Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 2, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 2, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


 
Art movements in video games, Justwalkingism
by Oscar Barda on 07/31/14 08:41:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Since games are an industry, it is likely that creation and craft in the field are subject to tides and fashions, which, as fashions do, will come and go. Most trends are dictated by interests in the industries: creators express the season’s intent and engineers, salesmen and marketers get in motion to bring it to your doorstep. Or so we hope, knowing that sadly, the machine works backwards, selling “what sells”.

Fashion ad by Prada using Final Fantasy characters in 2012

But in the arts, or at least in their romanticised version, people make games (or whatevers) to express something they have in them: a buried fear, a visceral pleasure, a loss, a childlike wonder… Things they don’t even have to be aware of having in their bellies or on their backs, but things they want to offload and share with the world for a reason or another.

These inner passions, dear to makers, are not subject to fluttering trends or market demands, we like to think, but they are, often at least in the way they are expressed, for while we can disqualify products mainly made to succeed from artistic intent, every piece exists within a culture and a moment. That is what art movements are: a shared exploration of a new way to express, marking a time and cultural space. An exploration of new stylistic tools and techniques, new approaches and new mesures of subjects and universal or intimate matters in which arts dwell.

Justwalkingism is such a movement, and I will talk a little bit about how it all started to help me explain what it is.

Side note here before we dive in: I hate it when articles spoil or describe games. If you have already played the game it’s a waste of your time and if you never played it, the game’s wasted on you… I will link every game I talk about and let you understand more about it that I could sluggishly describe in all too many words.

    A history of walking the walk

When I first came up with the word “Justwalkingism” I was talking about a game: Dear Esther. In october of 2012 the game began to attract a lot of attention and anger from communities for being just about walking, and the hatred felt familiar at the time for I had been angry at such a game before… The Graveyard.

The Graveyard by Tale of Tales

The Graveyard, a black and white game made by two artists at Tale of Tales, was hated (and at first, by me included) because people felt there was nothing to do, or so little in fact, that you were left, alone with yourself… Out of habit though, you'd still be waiting for the game to take your hand and walk you through a fun experience… Yes walk you. Or to put it in game design terms: give you an ever present goal to walk towards, side objectives, light markers, arrows and quests, sprinkling fun along the way. There was a goal to be reached but not found and no fun to be had in that graveyard; and that alone was probably a threat to the established definition of games. And boy do we all know how gamers react when they feel threatened. 

«This isn't even a game, like wtf?»

Youtube commenter - 2012 

    “IT EVEN'T HAZ NO GAMEPLAY” (another Youtube)

If you would like to check if the Graveyard has gameplay, please invite a newcomer to the field to play it: you will see them struggle to do… something in the game… and that struggle is what we call gameplay. For people literate in the field, the many paradigms of movement are acquired and transparent but that doesn’t mean that they’re not here: one enters and exists in the game, it computes the player’s presence and so you, existing in control in a given universe is gameplay.

Walking, moving a character through a space is indeed gameplay, a foundation upon which decades have built ever more and more complicated systems that allow us to struggle against machines to assert our dominance over fictions.

But the Graveyard wasn’t that, it was going in the exact opposite direction in fact… Rather than building up to more complex structures and interactions, rather than trying to “innovate”, The Graveyard and The Path after it (another of Tale of Tales’) were stripping games of gameplay features, goals and directions (and in the process, innovating a whole lot more than most of their contemporaries).

All that had been built to this point seemed to have been thrown away. In it, you don’t know what you’re doing, you feel like you’re barely doing anything at all really and on top of that, it seems like you can’t win… Like you have no agency. Or at least, what is usually considered a victory is not announced in our usual fireworks-heavy way, but is there not a definitive ending to The Graveyard? What is the intrinsic difference between The Graveyard’s ending and Peggle's?

No, it was calm, measured and nothing in it was made obvious. People felt threatened, and rightfully so, because for those listening, this game was about to change the world; which rarely, if ever, changes but in humble nudges. And the Graveyard was just that: the push that made apparent a potential dormant in the video game medium, more oft known for setting bombast to the fucking max than for its artful retenue.

You can probably hardly even focus on this very text while Peggle is Ultra-Extreme-Fevering up there, that is what The Graveyard wasn’t: in a world of effects and pre-thought experiences, it had a theme but no story, a goal striped of its attributes and a never-seen-before pace. And so hating it was all the rage.

