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In Our Darkest Hour, Cuteness is Here to Save Us

There's an unblinking face on each of the trees. When I look up, there's a face on the clouds and sun. Inside the house, there are faces on breakfast, the furniture, and the plates -- it's cute as all hell. Happy Snake Games released Morning Post earlier this year and it's already a darling of the cute aesthetic, a style that has only grown in popularity as the real world has gotten darker.

Happy Snake Games isn't a large operation, it's run by exactly one person who goes by Happy Snake. But that didn't stop them from bringing their vision -- Morning Post -- to the world. "The world is very overwhelmed with bad things and I wanted to make something that showed people stuff can be nice," says Happy Snake. "People have stressful days in real life and I wanted to make something they could get back to and hang out with."

This was born out of Snake's inspiration to make something different. "To be honest I just hope that developers realize they can draw whatever they want! I get really frustrated with AAA games trying to be more realistic and make things grittier and grittier," Snake said, adding, "I don't wanna shoot terrorists with an AK-47!" It's not hard to see Morning Post's rejection of AAA ideals -- there are no points, no ending, and no conflict -- as anything but a positive force.

This year at GDC Jenny Jiao Hsia gave a talk about the "Aesthetics of Cute" highlighting some of her lengthy catalog of adorable works, which is topped off by last year's Beglitched -- a pixel art puzzler about digital witches. In a rallying cry Jenny argues that "Cuteness is powerful." She must be onto something if the success of cute games like Cosmic Express, Undertale, and Night in the Woods is any indication.

Cute aesthetics aren't all fun and games. Cuteness can also be subversive and used to mask more difficult themes and struggles. In Jenny's upcoming project Consume Me, players are forced to calorie count and work out with a younger version of the dev. Dieting is soul-crushing on its own but pastel hues coat and lift up the entire experience of Hsia's game. But Jenny doesn't think the darker elements are at odds with the brighter tones. "Our experiences are weird and dark and funny… the aesthetic lets me be personal in a way that words can't," she explained. Cuteness lets Jenny be honest with herself and the people around her.

As games become more personal, it's not hard to imagine cuteness popping up more frequently. It's an honest and personal aesthetic that allows folks like Jenny and Happy Snake to be vulnerable yet approachable and acts as an antidote for the increasingly bleak landscape we find in the real world.

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