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Would You Like To Play a Game?

I used to play every videogame that came out. And I mean *every* one. It didn't matter what platform - Nintendo, PlayStation 1, Amiga, Mac, PC - I had some friend who just bought it and I'd go over to their house to see the latest and greatest in videogame technology. Trust me, I've played 'em all, from Pong to Frogger to Castle Wolfenstein 3D to Doom to Quake to F.E.A.R. to Crysis. But somewhere over the past few years, I've fallen off the wagon. First person shooters don't do it for me any more for me. I'm bored with just running around and shooting things, no matter how pretty the scenery is. Instead, I love truly innovative and interesting uses for videogames.

This post is a reminder to myself that videogames can still be beautiful wonderful surprising things. Computers are still in their infancy, so it's a little unfair to judge games against the best in cinema or televsion. Still, here is my list of things that have excited me and shown me the promise of things to come. I love unusual videogames. Some of my favorite ones in years past have been Bad Mojo, Katamari Damacy, Mister Mosquito, Sanitarium, 9, American McGee's Alice, Airball, Parappa the Rapper, and Psychonauts. The hours spent playing those games have really been well-spent in my opinion. I remember the first time I played Myst or Tetris Super Mario Brothers and thought, "OMG, I didn't know videogames could be like *that*!"


Saturday Night Live once did a skit about "My Dinner With Andre: The Videogame", where that infamously talky movie was turned into an 8-bit videogame. "Hey!" one kid in the commercial cries, "*I* want to be Wallace Shawn this time!"

Well, this is "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: The Videogame". And it's deadly serious. While other kids can go fly airplanes and shoot monsters, you can go to an awkward dinner party with a male/female couple who won't stop arguing. This is an amazing game, both frustrating and eerily familiar. It hold a lot of promise for videogames to become an art form that could someday surpass movies and books.

Jason Rohrer's Games

I love this guy. He is really a national treasure. Esquire magazine named him one of their 2008 "best and brightest" people. What Jason is trying to do is elevate videogames into the world of art.


This is a videogame about death. I know, I know, *all* videogames are about death, whether it's slaying dragons or falling off cliffs. Other videogames has done things like this by killing non-player-characters. I recall feeling bad when playing the recent game "American McGee's Alice" and being bummed out when the Cheshire Cat is killed. But Passage really makes the player think about loss and love and what it all means.

Even if you hate videgames and suck at playing them, you should check this one out. It takes only five minutes to play, and definitely worth the free download and hassle of installing on your home computer. Trust me, it's worth it.


Wow! A videogame about mood swings. No... seriously... this game really affected me lately due to some issues I've been going through. It's an odd game that lets the player choose between working, dreaming, and playing catch with a little boy. I won't ruin the hidden analogy for you, but the game forces you to think about your work/life balance, while fighting off depression and mania. This is the game I'm hooked on this week.

Also check out his other games: Between, Cultivation, and Transcend.

Interactive Fiction

If you're as old as I am (39!) you remember text adventures. The first one was called "Adventure" and famously included the following phrase:


The game contains no graphics... the user is given a paragraph of text to read, then gets to type a command like "GO WEST", "EAT FISH", or "LIGHT TORCH". You may think that's limited in this day of Blu-Ray DVDs and high def TV sets, but as a teenager, I had the time of my life playing all of the games by Infocom, including Zork, Trinity, and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Text adventures have grown up, and are now called "interactive fiction". I'm reminded of the way comic books grew up pretentiously into "graphic novels". Every year, the Interactive Fiction Competition selects the best of the year's amateur entries, and some of the work is astonishing. Some topics that programmers have explored include drug addiction, AIDS, and racism. Interactive fiction is a really fun way to goof off at your computer job and still look like you're just typing.

Lucky Wander Boy

Not a real videogame, but a fiction book by D.S. Weiss. It's an odd book, which describes the narrator exploring an old obscure videogame as a postmodern analogy to his real life. I liked this book a lot, but you might hate it.

Independent Games Festival

The Independent Games Festival is held every year at the Computer Game Developers Conference held in San Francisco at the end of March. Note to self: I should play hooky from work and but a one-day pass!