Clinging to the notion that games need to be difficult, inherited from decades of arcade machines designed to kick the coins out of you, many lost precious hours of their lives, swimming against the current of History in the making, spewing toxic comments about the game (and giving a remarkable image of how grown up our communities can be in the process). But it wasn’t until bigger titles came in the spotlight that the madness began.

    «Well… They do have a point, it IS just about walking…»

And so in 2012, the bad pun “justwalkingism" was discussed as the first art movement of video games around 48°52'08.7"N by 2°21'21.4”E, drinking alcoholed beverages in the company of Heather Kelley, Brandon Boyer, David Calvo and Alex Fleetwood in the warm and busy streets of an august evening.

But, as Brandon pointed out to me, the phrase "it's just walking?" was coined by artist Baiyon wondering if Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP was indeed just walking on march 2010 at 37°47'02.5"N 122°24'04.4"W. Bayion even made a fabulous remix of Jim Guthrie's Lone Star that bears this very name.

photo by brandon boyer

To that day, I favour Justwalingism over its denigrant counterpart: walking simulator which implies simulation (which those game do not strive for) and is often applied to game in which gamers feel walking plays too important a part (Day Z being chief among them while its gameplay is very very complex). In their mind, a walking simulator means you failed at building something else onto the walking mechanics and therefore failed at making a game. But QWOP is a walking simulator, The Graveyard isn’t. I really like the silly “wandering simulator” surfing on the simulator meme, but Justwalkingism is an aesthetic of mechanics and not a set of systems. Simulators are a genre (like still-life, or nude) While justwalkingism is an art movement (much like cubism or impressionism, you can make an impressionist nude, or a cubist still life).

Cubist still life by roy lichtenstein

Some people like to call these games interactive fiction but I mean… Really? What game isn’t interactive fiction? That could be a broader term to define all video games and pieces akin to the field.

    360 NO SCOPE! (and no weapon, no enemies, no skill)

Justwalkingism is a shared aesthetic of game design, somewhere between a philosophy and a design precept, it pertains to the field of interactive experiences and is Historically, born of the natural maturation of the medium.

When games came out of the arcade ages, landing in our pockets, living rooms and offices, they didn’t need to fish for quarters, cheap deaths or difficulty spikes anymore and gave way to a more casual notion of entertainment. They only needed to please us. To give us our money’s worth in entertainment. “Fun” the mastodon is not dying anytime soon, but just like in cinema’s youth, it will come to be completed by “interesting” adding to the spectrum of experiences to be had in games.

Journey by Thatgamecompany

Justwalkingism is the old maxim «what’s important is the journey, not the destination» made into game.

When people at Thatgamecompany thought up Journey, they probably had that sentence in mind and the game, like the sentence, like the philosophy behind it, carry a cultural and poetic weight few games have reached to this day.

It’s not about winning, it’s not about overcoming the challenges, it’s not even about challenges anymore… Justwalkingism is giving you something to go through and what is important is that you actually go through it. You. That you carry your intentionality and personality, that you internalise how much what is happening is happening to yourself projected in another space, not by empathy but by assuming direct control of the experience. Yes, those games sometimes have a jump button, or even a “use” button but they are not games about feeling smart or skilful because you pressed them right, they are about being ensconced in the moment: being there with little to do but wonder wanderingly at your own existence.

Marina Abramovic would sit you down in front of a screen and looking at your computed self inside an interactive universe you would perform “the gamer is in the room”.

    Bits and pieces

We could put the games born of this international movement into one of two categories: games and toys. The difference being that games have a goal: a beginning, a drive and one or more endings, while a toy has none of those made explicit and is therefore mostly about doing what you feel like in a given ruleset.

On the game side, many came out in the last couple of years dwelling in Justwalkingism. Two Half-Life mods are of course noteworthy in the crowd, early birds in their own right: Dear Esther which came out around 2009 and was later re-released as a full fledge game of ethereal beauty in 2012, and The Stanley Parable in 2011 with a re-release in 2013 improved tenfold in size, smartassness and quality.

While Dear Esther took the genre to a new peek of narrative quality with its eerie atmosphere and beautiful writing, The Stanley Parable took a different path in giving players overt agency over the story, simply by walking through a door or another. You were in fact not “just” walking anymore, which was already the case in Dear Esther but it was made obvious and toyed with (and with what talent!) in Stanley’s parable.

Be it those two, or Dream, or 9.03m, or Gravity Bone, or Thirty Flights of Loving or any other, Justwalkingist games have predominantly been made in first person point of view (FPnonS if you’d like) but the movement has invested many other perspectives. Passage by Jason Roher is one of them, a game mostly about walking (sometimes over stuff) but in a third person top-down perspective, Hohokum has also been characterised as a promenade-heavy game from a 2D side perspective.

