The death of gaming

Earlier, I was reading a post that struck me as so completely at odds with my view of reality that I felt I had to say something. Since I’m not allowed to make comments at that site (they have a ToS that infringes far too much on the basic right of free expression for my liking), I’ll do it here.

To start, the tone of the post goes beyond breathless, and is difficult to describe without resorting to sexual metaphors. The author is known to be a total Valve fanboy, yes, but this is overboard even for him. In my opinion, it’s the culmination of years of increasing worship of a certain corporation, and that’s honestly sad to see from someone who claims to be a supporter of Linux, an operating system whose very nature is to be free of corporate chains. (Sure, we don’t always live up to that. Gnome and systemd are perfect examples. But even they have their detractors, myself included.)

However, it’s not merely the open admiration of one of the most anti-consumer companies around that is the problem. No, my true concern is that gaming on Linux is dying everywhere. I fully expect 2022 not to be the Year of Linux Gaming, but the end of it, at least for me.

Going out of business

The biggest factor, as I see it, is that it is getting harder and harder to buy PC games at all. With the effective death of physical copies, our only recourse is downloads, and these come with a host of problems. Worst of all, choices for the Linux user have been narrowed to three, all of which are horrible.

  • GOG is a great storefront. I’ve used them for years, and my only complaint in terms of actually buying from them is that my credit union absolutely hates the idea that I’d spend my money on a Polish website using a payment processor based in Cyprus. If you want to actually buy a game, they’re still the best option by leaps and bounds, because they remain (mostly) committed to their pro-freedom stance of only selling DRM-free games. But that commitment doesn’t extend to supporting DRM-free operating systems, and GOG’s parent company is actively hostile to Linux as a gaming platform. With their expected downsizing later this year, it’s clear that the writing is on the wall.

  • Steam is the 800-lb gorilla of the PC gaming space, of course, and it’s hard to overstate their anti-consumer policies. They don’t sell games; you’re merely leasing them, and your ability to play what you’ve purchased always exists only at Valve’s whim. They’ve been successfully sued in multiple countries for violations of basic consumer rights. You have no option but to use their DRM-encrusted marketplace to get your games, even if a few of them graciously allow you to run them in “offline mode”, where your every movement isn’t tracked. Literally the only positive Steam has is its library, because they are in the same monopoly position for gaming that Windows occupied in the OS realm for two decades.

  • is the third-party candidate…except for the part where they fit snugly into one of the major parties’ platforms. Don’t get me wrong. They have some great ideas, like adjustable revenue sharing and simple browser downloads. They’re genuinely more open than GOG or Steam. But their downfall, like so many otherwise decent platforms, comes from embracing woke ideology. Itch was very vocal in their disdain for Valve’s minor step towards free speech in 2020. Their biggest bundle to date raised money in support of a terrorist organization, and their biggest category for games is still half-finished visual novels intended for the alphabet soup crowd. As great as their innovations may be, Itch will never be a place that deserves any right-thinking American’s business, and the next great game surely won’t come from there.

Of the minor players in this arena, there’s not much to say. Most are nothing more than Steam resellers. Even Humble Bundle, once a great source of interesting and fun games, has gone that route, adding a dose of Itch’s ideological idiocy on top of that. Epic’s store is anti-Linux, and partially owned by the CCP; while Microsoft’s only suffers from the first of those problems, it’s obviously a very big one. EA and Ubisoft aren’t worth your time even on consoles. The rest are niche options like DLsite, not general-purpose gaming storefronts.


The Steam Deck technically isn’t vaporware, I’ll admit. In reality, though, it’s hardly an option for most people. For one thing, nobody can even buy one at the moment. Even if you could, however, you have to do it through Steam. That should already be a no-go for anyone who actually cares about using Linux. Then, you add in the closed hardware—the controller only works if Steam is running, for example—and what are you left with? Not “the power of a PC in the palm of your hand” or whatever, but little more than a modern-day Game Gear that doesn’t need cartridges. (By the way, it runs Arch. Well, except that it doesn’t. It runs SteamOS 3.0, which just happens to use Arch underneath. You know, instead of something sensible and Debian-based.)

