Header illustration by Jordan Rosenberg
It didn’t take long for pizza to come up. Apparently I had caught Kyle Reimergartin, a Seattle-based game maker, in the middle of packing leftover slices, though the way he said it had me thinking he was stashing away pizza in bags like a squirrel clawing dirt in the autumn.
“Not like into a backpack or anything,” says Reimergartin, “I’m not a monster. I do like to compress pizza into a perfect sphere when I’m done with it, like later you have a rice ball but it’s pizza. I was in the process of doing that.” It was hard to tell if he was joking.
Kyle makes odd, eclectic games. Some feel like brain farts, word vomit over-stimulated with colour and nouns and images and longwinded titles that could be mistaken for Japanese mistranslations, like Magic Planet Snack, Together Fight! Friendly Hat Spirit or Punch the Butts 3D. Others feel stripped raw to a bone. His most renowned game, Fjords, is an epic and intimidating venture into a digital cavern that has to be hacked, exploited and destroyed in order to be conquered.
“What I like about Fjords is you’re constantly scratching the game into a path that you’re going to take,” says Reimergartin. “Preparing the path can take a long time, and walking it with all the different tools at your disposal, it’s not difficult it just takes a while. I like the planning, the toggling, it reminds me of being in a space ship and flipping switches up and down. Let’s do this. Let’s get a pizza.”
Food, for whatever reason, comes up a lot in his work. Fjords itself begins with the goal of delivering a pizza to Science Mountain. Kyle said he really identifies with the plight of the pizza delivery guy, a person who moves through life with a task at hand. A task to bring us a pizza.
Fjords’ delivery-pixel has a particularly tall order. While given god-like abilities to manipulate its surroundings, it can be overwhelming and uncertain what the best uses of these powers—grappling hooks, teleportation, toggling universal elements of your environment—are. You often don’t know where to go, and mishandling your abilities can screw you over royally. Things to think about next time you decide how much to tip.
Food emerges throughout the descriptions and titles of Kyle’s portfolio. His newest project, Banana Chalice, has you as a cat floating through a neverending tunnel collecting bananas. You can also toss out bananas like boomerangs. He calls bananas chaos objects, dangerous, and righteous. He says the bananas in his game have their own personalities, dislikes, likes, favourite puddings. He calls Banana Chalice his Sonic Adventure.
There’s a magical personal context to the odd decisions in Kyle’s games. His Terry Cavanagh tribute, OWWW, was made because he thought Terry was looking somewhat malnourished and pasty at a time he happened to be hitting the gym. So he made a game about voyaging through Terry Cavanagh’s mouth to make things better, and your character is green because he’s supposed to be The Incredible Hulk, who the iron-pumping Reimergartin felt akin to at the time.
“I was finding his body was wasting away,” says Reimergartin. “I wanted to do something for him.”
This, like everything else, was hard to decipher as a joke or not. But the evidence—bananas, green Hulks, pizza boys—synched.
So how can you make sense of a creative chaos? If there is one great consistency in Kyle Reimergartin’s games it is that they all take place in a void. Surrounding the adventures of Fjords and Banana Chalice is deep darkness, which doesn’t seem like a dreary truth as much as a starting point. His games exist on a background, they don’t begin from the left to the right or an establishing shot. They appear from a blankness.
“Enveloping your game in blackness appeals to me because you can fill that blackness with whatever you want,” says Reimergartin. “People encounter all kinds of things in the space between my games. And I really like that possibility, having this holy encounter in the margins of a game. I think for me it’s a way to allude to this kind of threshold. I’m really drawn to it, and it’s way easier to make a sprite look good if it’s on a black background.”
When Kyle makes a game, it’s on a canvas. You can see the screen he was originally starting with before deciding what objects would inhabit that space. And then, after populating the void, you can tell each citizen floated individually in some stream of consciousness and not as a whole.
Kyle Reimergartin works with kids, teaching, on top of being a father. Most of our conversation was snowballed into a joke, an ongoing funny where truths conflated into punchlines, farces that strangely added up. When we spoke about children, however, things seemed more lucid.
“The things I’m capable of making have been polluted by children,” he says. “I probably would have run out of ideas shortly after my second game that I didn’t actually finish. Being around children has ruined me, pushed me to continue to have ideas and confront the joy and terror of having to be alive in this world. I find it very baffling and frightening, I suppose, constantly aware of the immensity and the beauty of the universe.”
Kyle is in awe of children’s fearlessness to create, inspired by their community and fueled by contribution. It’s behaviour he says is amplified when adults aren’t paying attention, when they’re even less interested in impressing someone. It’s an admiration you can smell in his unfiltered work, where mounds of thoughts end up in the final incarnation. Even Fjords, the least randomized, feels unstable. The game is made to feel like scaffolding, and it’s built in a way where players can screw themselves over in ways they may not be prepared for. He said he’s proud of being able to create a digital wilderness. His games are unabashed.
He’s already started teaching his daughter about game making. He loves creative consumption, he loves seeing it in children, and that digestive process of taking the overstimulating world around you and condensing it into a diamond. You can tell what kids were thinking about when they scribble Angry Birds across a notebook. You can tell Kyle was thinking about eating when his game looks like a Vegas buffet.
“I try to reveal as little as possible about each game in the actual game itself,” says Reimergartin. “I think that videogames are an inherently crude and fragile vessel for storytelling, so I put in as little or as stupid a story as possible. The world that gives birth to these games is far more alive than even I am. That is why we play videogames, to remind ourselves that we’re wasting our lives.”