Justwalkingism, again, is an art movement, meaning that its artists express themselves on many platforms, including mobiles. If Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP was an early piece of the movement, Oquonie, Year Walk or Hiversaires are more recent expressions of it.

Chief among Juswalkingist video toys is Proteus, which came out in 2013 and took aimlessness to a whole new level in a randomly generated open world. What it means is that while strolling down the pixelated hills, vistas, sightings, clever arrangement of trees and nature are not, in fact, clever. The only clever thing in Proteus is you, you are creating and projecting meaning.
Another achievement in the field is Xaxi, a virtual stroll through machinic-dreams and darker landcapes 

But to make the point that Justwalkingism is not merely a type of games, we will look a bit further: Life in the Garden by Zimmerman and Nowacek: shuffle the cards and walk through a story in which the burden of sense-making is yours to bear. Life in the Garden is Justwalkingism in a toy made of actual cardboard cards but it feels the same as Proteus or Passage: strolling inside a fictional landscape.

We can think of games like colouring books: the outlines are there but the finished piece is still yours to make.

All art is quite useless.

- Oscar Wilde (in the preface to The Portrait of Dorian Gray)

    You had to be there…

What Justwalkingism portrays is the existence of one in a moment and it yells back, in those games’ abstract and minimalist gameplays, at people calling them not games: WE ARE GAMES. In the clearest way possible: they show the player, by stripping them of their capacity that their existence inside the universe is what matters, what makes the moment what it is. There is no-one to slaughter, no other here, just yourself and the story to be lived in the universe it lives in. Lived. Not beaten because you have no weapon, not conquered for you have not army and not run through because more often that not, you can’t run, or jump, or fly. You are here, stuck to the ground in a moment with yourself, your choices and fears. For games are choices, and as long as you have agency, or at least the sentiment of agency, it’s a game you’re playing.

Gameplay is discursive, it says things, and reduced to walking mechanics what it says to you is that you are here, in the world. You’re not a hero, you are not someone else, you just exist and by stripping you of all unnecessary actions, it takes a minimalistic approach to game design to emphasise the rest. The story, the ambiance, the sense of presence or the immersion, the choices…

That’s what Justwalkingism is: an art movement dedicated to start game design anew: to strip games of the clutter of mechanics that hinder the player’s relation to the world. To seek a deeper and more meaningful journey by pacing games and allowing the player to sip inside the space through forgetting goals and assertions of dominance. 

Being able to question your place in the game in relation to your person, being able to stop, for a moment, to think of who you are and what you’re doing here as if you were another person… What other media provides that experience but games?

    Beyond “just” walking

From that new beggining, directions were taken

For some, being alone is a frightening thing, Mark Hadley made a walking simulator called Slender: The Eight Pages out of this nagging feeling that… you can’t really be alone in there… Yes, no-one thought of calling it a non-game but what do you do but walk in it? Indeed, many detractors of “walking simulators” were too busy pissing their pants to call Slender: The Eight Pages a non-game. With the democratisation of game making tools and the explosion of the indie scene, a heap of game originated from that fear of not being able to react rapidly and see behind you. While Alone in the Dark already used the lever of disempowerment in 1992, it was taken to a new level in the last years and would probably not have existed without Justwalkingist games.

And what of Day-Z? And Rust? Would those games have dared to exist if others had not tanked the torrent of insults and demeaning remarks? Would the whole “survival game” family have dared to be paced the way they are with actions few and far between?

And of course, an article on Justwalkingism could hardly be written without mentioning Gone Home, born of the movement's new beginning and direction. An exploration game, an adventure game in the most intimate of senses, somewhere between a hidden object and a point and click piece. A genre that is already birthing promising titles such as Firewatch or The Long Dark.

    And on that…

Justwalkingism is an art movement, a global and international tacit conversation about what games are and what they can be. It feels like a reactionnary movement, much like Cubism or Surrealism were in their time. A way for some to voice new things through the media of games, a more intimate set of mechanics.

Proteus

And on a less solemn note: I would like to personnaly thank all the makers of those games for taking and tanking mountains of shit so that the medium could move forward.

____________________

If you wish to participate in the conversation, feel free to do so in the comments here or on our website, on our facebook page, harangue us on twitter or mail me at oscar@ our website adress which is themgames.net.