Despite all its flaws, this is our best option for a Linux gaming handheld, and purpose-built systems of any other kind don’t look much better. Android games are a disaster, as anyone who has looked at the Play Store’s trending lists can tell you. And it doesn’t get better as you go up in size. In 2022, Linux on laptops is still the same throw of the dice that it was in 2002. System76, the cream of the crop in Linux-using hardware, has a failure rate of 100% this year in my household; my brother has now been waiting a month for his warranty repair, and that’s after I needed almost three weeks for my replacement. The desktop is mostly safe, but video drivers offer you the choice of a rock or a hard place. Do you take Nvidia’s proprietary drivers that can drop support at a moment’s notice, or AMD’s open drivers that will never receive the same level of support from game devs?

The last hope

Now, there are still bright spots in the gaming landscape, although they’re few and far between. Open-source games are slowly getting better on the whole. (As one example, I’ve recently become engrossed in Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead.) Some of them are original, some are derivative. Some, like OpenTTD, are reimplementations of games so old that they’re from my childhood. One thing you can be sure of, no matter which one you’re playing, is that you’ll never have to worry about a faceless corporation telling you to stop.

Even if you can’t get the full source, there are still a few great games being made by developers who genuinely care about their fanbase, and are willing to do the selling themselves. Rimworld is a good example here; yes, you can buy it on Steam if you’re so inclined, but why not go straight to the maker? While it certainly would be better if these games were free and open, they’re far better than the DRM-filled dystopian alternative.

If all else fails, there’s always emulation. While we could argue about the “dangers of piracy” all you want (speaking as a content creator, it’s a net plus for everyone involved, except marketing and other middlemen), the simple fact is that every “retro” game is readily available, and readily playable on any remotely modern PC. These are the games we grew up with, the ones that trigger the strongest feelings of nostalgia in us, and they’re valuable for that alone. But then you add in the knowledge that you’ll never need a day-1 patch, never have to worry about being banned because you said a bad word, never have to listen to the devs crying about social justice and other make-believe nonsense, and you realize that gaming back then was just plain better, even if the games themselves usually weren’t.

As a Linux user, that’s really where I stand. I see 2022 as the beginning of the end for my preferred kind of gaming: single-player, offline, playing games that can’t be taken away from me, and that treat me like an adult instead of a toddler to be groomed. There aren’t a lot of those left, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.

If GOG stops supporting my operating system, I’ll still buy from them on occasion, but only after I’m absolutely certain that the games run under Wine or some similar emulator. Lutris, Bottles, and apps of that sort are helpful in this endeavor, and I believe all but the most hardcore Linux fans should have at least one of them ready to go.

If the last gaming holdout against the creeping plague of “you’ll own nothing and be happy” shuts down completely, on the other hand, I realize I don’t have a lot of options. I already don’t care about AAA titles, so the only ones who lose in that situation are the indies who will no longer have a chance to get my money.

I’ll still have old games, though. And I don’t just mean the SNES-era classics. I’m talking about games that are a few years old, but remain very much playable. Think Stardew Valley, for instance, or Sunless Skies. I bought those on GOG, so I know my downloaded copies will work as long as I keep them. While I know I can only speak for myself, I believe they’re enough to last me the rest of my life.

It didn’t have to be this way. But the Linux community made a deal with the devil, and doing that is only ever going to leave you burned. Alas, Steam is something akin to a cult, and its true believers will never realize the harm they’ve caused.

Celeste: my thoughts

I’ve never been a video game reviewer, and I’m certainly not going to start now, but I picked up Celeste this week, thanks to a Switch sale and my amazing Tetris prowess. I finished the main story portion of the game last night, so I’d like to offer my thoughts on what’s considered by some to be one of the top indie releases of the past few years. Bear with me, because this does connect to the rest of PPC. Eventually.

