The vaporwave experience is interactive as well as audio-visual. Many games have been claimed by the vaporwave dynasty as influential relics and a few have even been borne directly from it. From the violent tendencies of Hotline Miami (2012) to the relaxing ambience of Islands: Non-Places (2016), the aesthetic has dripped into video game designs across the board. Whilst some of the influences fall more clearly into the realms of synthwave, or retrowave, the aesthetics can certainly be appreciated by those of the vaporous style of wave.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
The most famous game that stands (unbeknownst to its developers at the time) arm in arm with vaporwave is the classic Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). You cruise around a city based on 1986 Miami in stolen cars of the era, blasting the radio packed with 80’s classics. Floral shirts, lo-rez beach sunsets, and night-time drives are of course included. Devolver Digital produced a pixelated gore-fest complete with nostalgic trips to the video store and local pizzeria back in 2012.
The hit game, Hotline Miami, is retro in every way except its release date (though I suppose it’s only a matter of time before that is too). In an interview for Eurogamer with game creators Dennis Wedin and Jonatan “Cactus” Söderström, Wedin tells us that “[Drive] was a really big inspiration for the game. The music and feel to the story – not much dialogue and how the violence was portrayed in the movie – were a big inspiration.” It seems that something in the zeitgeist of the early 2010s asked for a reboot on digital nostalgia. Hotline Miami answered that by packing 80’s tropes and aesthetics into a fast-paced and ultra-fun video game with a catchy synthwave soundtrack.
Crap No One Loves Me (2015)
Jade Statue’s vaporwave album “Executive Towers” has an official game to play alongside it, programmed by daffodil in 2015. This is a rare example of a game sprouted from directly within the community. It’s available to download on a “name your price” basis, so you can give the Vaporwave immersive experience a go before deciding to part with your hard-earned moolah.
Crap! No One Loves Me (2015), a game where you are a coffin that surfs like a Counter-Strike terrorist down a zany, winding road, is the only vaporwave racing game you’ll ever need (not just because it’s the only one that exists). Increasingly difficult levels lead you through quirky 3D worlds that sweat imagination. Feeling tired after all that sliding? Visit the Vape Shop, where all the iconic symbols of the micro-genre live and breathe (digitally). The blue and pink walls welcome all those under the Macintosh Plus banner.
Soda Drinker Pro (2016)
An odd game you’ll find floating around the vaporwave circuit is Soda Drinker Pro (2016). Snowrunner Games produced this unintelligible FPSD (First-Person-Soda-Drinker) for an even more unintelligible reason and it’s perhaps due to this that it’s gained enough of a following for individual Let’s Play videos on YouTube like Jacksepticeye’s to amass over 1.5 million views. If you haven’t already googled this strange phenomenon then I’ll give you a brief overview.
You walk around different abominably textured (and themed) square rooms sipping and collecting soda. That’s it. I can only imagine the connection to vaporwave is the complete annihilation of what some people might consider a fond nostalgic idea concurrent with pre-noughties’ media: walking along the beach with a soda. A game with a similar lack of objectives, but a much more pleasing visual aesthetic compared to the last game, is Islands: Non-Places. Carl Burton’s game is available exclusively on Apple and IOS devices. It looks like Plato’s realm of the forms, vaporwave edition. The moody, textureless rooms feature fountains, dining tables, pillars, and lamps that seem to belong deep inside the bourgeoise ziggurats of Blade Runner (1982).
LSD: Dream Emulator (PSX)
LSD: Dream emulator is a PS1 game from 1998 that will subvert your idea of what a video game really is. Traverse obscure dreamscapes are made of blocky textures and graphics that are just uncomfortable to look at. Every time you bump into something, you get transported to another dream. You could end up anywhere from a glass bridge between the mouths of two giant masks, or the bar of a dancing head. The game’s complete recombobulation of computer graphics and video game purpose make this a solid Vaporwave title.
In 1991, the too-cool-for-school hedgehog’s debut on the SEGA Genesis proves a decent play too. You’ve gotta love slotting the cartridge into the console, listening to the unforgettable SEGA opening title, and of course, zooming through the high-contrast landscapes as Sonic to save those animals from Robotnik.
The Spring Yard Zone brings up the expensive, swinging lifestyle that so much vaporwave music tackles. It would be great to hear a remix of the level’s theme. Not so much the gameplay, but the world that Mirror’s Edge (2008) takes place in is akin to a telesales advert for the perfect city, one that is hyper-efficient, clean, and safe. Take the album cover of PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises – Home™. It brings to mind the almost creepy idea that advertising can gloss over familiar places like the home.
So, if you’re wanting to extend your A E S T H E T I C experience beyond the realms of music optimized for abandoned malls, why not give some of these Vaporwave video games a go. If you want to find more, just ask the vaporizers on Reddit where to look. I’m sure daffodil, the person who programmed Executive Towers, would love to hear from you once you’ve played the game.