Related Jobs

Pocket Gems
Pocket Gems — San Francisco, California, United States
[10.01.14]

Associate Product Manager
Trendy Entertainment
Trendy Entertainment — Gainesville, Florida, United States
[10.01.14]

Technical Director
Trendy Entertainment
Trendy Entertainment — Gainesville, Florida, United States
[10.01.14]

Technical Director
Trendy Entertainment
Trendy Entertainment — Gainesville, Florida, United States
[10.01.14]

Technical Director






Comments


Anna Zajaczkowski
profile image
I find it interesting that the more a game functions as a work of art, the less it functions as a game, and vice-versa.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
Making "art" gamable is certainly possible, and is an art form in itself. The result of that art form is something that fits both the "game" and the "work of art" qualities.

A game is not just a work of art. It's a clockwork of art.

Wendelin Reich
profile image
You mean like Braid? Nonsense...

Oscar Barda
profile image
Well, for now, it seems to hold water as a surface constatation. But the essence of the medium is an artistic one, as I stated in the previous article of the series :
www.gamasutra.com/blogs/OscarBarda/20140620/219566/Art_movements_i n_video_games_an_introduction.php

"when the Lascaux paintings were made, could anyone point to a masterpiece of a painting? Likely not at the time but it did not mean that painting could not be an art-form, just that in this precise context, no œuvre was known to the early wielders of pigments that could be pointed to as an illustration of a realised potential. It likely took literature, dance, sculpture or music millennia to mature, don’t expect video games to do so in 40 years."

Anna Zajaczkowski
profile image
I disagree that games are essentially an artistic medium. The essence of games is game mechanics, and designing gameplay is more of a design process than an artistically expressive process.

The problem with using game mechanics for artistic expression is that game mechanics have to be functional for the game to be playable. The design process of a gamey-game involves coming up with a theory for a design that might work, building a prototype, playtesting the game and iterating based on the results of those playtests. The game may change significantly from what the designer initially envisioned - even experienced game designers don't come up with working games in their heads, they test and iterate to discover something that works. Furthermore, the deeper a game is, the narrower the range of configurations that will work, and the less room there is for artistic expression.

Art games borrow game mechanics from games but they either use content to express their meaning (Dear Esther, The Graveyard) and/or they use game mechanics that are shallow and not meant to be played much, let alone mastered (Passage, The Marriage).

On the other hand a game like Go can be said to be elegant, sublime and meaningful, especially at high levels of play, but it never gets held up by the "games are art" crowd as an example of games being an artistic medium. And Go has been around for thousands of years.

Michael Joseph
profile image
perhaps rather than continuing to muddle around with definitions for game, play, and art we can better attempt to formalize the differences by first answering questions about the aspirations of the designers.

- why is the game being made?
- who is the game designed for?
- what is the games narrative?
- what all is the game trying to express?
- in what ways will the game inspire it's players?
- what will users get from the game?
- what can users learn from it?
- what did the creators learn from it while making it?
etc

Each such question will elicit a wide spectrum of responses depending on the designer and the game. I suspect these answers will be much more varied than they would have been 10+ years ago and that's a good thing.

And to many folks (myself included) the answers to these sorts of questions do matter. Because if they don't, then it might as well just all be about money and power.

Oscar Barda
profile image
"The problem with using game mechanics for artistic expression is that game mechanics have to be functional for the game to be playable."
Well… Define functional? Does Dear Esther have "functional" mechanics?

You're kind of saying "the problem with a using pigments for artistic expression is that they have to be visible and have to be put inside the frame".

"Furthermore, the deeper a game is, the narrower the range of configurations that will work, and the less room there is for artistic expression."
I think this is just plain false. I'm sorry, you would have to back that statement up because Braid has been cited before and the game totally invalidates your argument.

"they use game mechanics that are shallow and not meant to be played much, let alone mastered (Passage, The Marriage)."
I'm not sure you read the entire article, but I'm pretty sure you missed The Marriage's point.

You are clearly of the mind that some weird aberrations of the media might be called games but that the media as a whole is not art at all… Well I disagree wholeheartedly. You're watching stock photos and arguing that photography is not an art.

And on your last paragraph go is an interesting piece because it's akin to minimalistic paintings : complexity and beauty arising from simple systems. Of course I argue that go is an art piece in the field of games, it's an artpiece of the past, like the Joconde, but one nonetheless.

Anna Zajaczkowski
profile image
I don't really want to argue semantics here, especially since your own article wouldn't hold up to that kind of scrutiny. And as much as I appreciate the work that Jonathan Blow is doing, I have to admit that I didn't "get" Braid.

