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Fly, hold hands, be Gay in Sky: Children of the Light PC debut

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Image courtesy of ThatGameCompany
Image courtesy of ThatGameCompany

Sky: Children of the Light is ThatGameCompany's first and latest project since the award-winning Journey, but for a few years, it was exclusive to mobile devices, having been released on iOS in 2019 and Android in 2020, and then moving to home consoles like the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 by 2022.

However, with its PC release on the horizon, Sky could see a surge of new and returning players. The demo alone, on the digital gaming platform Steam, has had a 24-hour peak of around 1,200 players over the last few weeks — a pittance compared to the likes of many MMOs, but likely enough to maintain its status as a cult classic, and further establish it as a unique choice in the sphere of "social games" specifically.

For many titles in the social game genre, the world around the players is little more than set dressing. It might be quite pretty, but people tend to interact with the in-game chat more than the world — in other words, with each other. Any gamer knows that that can be a mixed bag, especially on its own.

Sky sets itself apart by being a social game about exploration as much as interacting with other players. Its "base" content is a series of themed worlds — the ruins of a mystical kingdom — culminating in an ascent through the treacherous "Eye of Eden."

Along the way, players use their magical capes to glide through windswept plains, snow capped mountains, ancient temples, and other scenic locales, searching for the kingdom's lost spirits and guiding them to their homes among the stars.

Image courtesy of ThatGameCompany  

The game's movement controls might take some getting used to on a touch screen, and it doesn't have controller support on PC just yet. But with some practice, flying can feel truly dreamlike, and the game does a good job easing players into it.

Other players can help out, too. The farther you progress in the content, the more upgrades you find for your cape, meaning that veteran players can fly farther and higher than someone just starting out. They're also likely to know where more of these upgrades can be found.

This is arguably where the Gayest feature of the game comes in: one player can propose a friendship with another by offering them a candle (another of the game's collectibles), after which the two can hold hands and fly together.

Not that you have to be exclusive about it. It's common to see three or even four player characters all holding hands, while one of them guides the others to places they might not reach on their own. Other player characters are sources of "warmth," after all, which means they can gradually replenish each other's ability to fly by huddling up.

Some readers, being Seattleites, might balk at the notion of having to make friends with strangers, but much of the interaction between players in Sky is nonverbal and fairly low-stakes. With every spirit they rescue, the player learns a gesture, like a short bow, a wave, a stomp, or a tittering laugh.

By default, players can't even see the others' text chat unless they sit down together at particular spots in the world, so each person can be as open or solitary as they choose. No direct interaction is forced on you, though it is encouraged.

Like any MMO, the genders of the other players are ultimately a mystery, but Sky takes that another step and never really makes the player choose a gender for their avatar, either. There's no initial character creation screen; everyone starts the same way, as an androgynous, almost featureless figure who can collect more options for their appearance as they explore.

Sky is free to play, and most of the game's world is available without paying a cent. It makes money through a season system, in which new content is added each quarter, and some of it — usually cosmetic options — is gated behind a paid season pass.

For me, this is Sky's only big wrinkle. Monetary models like this are often designed to leverage FOMO (fear of missing out), and on its own, the pass doesn't grant you all of the premium cosmetics. It merely gives you the opportunity to earn them by completing simple challenges each day.

Of course, ThatGameCompany has to keep the lights on somehow, and whatever a player doesn't snag during a specific season will rotate back in eventually, without requiring a pass. And overall, it's not the cosmetics that make it worth a try. Sky: Children of the Light is everything that made Journey good, with a lot more people to share it.