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.
YOU ARE IN A MAZY OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES ALL ALIKE
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.
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.
Here are some great little videogames that have rocked my world over the past year or so:
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.
Earn points by pushing someone down the stairs. Try to inflict as much pain and injury as possible!
Same as Star Fail, but this time using automobile crashes for humorous effect.
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.
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 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
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