent organs and cardiovascular exercise that we should be warned about by our parents in the same breath as running with scissors. I know a guy who twanged his boner against a bedframe during sex and couldn't walk straight for a week.

As far as the question of whether "liking" something necessitates you thinking it's good, you like something that's a much stronger case study than Dyad. I enjoy Dyad, and think it's pretty good. You, though, will tell people you adore the Twilight books and films, even though you "know" they're shit.

You've told me you're interested in them for their cultural relevance, and how they represent a fantasy that's interesting for its disregard of contemporary feminism. But I don't think that's entirely right. I also know you love Kristen Stewart. I think your love of Twilight is complicated, but I think, Leigh Alexander: Pro Hipster feels the need to justify what she enjoys.

This is why Dyad bugs you. Is it cool? Well, it's got this badass logo, and it's kinda beautiful and abstract, but you're also repulsed by it. Is it a good game? You don't know, because it's not your thing. I love it because I like its intensity and enjoy chasing high scores, but you're on uncertain ground. Is it innovative? Hmm. Well, it's a tunnel racer. And they've been done before, but not for a while, so...?

In Tim Rogers' amazing Dyad infomercial there's the following exchange:

"Dyad will blow your mind."

"Will it give it back?"


I think Dyad's blown your mind, and you want it back. Or, to put it another way, you want to pin down a game that's more interested in being abstruse. Me? I'm happy to just laugh at it, to squirm beneath its neon, and call it a funny game.

Write me back!


From: Quintin Smith
To: Leigh Alexander
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: dyad


Whoa. You kind of went to a weird place fast -- I'm going to delicately ignore your friend's tumescent accident, and how you choose to get your cardiovascular exercise is entirely your business.

You brought up Twilight!! And KStew. Hang on. Need to Google some pictures of her before I can continue. Okay. Phew, needed a hit, good now.

Yes, I am a Twilight fan, despite the fact that by any metric, Twilight is shit. To any intelligent person, let alone to any forward-thinking feminist, Twilight is shit. But it's explosively popular shit. You might have noticed that I'm obsessively interested in finding out why other people like things, and so I dug into Twilight to find out why such shit was so explosive.

I decided it's because the story of an utterly plain, embarrassingly unremarkable girl stumbling helplessly into a war among supernaturally beautiful men who threaten her with their anger and sexuality is probably an escape for women from the powderkeg of modern feminism.

In an era where we must embrace the mantle of strength we've fought so long for and finally earned -- it's our responsibility, our obligation -- Twilight is a fantasy that lets some women admit that they're still scared of boys, that they might want a man to take care of them forever, even when sex is off the table.

That they might want to wear heels and not go in the scary house. Or to NOT be the one to buy the carnival tickets for the boys --

Er, um, where was I going with this?

Right. Dyad, but we need to talk about the "Pro Hipster" thing. "Hipster" is one of those words I don't really care for, because it doesn't really mean anything. On one hand, it accuses people of being defined by their external interests, of borrowing cultural signifiers without understanding what they mean.

But people tend to only accuse others of being hipsters based on some constellation of external factors ("aha, that young man's curly mustache is definitely 'ironic!'") when they can't possibly guess at what those things might mean to that person. Borrowing and repurposing aesthetics is an important way today's twenty-somethings define and understand each other in the social media age, anyway.

I don't really care for this conveniently-recent New York Times op-ed that seems to suggest that all cultural borrowing is cynical and insincere. But one thing it does do is come closest to defining what people mean when they say "hipster" -- a person who, when asked to explain why she likes something, can only shrug and say "because it's cool", and "because it's funny." Seeking good justification is kind of the opposite of a Pro Hipster trait.

If "hipster" is a thing, then it's someone who likes awful things because he thinks awful things are funny; someone who decorates himself with terrible allegiances from eras he never himself experienced because it helps him avoid intimacy and the frightening challenge of being truthful about what he really likes, loves, wants at present.

So back to Dyad, this terrible thing that you insist on locking horns with because it makes you laugh.

Yesterday you were playing it again, and you said something like how it looks like the kind of game people in the 1990s thought we'd be playing today: Abstract, inscrutable, minimalist, fast. The whole "whoa, he's in the game"-type stuff from the 1990s movies that began glamorizing gaming and normalizing futurism as totally hip and radical.