Oscar Barda
profile image
It's game and art theory… Arguing semantics is kinda the point…

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
@Anna

"The problem with using game mechanics for artistic expression is that game mechanics have to be functional for the game to be playable."

That's not a problem. In fact, that's what makes game design so interesting, and also what makes it an art and not just design. It wouldn't be nearly as fun if it was easy.

Anna Zajaczkowski
profile image
Luis, to use your clockwork metaphor as an analogy, games may be "clockworks of art," but that doesn't make clockmaking an artistic medium. Clockmakers, like game designers, are craftspeople, tinkerers, inventors. They're the ones who make sure that the system at the heart of it is functioning.

Anna Zajaczkowski
profile image
I was looking for more perspective on Braid and I found this interview with Jon Blow:

http://www.avclub.com/article/game-designer-jonathan-blow-what-we
-all-missed-abo-8626

He mentions approaching game design as a scientific practice, and talks about his process in designing the systems in Braid.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
"To use your clockwork metaphor as an analogy, games may be "clockworks of art," but that doesn't make clockmaking an artistic medium. Clockmakers, like game designers, are craftspeople, tinkerers, inventors. They're the ones who make sure that the system at the heart of it is functioning."

I can't oppose to that. Unsure if only from a philosofical stand point, but I agree with it nonetheless. I still simultaneously fail to see how it's not an art.

There's no recipe for how to design a game. There's no current means of objectively measuring the quality of a game. Not that it's impossible, but such a measurement requires a weighted system for which each person has a different set of values. You can, however a daunting herculean task would it be, come up with an objective value for every little thing in a game, but everybody can still decide they care more or less for this or that criterion.

Alright, I read the Jonathan Blow article.

Disappointed for not finding a single Complex Systems mention from him. Still disagreeing with his point about systems being all math and science while art has none of it. Seems to me he's implying the defining characteristic or "art" is to be mystical, which's a definition I'm not keen of, nor does the "mystical" aspect seduce me beyond a curiosity to figure it out.

I've said in the past though, that "Art is Design by gut feeling, and Design is Art by process", which's a different way of looking at the same "mystical" side of things, except putting the ignorance on the means to "analyse" it (i.e., your "guts") instead of some magical characteristic the object of analysis itself.

Thing is, art is not disconnected from or, er... "above" the systems of how Reality functions ("science") in a timeless manner, it's just that what's "art" shifts through time as it becomes less mystical. It's seems that for many, art is that what you don't understand, and if someone comes to understand it, it's not art anymore, and thereafter must be called "science" or "design".

I'll abstain from drawing a line at "metrics", "analytics", "comitee" or "focus groups" as to where the Design of games stops being an Art and bring some Optimatily or Chaos Theory of sorts into this discussion. But, as I see it, Game Design is an Art form. You cannot completely separate your uncouscious from the decisions you make in the process of designing a game or video-game, and if the consciousness of the decisions secludes it from being art, then nothing done while you're awake can be called art either.

Oscar Barda
profile image
"The problem with using game mechanics for artistic expression is that game mechanics have to be functional for the game to be playable."

The problem with sculptures is that they have to hold together. So no design discipline is art because it has to have a function ? How about Architecture then? Not Art ? How about Dance that needs to be performed by humans, that's limiting right? So not art either ?

Mr. Zurkon
profile image
"The design process of a gamey-game involves coming up with a theory for a design that might work, building a prototype, playtesting the game and iterating based on the results of those playtests. "
This is also how it works for: music, film, literature, sculpture, architecture and almost every other art form. It doesn't make it any "less art" because the vision and product changed to something else over time.

Have you played Papers, Please? The game uses mechanics to communicate its message. The graphics and writing lends some context and weight to this - but the message of the game can only be found by understanding/experiencing the system (mechanics) and not just by content (e.g. dialogue).

IMO if a game is to be considered art, on its own terms, it should use mechanics as its primary language for creating meaning.

Anna Zajaczkowski
profile image
Oscar, I agree that every art form has constraints that artists must work within and that limit the aesthetic choices that an artist can make.

Games are different in that they don't just have to work within a system, they are systems. Systems of rules that give rise to gameplay.

Game designers do make aesthetic choices, like when they decide what kind of system they want to make or when they judge whether the effect that the system produces is the one they want. But you can't design a system by making aesthetic choices. If you try you will most likely end up with a system that doesn't function - one whose parts don't fit together and which doesn't do what you expect it to do. And then when you try to make it work, you'll find that what the game wants to be conflicts with what you want to say with it.

