Kanoguti, an independent game developer and multimedia artist from Japan, is unforgettable and unexplainable.
Using the HSP (Hot Soup Processor) API as his canvas, he makes some of the more bizarre, experimental, and at times, disturbing free games out there. Those who know of him through his works see him as infamous, but in practice he has a minor cult following and is pretty much a worldwide unknown.
Although his games make use of strange, abrasive aesthetics and often contain deliberately confusing or terrifying aspects, I also consider Kanoguti among the best freeware developers on the planet for a number of reasons.
Kanoguti’s works exhibit a mastery of audiovisual aesthetics and creative coding that few possess, and approach them in novel ways. Using incredibly basic and minimal elements (geometric shapes, simple 3D models, short soundbites, simple paper drawings, etc.), he consistently evokes strong responses from his audience, ranging from the dread of the minimalist “Walking and Why” to the intrigue and sensory overload of “The Underground Explorer” and the Intelligent Rackety Paradise series.
The latter two, which are usually described as something along the lines of “WarioWare on the world’s worst psychedelic trip,” are impressive in scope and breadth on top of being fascinating experiments with video game structure and form. Even his more genre-fitting works, like “The Path and My Life in Your Game,” go to great pains to redefine their tried-and-true elements and engage the player.
The fact that these derive from how prolific he is (he’s released hundreds of programs since middle school) is not lost on me.
The disturbing aspects that I alluded to all relate to Kanoguti’s prior life experiences in perhaps the most stereotypically “creepy” way imaginable. Kanoguti has openly stated that he used to suffer from schizophrenia and sleep paralysis, regularly going through periods of anxiety and hallucination.
According to some of his autobiographical written works, he was also a victim of school violence during his childhood and adolescence. Though Kanoguti’s life has, by his account, greatly improved, the toll his experiences have taken on him is felt in his works.
The average Kanoguti game presents the player with a cynical take on an incomprehensible world, like Franz Kafka and Salvador Dali duking it out in the same cranium. Saturated images will be polka-dotted with eyes. Visual novel characters will repeat the word “DIE” over and over again.
The matter of being in a room with one other person will be framed as a menacing and unfathomable experience. A perspective totally removed from the standard human outlook is presented to the player, enabling them to come closer to understanding not only said perspective, but what it says about the world and circumstances that made it.
Unsurprisingly, this means that Kanoguti attracts a very eclectic audience from around the globe. In fact, a lot of what I’ve presented here derives from a mostly-lucid conversation I had with a fan of his going by the handle “Bar Code Arm.” The possibility that Kanoguti will go forgotten by the world at large but discussed occasionally by a select random few speaks to the impact and paradoxical personal transparency of his work, maybe proving his points better than anything he’s ever made. No matter what kind of grand insight I try to draw from this, I ultimately won’t feel satisfied with it, and that’s frankly kind of the point.
Gaget is a video game developer and critic. He is a neutral game reviewer.