They celebrate the best of small-developer produced videogames. This year's breakout winner has been "World of Goo". Even people that hate videogames love to play this one.

Escape the Room

A few years back, there was a slew of weird Adobe Flash games that played in a browser. The idea expands on text adventures by showing a picture that the user can interact with. Click on the doorknob, and the game will tell you that the door is locked. Click on a drawer, and it may open and show you a key, or a goldfish, or a book. Clues lead to more clues, and before you know it you've wasted hours.

The first one I played was "Escape The Green Room", with other colors like blue and red progressively harder. Try some of these links to explore for yourself.


Browser-Based Games

There is a growing subgenre of little browser-based games that require no installation necessary. These are fun because you can play them instantly, as long as it takes the broswer to load.

Five strange browser games
More browser games
Best of the rest
And still more

Here are some great little videogames that have rocked my world over the past year or so:

Puzzle Pirates
Cute little mini-games with a pirate theme. Reminds me of the "Legos" series of videogames put out lately.

Kingdom of Loathing
Bad graphics on purpose! Intentionally hilarious.

Stair Fall
Earn points by pushing someone down the stairs. Try to inflict as much pain and injury as possible!

Truck Dismount
Same as Star Fail, but this time using automobile crashes for humorous effect.

Second Life
Like World of Warcraft, but there's really nothing you have to do. Some people have become addicted to this virtual reality, creating alternate personas who create businesses, design clothing, have sex, and campaign for politicians. The rest of us will walk around for a bit before getting bored. Still, there is a house there that demonstrates what it's like to have schitzophrenia, and I want to try that  - I think it's a great example of experiencing altered states of consciousness through videogames.

Rod Humble
This guy has created some amazing experimental videogames, including Stars Over Half Moon Bay, and The Marriage. He is currently on the team working on Sims 3, so I'm really excited when that comes out soon. I just bought Sims (the first one!) for my Mac, so I'm a little behind.

Popcap Games
Popcap makes a lot of addictive little games. I mean *really* addictive. I've spent HOURS playing these... kind of like all the time I've wasted on Solitaire, FreeCell, and Minesweeper. Some of my favorites are Peggle , and Bookworm Adentures. Warning, after playing those two, you might not be the same again!

This one's only available on the XBox 360 when hooked up to the internet to the XBox Live service, so I haven't played it yet. However, I hear really good things about it, and some people are really addicted.

Bush continually falling
Not really a videogame, just a really fun thing to play with

Scary maze game
I won't tell you about this one if you haven't played it before yourself

Misc links without comment:

ArtHouse Games

Interactive Fiction Archive

Experimental Gameplay Project

2D Boy

Creating Interactive Fiction

Indie games

Top 100 Independent Games

Indie Game Showcase

Gametunnel's List

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I remember adventure, or Classic Adventure as it was called on the Amstrad. It wasn't all that long ago that I last played it either - certainly within the last couple of years. I often play the games I used to love from when I was a kid. I kept the hardware going just for the fun of it.

If some people on LJ don't know... your home computer has the ability to emulate other computers. So, you can play original Nintendo or Atari or Intellivision computer games in Windows.


I'm going to try some of the others. So far I've dabbled with MAME but the only one I really use is Caprice for the CPC series.

Braid is fantastic, but a bit repetitive.

Personal favorites of mine: Okami for the PS2 and Portal for the PC.

We're trying out Flower for the PS3 tonight. It looks promising, as there's no death or time limit, and the gameplay and visuals are rather unique.


Oh Portal! I forgot about that one. Loved it, loved it, loved it, particularly the Jonathan Coulton song at the end. I also forgot to mention Gadget, Rez, and Viva Pinata.

Ah, Rez. Yeah, there was a killer game.

I couldn't play Viva Pinata. The idea that I'm raising animals to ship them off to the hands of others for a brutal demise at the end of a stick, or slaughter them myself to feed to their children made it completely unplayable. Yeah, they're pinatas, so its their lot in life, but I just couldn't raise my shovel to hurt them. Greg loved it, though.

Have you ever seen the Grow flash games on the Eyezmaze web site? Catchy little games about choosing items, watching them grow each turn, and seeing if you can get each of them to maximum level.