This gets even harder if you are trying to make a deep game. Depth is meaningful play at high skill levels. Good games are expected to have this quality, yet most art games lack it. I say that it's because you can't balance for depth and artistic meaning at the same time. You have to compromise on one or the other. I can't prove this, and maybe I'm wrong about it. It's just my theory for why art games tend to lack depth or eschew game mechanics altogether.

Some games like Braid and Papers Please use game mechanics along with writing and other media to communicate meaning. But since those games rely so much on their non-game parts to contextualize the gameplay, I don't think they prove that gameplay systems are an expressive medium.

Thanks for the discussion, everyone.

Mr. Zurkon
profile image
"But since those games rely so much on their non-game parts to contextualize the gameplay, I don't think they prove that gameplay systems are an expressive medium."
Every designed system relies on some sort of contextualization. It's an integral part of it - not a competing element.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
"Good games are expected to have this quality, yet most art games lack it."

If art games aren't good games, the only way they can even be called art games is by a complete disregard for the art form itself, and passing judgment on the quality of the art by alien standards.

"I say that it's because you can't balance for depth and artistic meaning at the same time."

Not that I like that "meaning" word, but lots of things we do today have been impossible in the past. There are no limits to what Game Design can accomplish.

"It's just my theory for why art games tend to lack depth or eschew game mechanics altogether."

They're just not good enough, supposing they tried to do that and failed, or not evolved enough, supposing they didn't even try it. I hope they failed at being awesome though, instead of succeding at being inferior.

This is not critique or to say anything is bad, just that you can't do any better or pursue improvement by pretending everything is already perfect. The job of Game Design is to answer these questions, and for that to be possible, said question have to be asked first.

"Some games like Braid and Papers Please use game mechanics along with writing and other media to communicate meaning. But since those games rely so much on their non-game parts to contextualize the gameplay, I don't think they prove that gameplay systems are an expressive medium."

I've been bringing this game up in every conversation on this subject, and here it goes again: http://www.kongregate.com/games/pixelante/immortall

Oscar Barda
profile image
Anna, have you tried Jason Roher's Gravitation? Or maybe The Marriage by Rod Humble?
They express through rules, and, granted, they are simplistic, but first, never in the history of the world have so many people been designing games and secondly, I think you can go further than that in the relationship to meaning :)

Sam Stephens
profile image
I found this article, like similar ones written about the state of digital games and art, to be somewhat condescending. The casting of all who dislike "walking games" or challenge the notion that they are even games as dimwitted Youtube commenters makes it difficult to take this seriously. There are plenty of intelligent game scholars you could have quoted and challenged their position. There are even thoughtful people on Youtube (Surprise! Surprise!) that you could have quoted.

"Clinging to the notion that games need to be difficult, inherited from decades of arcade machines designed to kick the coins out of you, many lost precious hours of their lives, swimming against the current of History in the making, spewing toxic comments about the game"

There is much about this article could be addressed (flawed uses of terms such gameplay, choices, agency, and mechanics, the notion that traditional games are about "assertion of dominance," if games could or should be described as art), but I feel this one quote is the root of the problem. The common understanding of games being challenging and self-measuring systems didn't come from the arcades and that business model. Games are thousands of years old. They've been around since humans had the time to play them. You write as if they are some kind of emerging art form with a thirty year history. The reason people object to calling titles like Dear Esther and Gone Home games is not because these experiences are unlike the kind of software we've played with in arcades as children, it's because these titles are completely inconsistent with 5,000 years of human history and the usage of the word.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
I too wanted to call out the infamous usage of "game" as short for "video-game" through the article, but slowly came to the conclusion it's rooted on other premises that make it impossible to address everything without writing another entire article in response. And so I gave up before starting.

Oscar Barda
profile image
"The casting of all who dislike "walking games" or challenge the notion that they are even games as dimwitted Youtube commenters makes it difficult to take this seriously."

To reply to this, I will say that I wrote an entire article before this one to clarify what I meant. Yes, there are (some) scholars that have dismissed those as non games, but History seems not to be on their side, for past the period where this was discussed, those are now mostly regarded as video games. The vast majority of naysayers were those I quoted and if you want to give a counter point, please do so with links and sources that take that position that's what comments are for :)

On the other point, you state that games are thousands of years old and that these games are inconsistent with game's history…
But most games throughout history built on the model of "le jeu de l'oie" or goose chase were designed that way : little to no player agency, mostly going through the motion with little control…
And on the other end of the spectrum, chess and go are exactly what I described : games about asserting military dominance. They do so in a well balanced and interesting way, but that's what they are about nonetheless.

