Wrong Box, Demystifying the World of Indie Games
Wrong Box, Demystifying the World of Indie Games
WORDS BY : ANNA NOLAN | IMAGES COURTESEY OF WRONG BOX
The thrill that accompanies a first deep dive into the internet is hard to describe—comparable to the feelings that come with letting yourself fall into the obsessive magic of a crush or the sense of comfort that washes a fleeting feeling of homesickness away—the thrill that comes with a little bit of distance from reality. That crush as a series of sentimental moments together, handpicked from a future that could exist, that home as a place where you were young, a place where you were fully yourself. Packaging these feelings is a complicated process, one that Molly Soda has come to accomplish with ease, usually by recording herself experiencing insignificant moments in her bedroom alone. For her newest project, she partnered with game developer, Alejandro Aquma, to create a computer game.
Wrong Box has all the familiarity and early internet nostalgia we have come to expect from Molly Soda in a new, interactive format, reminding us that anyone can make anything in 2019 (with a little help from people we meet on the internet). The game traces a forgotten history of the online spaces that held our hands through tweendom, introducing new friends and helping us escape the reality of being thirteen for a moment. It’s an excessive, spinning whirlwind of sparkle and angst and a window into the potential of indie games as a storytelling medium, one that’s more accessible now than ever before.
What were your first games?
I had a Sega Genesis when I was a kid. Everyone else my age had a Nintendo 64, but I had a Sega Genesis. I was super into Sonic. That was the first video game I got really into.
As I got a little older, I got really into computer games, kind of through my dad. My dad would always buy the latest gaming system. He got an Xbox right when it came out, a PlayStation right when it came out. I would kind of hop onto whatever my dad was playing. I remember my dad telling me about the Sims. He was like, “I’ve been reading about this game that’s going to come out. It’s like real-life, but you control these people’s lives.” I remember being so excited and my dad finally buying it immediately once it came out.
For me, going online was really an escape. I went to sort of get away from realities of my life.
You were the first to know. That’s crazy.
And now it’s still such a popular thing. I won’t let myself play it because I remember losing so many hours to that game, and really just telling people I couldn’t hang out and staying home. And I think a lot of people still do that. So those were my first games. I’ve had other short-winded obsessions since then.
In the early days of the internet, what did being online feel like?
For me, going online was really an escape. I went to sort of get away from realities of my life—obviously the internet involved a lot of interaction with people from my real life, but it was sort of veiled in anonymity. You could experiment a lot because it was less rooted in our identities, less rooted in photos of us or our real names. Even when I would go on AOL messenger as a teenager and talk to people from my school, it still felt very different. It felt like I could play a little bit with who I was. I would have these friendships with people that went to my high school or my middle school over AOL instant messenger, but we never spoke in person. We would have these hours of conversation, but if we saw each other at school, we wouldn’t really acknowledge each other.
It was super strange. It was kind of empowering to be so anonymous. Do you feel like some of that’s gone away?
I think so. I think you can be as anonymous as you want to be if you set out to do that, but it has to be a lot more intentional. Now, if you’re using the internet, you’re generally attaching it to your image and your real name, and I think Facebook really cemented that. Everything is very attached to cultivating a brand and being relatable and authentic to a certain degree.
You have a lot more peer supervision.
Yeah. Especially because everyone’s on it. When I was growing up, maybe we were all online, but we were all on different platforms. Now that we’re all kind of in the same room, it feels a little less fun.
Do you think of the internet itself as a kind of game? The act of going online and exploring that space—is that a game?
Yeah absolutely. I do see it as a bit of a game, seeing how deep you can get. I don’t think we explore as much as we used to, or at least, I don’t.
There’s also just a lot more there. There’s so much information. Sometimes I make lists before going on the internet. If I’m going to open up my laptop, sometimes I’ll literally make a list for what I want to do so I don’t get lost in a hole for hours.
Wow. I love that. I want to start doing that. I never do that. My favorite way to get lost is to google image search and go through the websites that are linked to that image.
Everything in this world is cyclical, and we hop from trend to trend. I think we’re scared of being left behind.
If you could go back to a time and place on the internet, where would you go?
There are a lot of times and places that come to mind. Not permanently, I’d like to visit. I would love to go back to when I first discovered LiveJournal in 2004. Going back to 2011 Tumblr would be really interesting.
It’s interesting because when I was using these websites, until recently, I never conceived of anything going away. Not necessarily going away in the way of the website not being around anymore but just becoming sort of barren in the sense that no one’s really engaging on it anymore. Communities have moved elsewhere.
It’s funny that we all go together.
We’re always looking for the next thing. Everything in this world is cyclical, and we hop from trend to trend. I think we’re scared of being left behind. If people are starting to do one thing, we often follow because we don’t want to be forgotten.
I was wondering—because this is a very new medium for you—what inspired the choice to make a game?
Originally the game was conceived of as a virtual reality piece that I was asked to do. A gallery with a monthly residency strictly based in VR approached me and asked me to make one. In our talks, I sort of said, “I don’t do VR. I’ve never done VR. I don’t know how to do VR. I literally can’t conceive of how one does a VR piece.” So, instead of saying no, I said yes—I’ll figure it out. I went on Twitter, and asked, “Who knows how to do VR?”