The gameplay

Celeste is a 2D pixel-art platformer where you’re expected to die. A lot. The difficulty is, in parts, brutal. Deaths are easy to come by, successes are rare and relieving, and the game pushed me to my limit in multiple spots.

You play as Madeline, a young woman who wants (for reasons we’re never truly told) to climb the fabled Celeste Mountain. Along the way, she has to solve a ton of jumping puzzles, most involving numerous spikes. You can jump, you can dash, and…that’s about it. Oh, and you can grab on to walls for a few seconds. No weapons, no enemies other than bosses at the end of each chapter, just you and whatever the mountain throws at you.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s fun, and it reminds me of a lot of retro games, just with better music. And while it is a hard game by any measure, it’s not a sadistically hard game like, say, Super Meat Boy or the Kaizo mods of Mario games. This is a challenging game most of all. As I’m not a platforming guru, Celeste tested me sorely. The game tracks your total deaths, and those rose fairly steadily with each chapter: about 50 for the first, climbing to 425 for the climactic “Summit” level.

Basically, the gist of it is this: if you want a challenging, yet rewarding, platformer, this one’s worth your time. But there’s also a story buried in there, and it’s that story which made me want to write.

The story

Madeline is troubled. She’s determined to climb this mountain, for whatever reason, and that’s laudable. I know I’ve doggedly pursued some questionable goals in my life. I’ve faced trials, and I’ve kept going through some tough times in pursuit of what I truly want. On the other hand, I know what it’s like to give up when the going gets too tough, too. So once the story of Celeste started developing from “I want to climb” into something more, I paid attention.

The mountain has magical powers, it seems. A kind of magic mirror in a ruined town near its base separates a part of Madeline’s personality, or psyche, or something. The character is literally called Part of You, and it’s kind of a palette-swapped version of our protagonist. Rather than the red hair and healthy skin of Madeline, her “dark” part is a purple-haired vampire.

This part is, as far as I can tell, supposed to represent her fears, misgivings, and so on. It’s always telling her that she should give up. Go home, because there’s no point in continuing. Okay, I’ve got one of those, too. Thing is, it’s called all of me.

In a talk with the stereotypical “bro” NPC Theo, Madeline talks about depression and anxiety, and I get that this is intended to be central to the plot, but…it just doesn’t work for me. As someone who really does suffer from both of those, the depiction rings so false that I was cringing at points. It’s not a mater of “Just try harder, and you’ll make it through.” That’s not how it works. No amount of platforming is going to solve the problem of the deck being stacked against you. “If you don’t stop, you won’t fail,” is the moral of the story, and…that’s not true. If it were, I’d have a job that pays enough to live on, not just the occasional freelance gig. I’d be living with my partner (and I’d call her my wife) instead of desperately scrambling to rearrange my life so I can meet her in person just one time before she finally gets tired of waiting.

In other words, the story of Celeste simplifies a complex, very personal topic in a manner that rubs me the wrong way. It’s good that games are trying to discuss such subjects, and I’m glad it doesn’t go too far into political rambling. (The worst sin here, in my opinion, would be the forced “diversity”: there are no white male characters at all, but that’s unfortunately the norm for the games industry these days.) And maybe its depiction of depression and anxiety work better for other people. I’m sure some do feel like they’re at the bottom of a dark ocean. But I don’t.

The verdict

As I stated above, I’m not a reviewer. This is, to my knowledge, only the second time I’ve gone into such detail about any media I’ve enjoyed. But maybe I’ll do it more from here on out.

Anyway, if I had to put a number on Celeste, I’d give it probably a 7 out of 10. I’d call it too hard for “casual” players, and the pixel art style might put some off. I like that style, however, so I find the aesthetic truly beautiful in places. The music is excellent, although a couple of the tracks are a little repetitive. And the story, although it isn’t front and center, has the problems I mentioned above.

