This article originally appeared on dashjump.com.
There are very few games that pull off comedic timing as well as Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing. As written about in an interview with developer Holy Wow earlier this year, IPTT is simultaneously a subversive parody of the classic hokey typing games of the ‘90s, an admirable typing game in its own right, and a gleeful march into that uncomfortable space during a conversation when you’re not quite sure if the person you’re talking to is one of the sharpest people you’ve ever met or completely out of his mind.
And yet, IPTT isn’t content to just be a humorous distraction. There’s a genuinely good typing game at the core, with a simple but engaging power-up mechanic bound to the tilde key that forces you to balance typing precision, typing speed, and deploying your tilde meter (think “Star Power” in the Guitar Hero games) for the most optimal time to use it.
More than anything else, IPTT is intelligent – acknowledging full well that its attempts to ascertain information about the player’s gender are fruitless since lying is as easy as clicking a box; that attempts at character customization can be more illusion than substance; that the shallow, one-track-mind NPC paradigm is as worthless as we all innately believe.
Games as they have been, IPTT says, are too often content to be more than silly playthings.
Game of the Year awards are weird. While most established art forms have venerable award institutions any consumer can point to as arbiters of taste – the Academy Awards, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Pulitzers, Cannes, the Newbury Award – every game publication is totally free to christen their Game of the Year titles at will.
Part attempt to legitimize the medium, part hype, part marketing, part bullshit, and part legitimate way to remind you of games you should incorporate into your cultural experience, the GOTY moniker is prized by triple-A and indie game studios alike eager to re-issue the critical hits of the year under gaudy new packaging for another consumer cycle.
In games, these end of the year awards are as political as you can get.
IPTT’s central design is dictated by a sense of economy. With only typing as a gameplay mechanic, every single supporting element has been fine-tuned to serve the purpose of the game as a whole, with zero filler. From the establishing set up, the NPCs, the actual sentences you type in yourself, the bizarre Typogatchi scoring system and even the loading screen text, each element builds on the others to draw you into the strange reality Holy Wow Studios has created.
With eerie precision, the developers zero in on the style of parody made famous by Weird Al – successfully lampooning the ego and ridiculousness of its subject matter while managing to produce a catchy, endearing game equivalent of a radio tune.
IPTT is a compilation of “yo momma” jokes in haiku form; hilarious, incisive, aggressive, and surprisingly affecting.
In other words, IPTT is the Amish Paradise of video games.
Spike TV’s Video Game Awards, renamed this year to The VGX, roused some serious gamer ire when it was broadcast this month. Not content with the usual facepalmery peddled in previous years on TV, this year Spike brought their signature mix of disinterested celebrities and awkward segments directly to the gamers by streaming it online.
Still, gaffes upon gaffes ensued, not doing much to erase the fact that the yearly production remains a sordid embarrassment for anyone in the industry who believes games are capable of being more than easily commercialized power fantasies.
The awards upset many. Not only because people have strong opinions about the individual winners, or that the Most Anticipated Game award category makes no sense, or that nearly all of the award were conveniently parceled out equally among the bigger titles.
They upset people because, for all of their flaws, Spike’s annual embarrassment is still the best chance games have to be acknowledged for the craftsmanship and skill that goes into their creation by the mainstream – and despite existing for a decade, Spike's show still hasn’t done much to raise the industry’s profile.
At the same time, awards have never been so important to the industry. As the consumer’s perceptual gap between triple-A and indies grows narrower and indies grow more competitive for attention, indies who win awards and use them aptly as marketing platforms will prosper more than those who go unrecognized. This has always been true, but in the age of the spoiled gamer, grabbing a prospective player’s attention has never been harder.
Indies will promote themselves harder and more openly. Game journalists will be wooed. Ethics will be questioned. This will be the way of things for some time to come.
There isn’t much else left to be said about IPTT. The production values are great, with expressive animation, catchy music and well-conceived sound effects that lend each interaction a meaningful sense of oomph. The short length is another blessing – at roughly thirty minutes, it’s easy to complete even if you don’t have hours to sink into the latest console odyssey.
By the final stages, after alternately flopping and threatening its way into your heart, IPTT delivers a perfectly-executed twist that forces you to acknowledge how strange it is to blindly accept video game conventions. To acknowledge how odd it is that we often ignore our own pressing concerns when faced with a scripted, soulless amusement park ride that carries us, creaking, to our inevitable doom.
That maybe, if we could just put the pieces together in time, we could find the courage to break the automated path we’re in, both in and outside of games. That there is power in deciding to not play along.
That’s what makes Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing a Game of This Year.
Ben Serviss is a game designer and producer at NYC indie developer collective Studio Mercato. Follow him on Twitter at @benserviss.