This Is The Best

Hey the world is full of cool stuff!

Kind Words is barely a game. And that's a good thing.

A while ago I started thinking about the sort of game I would like my kids to play. Ideally I'd love for them to have a game that teaches empathy instead of conquest. It's fun to go around and blow up bad guys, but it's not a life skill. What if we could use the power of video games to teach people to see others in a more human way? What if we could create experiences that help us connect to each other?

Kind Words is that.

Here's the game:

You can choose to answer letters. These letters come from random people online. They are all just...life questions. You get seventeen short lines of text to give this random stranger some encouragement, advice, commiseration, whatever you like. The rule of the game is in the name: these are meant to be Kind Words. You send your letter and that's the last you'll hear from this person. There's no real payback, just the joy of sending happiness out into the world.

And, of course, you can also ask questions, or send your own letter out to be answered by random people. This is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Even though there's no real way these people can trace anything back to you, it's still a moment of vulnerability. But if you can open up and accept that vulnerability the payback is immense. I wrote about a problem I'm having. It's nothing huge, because my life is good. But It's something that does keep me up at night.

Within a few minutes I had five letters from complete strangers telling me that I was doing okay, that things would get better, that people out there have faced similar problems and have made it through.

I went back to answer other people's questions, occasionally stopping to read the little happy thought paper airplanes that float through the game (also written by other people) and to write a few happy thoughts of my own to send out there. I got a few more notes of encouragement from my letter. And I realized something:

I'd been “playing” for about an hour, and I couldn't stop smiling.

When was the last time you could say that about a game? I felt genuinely happy. It feels good to help lift other people's burdens, even if you don't know them at all. It feels good to go into a place where everyone is focused on being kind to one another. This game feels. good.

So I'm formally inviting you to send out some letters. Let others give you some encouragement, and try your hand at encouraging others as well. If there's one thing we need, heading into 2020, it's more Kind Words.

I'm not exactly going out on a limb by proclaiming the merits of Baba Yetu, Christopher Tin's award-winning masterpiece. Since its release as the “title screen” track for Sid Meier's Civilization IV, Baba Yetu has garnered praise from all corners.

Which is wonderful. Tin is a wonderful and accomplished composer, and this could rightfully be considered his masterpiece in the oldest sense of the word: this is the work that grants him the status as a master. But what does that mean to you and me? Here's why this song gets a post:

It feels amazing.

Listen to it again. How can you not be moved by this music? If you speak Swahili you understand the lyrics, the rest of us had to read the Wikipedia article to learn that the song is a translation of the Lord's Prayer from the New Testament.

But no matter who you are there is power in this music. There is simplicity as it starts, swelling into grace and optimism and grandeur that includes all of humanity in its sweep. This song hasn't aged in the thirteen years since its release, nor will it. Like all the true classics, Baba Yetu will be relevant and fresh forever, like Moonlight Sonata or Kind of Blue. This is music for the ages.

CleanShot icon

I've always been a fan of the Unix “One Thing Well “ mentality: Apps should do one thing, and they should do it as best they can. So I keep an eye out for apps that live that mandate. It's so satisfying to find something that does what it's supposed to do and does it without making a fuss.

So I'm here to tell you about one I just discovered: CleanShot.

CleanShot is a capture tool. Intended to act as a stand-in for Mac OS's built-in screen capture capabilities, it improves them in small but impactful ways.

As the name implies, CleanShot cleans up your desktop for you, so that when you take a screenshot it doesn't reflect the actual messy state of your desktop. By default it hides desktop icons, but if you want it can also replace your desktop wallpaper. When you take a single-window screenshot it places your window serenely on a background of your choice, centered and un-cluttered by anything else you actually had open when you took the screenshot.

it's the difference between this:

and this:

I didn't actually close any windows between the two, CleanShot just hid them.

I realize this is a tiny little one thing well, but the presentation makes all the difference sometimes. This is a nice little tool to add to your belt.

I remember when I started playing this game. Someone at work asked what everyone was playing these days and I spoke up first.

“Oh man, I found the best game, you guys. It's called Stardew Valley and you can grow crops and get better and better sprinklers to take care of your crops, and you can make friends in town...and you...can go...fishing...why are you all looking at me like that?”

Okay, so it's not a gamer's game. You don't really “win” at Stardew Valley. Except, lemme tell you, you so do.

Stardew Valley is a few years old now, and on just about every platform. I should know, because I've bought four copies of it. (Steam, GOG, Switch, and iPad, in that order). I played it for a great many hours when it came out, three years ago (or thereabouts). And now that it's on iPad I'm playing it again.

It's like going home. I know all the people in Pelican Town, I already love their personalities and eccentricities. The Stardew Valley Soundtrack is incredible, perfectly suited to the action in the game, and beautiful enough that I listen to it fairly frequently even when I'm not playing. The art style is simple, inviting, and effective, and the writing is subtle and nuanced. The fact that the entire thing was put together by one person is utterly amazing.

The iPad version had some work done by others to port it to iOS, but they've kept the game essentially unchanged, just adapted for touch controls. And I find that I like the touch controls best. It's simple and intuitive to just tap where you want the farmer to do whatever it is you're trying to do.

If you haven't already picked up this gem of a game do yourself a favor and do so now. If you have, go dive back into Pelican Town. It's worth the visit.

I've been a huge fan of Wondermark for, wow, it must be a decade or more now. David Malki ! (that's how he writes it, so that's how I write it) has honed his craft of taking old woodcut illustrations and bringing them to life in amazingly modern ways.

And recently he's started one of his incredibly rare story arcs. All tied together around the improbable phrase “check out my sick elephant”. I've found it incredibly amusing and kinda refreshing to see an through-line in what has always been a one-off type of comic.

Anyway, this:

I'm so happy we live in a world that has things like this in it.

It makes me happy that we live in a world where things like this make total sense, given that you're part of a select group of webcomic fans.

If you haven't already, go check out #Wondermark. You'll be glad you did.