So yeah, they are not at all unlike anything we've seen and I get annoyed too at people who mix up games and video games, it's just that in the process of writting such a long article, I get mixed up and mainly talk about video games :)
sorry !

Sam Stephens
profile image
Thanks for the response.

-"Yes, there are (some) scholars that have dismissed those as non games, but History seems not to be on their side, for past the period where this was discussed, those are now mostly regarded as video games."

I'm not really sure what you mean when writing "history seems not to be on their side." Are you referring to previous debates within the last twenty years like narratology vs ludology? Such debates seem to have developed mostly after the advent of computer games and revolve around them almost exclusively. This leads me to believe there is something particular about these types of games and their relationship with the digital medium that creates confusion. Historically though, this movement is very brief and limited to a small subset of the video game culture which has trouble placing their ideas within a broader non-digital context.

-"But most games throughout history built on the model of "le jeu de l'oie" or goose chase were designed that way : little to no player agency, mostly going through the motion with little control…"

First, I would hardly say that games like Game of Goose represent "most games throughout history." They are the exception, not the norm. The oldest and most popular games throughout history tend to be abstract strategy games such as Go, Xianqqi, and Mancala.

Secondly, I don't think the Game of Goose is so contentious as you believe. It's true that "games of luck" don't necessarily fit my own idea of what games are when compared to "games of skill" (or games of agency as you would seem to phrase it). They function differently and don't really offer much use to practicing designers. However, I would say they are very game-like.

Let's analyze Game of Goose and Dear Esther using Jesper Juul's six qualities of a game (http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/gameplayerworld/). It's a great huersitic for thinking about games an I have yet to find a framework that offers more analytic utility.

Game of Goose
1) Rules: Yes
2) Variable and quantifiable outcomes: Yes
3) Valorization of the outcome: Yes
4) Player effort: No
5) Attachment to the outcome: Yes
6) Negotiable consequences: Yes

There is really only one issue with Game of Goose. Overall, it greatly resembles a game with rules, goals, conflicts, and systemic self-measurement. I have no problem with people referring to it as a game because it generally is one.

Dear Esther

1) Rules: Yes
2) Variable and quantifiable outcomes: No
3) Valorization of the outcome: No
4) Player effort: Yes
5) Attachment to the outcome: No
6) Negotiable consequences: No

Here we see that Dear Esther is much farther away from a "traditional" understanding of games than Game of Goose. All it really has is rules (or more like limitations to what is possible) and player effort (interactivity). But even player effort is questionable because the interactivity is without challenge or conflict. You can also use this source and get the same results:

http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/WhatIsaGame.shtml

-"And on the other end of the spectrum, chess and go are exactly what I described : games about asserting military dominance."

Chess is certainly not about military dominance. The physical form and naming of the pieces represent a fictional context. This context is very important in how it helps to functionally distinguish the board pieces and what they can do, but it is hardly essential. Go is an even more problematic example. Unlike Chess, the strategy in Go (and many other abstract strategy games) doesn't even remotly resemble any kind of military strategies found on the battlefield.

-"I get mixed up and mainly talk about video games :) sorry!"

That's okay. It's a big a daugnting topic, so I can understand why it's difficult to grapple with. Also, could you post a link to your article that you mentioned? I am having trouble finding it. It would certainly help me to understand your positions better. Thanks.

Oscar Barda
profile image
"First, I would hardly say that games like Game of Goose represent "most games throughout history." They are the exception, not the norm. The oldest and most popular games throughout history tend to be abstract strategy games such as Go, Xianqqi, and Mancala."

Not sure about that, think Senet or the Royal Game of Ur, those were the norm for a long time: divination games, dice games, games with little to no player choice.
By mentions alone through history, these tend to be more prevalent, depending on clutures of course but throughout Europe and parts of Asia, even if it's hard to know for sure, they seem to have been the most popular. (Art du jeu, Jeu dans l'art) source:
http://www.ac-versailles.fr/public/upload/docs/application/pdf/20
13-01/dossier_enseignants_art_du_jeu_exposition_2012.pdf

On Dear Esther, have you played the game? Because you seem to be mistaken as to its contents and mechanics:

1) Rules: Yes
2) Variable and quantifiable outcomes: No
You should play two or more times through Dear Esther :) That's a Yes.
3) Valorization of the outcome: No
Why? You recognise that the story is shaped by you… so Yes.
4) Player effort: Yes
Hmmm… What do we call "effort" here? Cause I would argue that this is the disappearing factor in Justwalkingist games.
5) Attachment to the outcome: No
Well, it's a story, you shaped it so… I'd largely say yes
6) Negotiable consequences: No
Indeed

Here's the first article
www.gamasutra.com/blogs/OscarBarda/20140620/219566/Art_movements_i n_video_games_an_introduction.php

And thanks for the discussion ^.^

Sam Stephens
profile image
-"Not sure about that, think Senet or the Royal Game of Ur, those were the norm for a long time: divination games, dice games, games with little to no player choice."