That’s where I met Alejandro Aquma, the co-creator of Wrong Box. He said, “I’m a game developer.” He was down to help me with this thing, so we worked on it for a couple of months. We made a 360 VR video that was the precursor to Wrong Box. It was a three scene, very short video piece that touched on the same subjects.
After it was done, I thought, “I really liked doing that, but I don’t think I like VR.” It feels like no one’s going to see it if it’s just a VR piece. A couple of months after we released it, I approached Alejandro about making it into a video game. So we started working on it. He came at it from a gaming perspective. I would say, “This is my story,” and he would suggest ways to make it something that was playable. I’m a video person, so I thought of it as a long interactive video piece, and Alejandro was the one to suggest that players get rewarded for things, you can click on things and the game progresses. I was like, “Oh, brilliant. You’re so smart.” It was great to work with him because it got me in that mindset.
You’ve touched on it a little, but I’d love to hear more about what was different about adapting your art to a game environment when compared with other mediums.
It’s very different from the work that I’ve done in that my image is usually attached to the work that I make. I had to really think about it being anonymous to a certain degree.
So it was about outlining the scenes that I wanted. Sort of me being like, “Oh I really want a Myspace thing involved. I want pop-up ads
It’s kind of refreshing to see something that doesn’t have your image in it but feels like you.
Yeah. Definitely. When I was younger, myself as the stand-in was partially for convenience-sake, but also because my work was about me and I was interested in performance and video art. Having a level of detachment from my body in this game has been really helpful and is I think something that I’m going to continue to do as my work evolves.
What was the process of making the game like? In terms of working with another person to make your art. Where did you start?
The funny thing about our process is that we live on opposite sides of the country. Alejandro lives in Los Angeles and I live in New York. We also had never met when we started this project. So we would Skype. He would teach me Unity via Skype. Basically, we would Skype weekly, working on the game. We made the entire game remotely, passing files back and forth. Then we finally met in October of 2018, when our game got into Fantastic Arcade in Austin. This isn’t the first time I’ve worked with someone I’ve never met before in real life and then met them after starting the process of working together. I thought that was interesting but felt very natural for me.
Really the way that we approached it was by breaking it down into scenes. Basically, everything in the game is a scene, and they all bleed into each other. So it was about outlining the scenes that I wanted. Sort of me being like, “Oh I really want a Myspace thing involved. I want pop-up ads.” Breaking down all the elements and figuring out how to put them into the game and how to make it all sort of run together. That was the framework, making these individual scenes and figuring out how we could get the game to connect the pieces.
And the game starts in kind of a teenage bedroom.
It was always my intention to have the act of you turning on the computer as the starting point, which happens in this room that’s based off of this bedroom that I had in high school. I wanted you to start in this room and it to be something that you were revisiting. You start in the room and you can see these markers of teenagedom. Even the computer is of that era. You have these cardboard boxes in the room, so it’s not a space that you live in, or if it is, it’s a space that you’re leaving. It’s in the process of being packed up. It’s not necessarily a comfortable space. I wanted to cement the idea that you’re looking back and trying to access these spaces but they’re a little weird. A lot of things are broken or missing. It feels abandoned.
For a while, I was going back and trying to access some of these spaces I used to inhabit online, like LiveJournal and Zynga. The frustration that I felt trying to navigate these websites that weren’t working the way that they were. The sadness that I felt for these kinds of empty shells of spaces. Remembering a chatroom that I went into in 2009, trying to access it, and realizing that maybe it’s not there anymore or you don’t know the last time anyone’s been there. I wanted that to sort of be a present feeling in the game.
The way that you would save face, you would say, “Oh sorry, wrong box.”
That comes across. Could you speak a bit about the music in the game?
The music is fun. I wanted it to be midi-based. When I was younger, before Myspace, you would go on websites like GeoCities. You would go on these websites and the midi would start playing. It would be a midi version of a popular song, but when it turned into a midi, you couldn’t place it sometimes anymore. I wanted it to be these sounds that sounded like they could’ve been playing on a GeoCities page. I asked Told Slant, Felix Walworth, to do the music, so they created three songs for the game. Something that sounded like it could be playing in the background of a webpage—essentially, a small, short, looping file that could play on your website about fairies indefinitely.
Why the name “Wrong Box”?
I was talking with a friend about AOL. And, you know, everyone used AOL instant messenger for flirting with their crush. So, you would go on there, maybe you would message your crush. When you’re a teenager, you just feel your feelings so hard. Maybe you would type “I love you,” into the message box, but not send it. Then you would delete it, and it would be this moment for you. But sometimes you would accidentally send it. The way that you would save face, you would say, “Oh sorry, wrong box.”
Did you have a specific audience in mind when you made Wrong Box? Who is it for?
I think what’s being said, despite the aesthetic, is something to think about; it’s universal. We all have these really special relationships to the websites that we grew up on. People are still having those special relationships to those platforms. I’m not tapped into what teenagers are doing now, but the fact that things get wiped or that we rely so much on these platforms to host our memories for us and archive our lives is contstant. How does that affect what you remember? Is what you remember what’s left?