No! I'll check it out. For everyone out there, the link is:


Edited at 2009-02-13 02:33 am (UTC)

OMFG. Dude, you've gotta try Flower on the PS3! I'm watching Greg play it now, and it's incredible!!

Okay, so picture this: you collect flower petals a la Katamari, but you're flying through the air using the SixAxis controls, leading to an almost IMAX experience. It's gorgeous!

I knew nothing about Portal when I played it, and I loved it!

I don't know that I've ever laughed so hard in a videogame, though Psychonauts came close!

You should check out Dwarf Fortress this is what happens when developers put all their effort into depth of game play and 0 time into graphics.

Will do! Thanks for the tips. It reminds me of the guys who try to write a novel in 30 days:


There a couple of recent games that captures, in my opinion, the flavor of innovation and simplicity of the Golden Age Videogames. I would recommend "Portal" and "The World of Goo". You can download a free demo version of the "World of Goo" from their website. It's a lot of fun. http://www.worldofgoo.com/

Oh, I mentioned that one up above. Do you have any other recommendations? I also loved Darwinia, The Incredibler Machine, Sierra On-Lines graphic adventures, and Out Of This World.

Edited at 2009-02-13 03:34 am (UTC)

I have much clicking to do before I can properly respond to all this gaming goodness. :) We have very similar tastes in games. I too love the more unusual titles, the games that are hard to describe. Totally with you on the first person shooters too...not only is the genre somewhat repetitive, sometime around age 30 I started getting motion sick playing them. Katamari is awesome, glad to see you liked Rez too. (It's very interesting when you play with the sex toy...er, Trance Vibrator attached.)

Do you frequent any of the gay gaming boards? I'm a moderator over at Gamers Experimentations, and occasionally wander through GayGamer.net.

Oh man. You *know* I own a Trance Vibrator {grin}

For those that don't know what we're talking about, Sega came out with an attachment for the Playstation that was a weird phallus-looking thing in a "protective pouch" that vibrated when your character in the game took damage or moved around. People started using the Trance Vibrator for other purposes!

I'm reminded of the realTouch, a new device that is synchronized up to porno movies on the internet. (http://www.realtouch.com/) As the guy on the screen thrusts forward, you feel the cylinder on your dick. Kind of like a fucking machine in the reverse! I'd buy one of those, but I'm not a big fan of blue movies.

Edited at 2009-02-13 03:32 am (UTC)

Two relatively recent games I've really enjoyed from MoonPod Games are Starscape and Mr. Robot.

I think one of the best games of all time is the Amiga-only Worms: The Director's Cut by Team17. "Death by mutton from the skies!" ;) (Their description of the "Sheep Strike"...) And no, the later PC editions do NOT even remotely compare.... Another Amiga game I really love is the oddly named Transplant - it's essentially a riff on the concept of Asteroids, blowing up space rubble and enemy craft - but the gimmick is that your ship remains stationary and pointing up on the screen - and everything else shifts and rotates around you!

I do like some of the flash games available on the web - Desktop Tower Defense is a long-term favorite of mine. Some of the inventiveness displayed in them is really impressive - it's obviously a lower barrier of entry than getting an application-type game distributed, so authors can take risks with game design.

I've never touched a PlayStation (of any vintage), an XBox (ditto), or a Wii.

You've just made my weekend!
Lovely games...lovely lovely games.

My latest addiction/time/productivity waster is Fieldrunners for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I finally beat the first level today and now have a strategy for beating the other two. I also played Alice when I had a PC - thought it was pretty cool - and a few installments of the Myst series. Otherwise I'm all about the vintage (80's) games. MAME is a bitch though, at least for me. I haven't had much luck with it - mind you I don't have much patience for shuffling stuff around directories etc!

seriously. ADHD. really. there's a core of guys here at work that play world of warcraft... they're slowly adding to their ranks. i find out because they come to me and say "my computer needs an upgrade... when I fly to another place in the game, everything just freezes for 5 minutes" and I just shake my head.

(Deleted comment)
I know what you mean. Even when I play a great single-player game, I think to myself, "I could be leveling!"

no idea you were a gamer, bud.

we should bullshit.

you see my user info? there's a list..and yea, it needs some updates, but those are my tops.


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