5 Sep 2023


by John O’Brien


Hey, welcome to CX game review corner. The video in video games is essential to the medium, so today we are taking a look at Videoverse from Kinmoku Games.

In short, it is a game about gaming and the online communities that form around it. Its main theme seems to be exploring the relationships with other people via online forums about a game (or topic) that they all love. It also explores the whole nature of online communication and the nurturing that those communities require to prosper.

It hits a particularly sweet note for me on several levels. When I started gaming 25 years ago, the internet was underway yet still not widespread. The graphical style of Videoverse perfectly mirrors the visual experience of that time, where it is set. The awkward nature of BBS type boards put me off back then, but now they feel kind of nostalgic. This game has nerd-stalgia in abundance.

Although I didn’t enjoy the gaming boards of that era, I did get sucked into mountain bike forums in a big way. So much so that I ended up moderating one for a couple of years. I got more than a few flashbacks to this time while playing Videoverse.

“bringing fans together”

And this is where the meta further overlaps the real world for me. As a still regular gamer, I am an active member of several Discord servers. Discord is an instant messaging and VoIP social platform and performs cultural functions much like BBS and web forums of yore (the core foundation of Videoverse). The platform is strong in gaming communities, but widely used for other pursuits too.

One in particular – The Ursa Ryan Discord – is a daily hangout for me, where we talk all sorts of stuff around Civilisation 6. The folks there feel like friends, and we regularly get on to all sorts of non-game related topics and discussions as well. I am learning heaps from it.

Best of all, it’s incredibly civil. With 10,000+ members, it could easily devolve into a festering snakepit of keyboard warrior trolling but it is kept on track by two main things:

  • good mods, who quickly but firmly keep a lid on any contentious stuff, and
  • the channel owner, @UrsaRyan, sets a good example in all his interactions with members. As the fish rots from the head, so does it fertilise from there.

“bleeping every bloop”

Meanwhile, back in the narrative driven virtual world of Videoverse, you are encouraged to support the mods and other members, mirroring my own real-world experiences of these environments. One thing that kept standing out is the astute use of notifications, bells, likes and hates that are so much part of the devious emotional hooks behind modern social media platforms. Press X for dopamine hit … ahhhhhhh.

It also taps into other primal areas of the brain, asking you to choose empathy, indifference or malice. The paths offered apparently differ depending on ‘how nice or not’ you roleplay the game and options change contingent on what you have previously done. It’s simple but smart, hitting on similar nerve centres that the algorithms of today are so adept at targeting.

The main protagonist is a fifteen-year-old boy, discovering their way in the world, with a burgeoning love interest in another board member. As a fifty-something who had zero electronica at that age, it is a little hard to relate directly, but the concept of ‘finding your sweet spot’ online is something that we all now deal with every day. I’m glad I didn’t have to negotiate that at the same time as teenage hormones and awkwardness, like kids of today must.

There is strong sense of playing with both meta and metaphorical aspects of gaming and developer Lucy Blundell has done a great job of integrating this into a teen romance. Both the game and its characters work toward, if not breaking, at least redefining the fourth wall between developers, players and companies.

This is neither my usual nor preferred genre but, for less than the cost of three takeaway coffees, it was a fun few hours. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of, mechanics wise, although I got occasionally frustrated trying to work out what the game wanted me to do next. Some actions felt very like the ‘gaming the algorithm’ that goes on in real life (irl) to bump subscriber and viewer numbers.

It is hardly a graphic card torturing bling fest and the pseudo 8bit style suits the content beautifully. It should play on pretty much any computer. The ethereally sad music sets a slightly melancholy tone and the ‘notification bells’ are just as triggering as the ‘real’ ones that puncture our daily peace irl. It took about 10 hours to play through, but I was critiquing and analysing as I went, so 6-8 hours is probably more reasonable for a casual player.

“loading every letter”

The ending wasn’t quite what I was expecting, so I went back a save and retried the final section, selecting slightly different options, and the finale also changed to suit. Now I feel the pull to dive back in again and play through with another slant, just see what would happen.

This game is a very clever look at how our instinctive emotions are targeted and triggered by online platforms. That it does so in the gamer community cosmos appeals to someone like me who daily inhabits these spaces, but its broader message is universal: play nice and be good and this will get you happiness and rewards.

The game of life isn’t always so kind. My broken old man body needs pills to start the day. Playing through Videoverse made me wonder more than once if the Matrix producers had slipped a red or blue one into my breakfast each day. Just where is the boundary between physical and virtual reality? Perhaps I should jump on Discord and talk about it.


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