You even talked about how you wanted to do some kind of humor video where some neon hat guy in leather pants and goggles challenges a girl he wants to date by going "HEY BABY, DO YOU DYAD?" as a reference to that sort of era. I know how you liked Tim Rogers' humor video.

Weren't you four years old in 1990?

Holy shit, you're an ironic Dyad fan! You hipster!!

You like Dyad despite the fact it's got a poor experience curve, is weak at communicating with the player, has poor feel, has a weak matrix from which to derive a sense of mastery, weak at all the things I'd associate with a good game. I've decided I think it's actually ugly and uncool to look at, too. That MDMA aesthetic is for small-town kids, or something. It's tacky.

But I'm kidding about calling you a hipster. Your relationship with the game is clearly genuine and personal. It's pleasing you. And you know I refuse to write "reviews" most of the time because our relationships to games, whether they satisfy us or not, tend to have little to do with whether or not the game is shit.

I think "good or bad" is an irrelevant way to discuss games; it ignores the context of how we play them, think about them and talk about them. That's why I asked you to do these letters with me.

Talking with you helped me decide I don't like Dyad. Maybe you're right and it, like, totes burned a hole in my brain, brah. But I see why you like it, too. I like seeing you having fun, even if your fun seems to involve wincing, roaring, and laughing to yourself.

I consent to allow you to show me that last level you've been going on about.

Also, would you like to take me to the movies to see Breaking Dawn: Part 2?



Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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Keith Nemitz
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Wow. I feel like I've just lived the lives of people I knew when I was 15 to 35 years old. Please, Dyad, sink into the abyssal pits and suffer the tines of rabid fiends. I will never play you. Thanks, Leigh, Quinns. Terrific rundown!

Robin Vilain
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Leigh and Quintin, thanks! The Letter Series are always superb.

I love Dyad. I've always had this dream of a game that would push your senses to their limits, exhaust you physically - I had this concept a couple of years ago, at school, of a Kinect game - a DmC-like thing, except relentless and psychedelic, something that would ask you to get up and then bring you to your knees, that would be so intense you would end up panting and crying after a session...

Dyad kinda does that, partially. It succeeds in making you feel like your eyes and your brain are being sucked out of your face, and you can almost feel your veins twitching and sweat drops running down your temples as you reach absurd speeds. I don't know if it's good or bad, and it's irrelevant; what's relevant is, I think, that the game manages to do what it intends to do, ie. literally absorbing your body and your soul for a moment, during which you forget reality.

What I find the most surprising in those letters is the reproaches you formulate, Leigh - "it's got a poor experience curve, is weak at communicating with the player, has poor feel, has a weak matrix from which to derive a sense of mastery, weak at all the things I'd associate with a good game." This is exactly why it is so good! My job, currently, is to make sure some aspects of some games are as polished and as frictionless as possible - and as a result, I'm more fascinated than ever about games that don't give a *shit* about this. Dyad's elements (mines, turbo pick-ups, squid-like things...) are just distinguishable enough to be functional most of the time, but the best moments in the game is when you know you're performing amazingly well and paradoxically the whole screen is *white* (or a blurry mess of flashy colours), and you are playing instinctively because you can't see a damn thing! This balance must have been incredibly hard to achieve - the invincibility limit, in particular, is an amazingly smart feedback. And the mastery exists, and it's polymorphous, as Quintin said, because the game always asks you to behave in different ways and it keeps reinventing itself, but isn't that delightful? It *is*, I guess, kinda masochistic, because it does slap you whenever you think you'll be able to perfectly execute a level after successfully completing the previous one, but this isn't off-putting - it's like, maybe, swimming down a tumultuous torrent and hitting rocks, the hypothetical thrills keeps increasing despite the fact that your body is wrecked. Well, I guess maybe that would happen if you didn't die.

Taekwan Kim
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"I like this", but also "this is good".

More seriously, this was a great read. The active pursuit of understanding why we do things, what compels us to do them is one of the noblest. And I think Mr. Smith's conclusion is actually quite key; if Dyad can genuinely cause a serious and extended examination of one's own psychological processes, it is indeed "good."

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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So if there ever was a box it would read:

Dyad - a game for game philosophers