Despite those flaws, it’s well worth the seven virtual dollars and six real hours I spent on it. Just don’t look to it for serious advice on overcoming your mental obstacles, and you’ll find a fun, challenging throwback to the days of yore.

Gamification and coding

One of the big trends this decade has been gamification. By turning everyday tasks into games, the theory goes, a person’s natural competitive streak will be triggered, causing that person to put more effort into accomplishing the task, and accomplishing it well. Companies do it with their employees, web forums have begun to implement it for their users and moderators, and so on.

It was only a matter of time before someone brought it to programming. Actually, that happened years ago. Coding competitions have been around a long time, but I saw a link to CodinGame the other day, and that got me thinking.

Games people play

The idea behind gamification isn’t hard to understand. Humans are competitive by nature. We like to win, to be better than the rest. And we really like it when there’s an objective measure of just how much better we are. The Olympics weren’t that long ago, and how many of you remember watching in anticipation, staring at the world records in the corner of the screen? How often were you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the judges’ scores to pop up?

It’s not just sports, though. Most games have some element of scoring, some record of accomplishment. In Monopoly, for example, you’ve got an obvious one: the amount of money in front of you. (Unless you’re playing one of those newer versions with the credit cards, in which case, why?) In video games, tables of high scores have existed for decades, especially in arcade games. And we wanted to set those high scores so bad, because that brought a small measure of fame. Everyone could see that MHP (or whatever) was the best at that game, at least until somebody posted a better score.

Today, when we play over the Internet instead of in public, we have online leaderboards instead, but the principle is the same. It drives us to improve, to reach for that top spot. (Story time: While my brother was working at Amazon a few years ago, I spent about three hours on his XBox, playing Forza 4 and trying to set a record in one of its weekly challenges, a quarter-mile drag race. It was some of the most fun and satisfying gameplay I’ve ever had, even though I never got higher than about 26th.)

Achievements are another popular aspect of modern games, and they work the same way. As Pokemon taught us: you gotta catch ’em all! And that’s how it is with achievements. We see that list, those empty spots, and we have goals. We have something to strive for.

That’s what gamification is. It’s the transfer of that competitive urge, that desire to complete a set or simply win, to mundane work. By adding points and trophies and collectibles, we transform drudgery into entertainment. Whether at school, on the job, or in a social setting, these artificial goals effectively make us believe we’re playing a game. Games are fun, right? So if we make the boring stuff into a game, then it magically becomes fun! Well, maybe. It doesn’t always work, and it’s not for everybody.

Games without frontiers

In theory, almost anything can be gamified, but we’re talking about programming here, so let’s stick to that. How can we make writing computer programs into a game? There are a few obvious answers. One is to make a game about coding, as with else heart.break() or TIS-100. That works, but it’s very much a niche. Another option is adding subtle programming abilities into an otherwise unrelated game. Minecraft has redstone, for example, which allows you to build logic gates, the building blocks of computing, while Final Fantasy XII gave players a bit of power to program their AI-controlled party members. In those cases, however, the programming part is not the focus. It’s an aside, sometimes an unwelcome one.

True gamification of coding, as CodinGame does, is different. It’s more of a series of programming challenges, each with objective measures of success and prowess. Code has to be correct, first and foremost. It has to do what it was designed to do. It’s also good if it’s fast; given two identically correct programs, the faster one is usually considered better. Space is another factor—smaller is generally better—and you can come up with other metrics. (“Lines of code”, by the way, is not a very good one.)

Once you have a way of measuring the “score”, you’re halfway to making a game of it. Post the scores publicly, and watch as coders eagerly train at their craft for no other reason than to move up a spot or two. It’s almost like magic!

Can it work, though? I don’t know. It works for a lot of people, but not everyone. We’re not all the same. Some of us don’t have that competitive streak, or we don’t act on it. For them, gamification is a waste of time. But for the rest of the populace, it can create a reason to learn, a reason to want to learn. That’s something the world could use a lot more of, so I say it’s worth a shot.