It's hard to talk about Senet and Royal Game of Ur because no one knows for certain how they were played, but historians have generally agreed that both games contain a mixture of luck and skill. You are right that there were popular games of chance though. However, the motivations for playing them were usually related to religious purposes and gambling (chuck-a-luck, craps) which, I would argue, changes a lot. There's a reason why slot machines are popular only in casinos, while Poker is widely played outside of that setting with or without an external motivator.

Even then, I already said that these games are "borderline cases." They are still very game-like and I have no problem with others referring to them as games. One is perfectly capable of creating a useful framework for games that includes them. Whether or not they are good games is a different topic entirely.

-"On Dear Esther, have you played the game? Because you seem to be mistaken as to its contents and mechanics"

I have played through Dear Esther only once. This was back in 2008 when it was still a Half-Life 2 mod. Unless I'm mistaken, the only thing that has changed since then is the visuals. I am aware of the random and fragmented audio voiceovers if that is what you mean about me being mistaken.

-"2) Variable and quantifiable outcomes: No
You should play two or more times through Dear Esther :) That's a Yes."

Again, I am assuming you're referring to the voiceovers. These don't create multiple outcomes. There is only one outcome, reaching the radio tower. The voiceovers only affect someone's interpretations of the narrative. We could even break it down further by removing the narrative entirely. It's simply a matter of moving from point A to point B.

You might argue that this is how many single-player video games proceed. Take Super Mario Bros. for example. All the player needs to do is reach the end of every level. However, there are a variety of gamestates between point A and point B. The obvious is the difference between life and death (failstate). There are others such as Mario's condition. Is he big or small? Does he have a power up? Enemies contribute to variable states of their own (bomb-ombs, wiggler) or interact with Mario in unique ways such as tracking him. So it's not such a simple case as point A to point B.

-"3) Valorization of the outcome: No
Why? You recognise that the story is shaped by you… so Yes."

First, the players have no power over the way in which the voiceovers are presented (unless they are manipulating the software's random number generator). Even if they did, it wouldn't change the events of the story, only the narrative presentation of a single playthrough.

Secondly, it's unclear if you understand the concept of valorized outcomes as presented. Even if the story could be shaped by the player and have a variety of different outcomes a la Mass Effect, all of these storytelling options have equal value within the system. In chess, checking the opponent's king is an objectively better outcome than having your's checked. The system creates a value scale where outcomes are not equal. For games of skill, this means that certain actions are better than others which in most cases (but not all) results in Sid Meier's concept of "interesting choices."

You may argue that valorization can be assigned by the players themselves and therefore could be subjective. This contradicts the "quantifiable" part of the previous feature where the desirable outcomes are defined by the system, unambiguous, and understood by all participants.

-"4) Player effort: Yes
Hmmm… What do we call "effort" here? Cause I would argue that this is the disappearing factor in Justwalkingist games."

As I said previously, this quality is questionable. Juul says that effort means "challenging" or "interactive." I agree with you that Dear Esther requires little to no player effort, but since it is interactive I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

-"5) Attachment to the outcome: No
Well, it's a story, you shaped it so… I'd largely say yes"

Attachment is tied directly to valorized outcomes. If players do not accept the scale of value or don't have emotions correlating with the value of the outcome, then they probably have no internal incentive to play the game and uphold the arbitrary rules. As Juul says, it's just a part of accepting the seemingly absurd constraints and values that gaming systems have.

Oscar Barda
profile image
You are mistaken in that the voice over are not random at all, they depend on where you go so you totally manipulate the story which is a part of the game, meaning that you project different aesthetic values on different parts of the game...

Sam Stephens
profile image
Practically every preview/review of the game that I can find describes the voiceovers as random.

-"Dear Esther also has some random elements that may encourage you to at least revisit the island once you've reached the end of your journey." -The Escapist

-"In fact, the information the game gives players is incredibly limited: voice-over narration plays at intervals as players explore the island, triggered either randomly or by viewing specific objects and vistas."- Game Front

-"The pursuit of different lines of dialogue, plucked at random from a small database of voice samples, seems futile to me." -Rock, Paper, Shotgun

Even the game's website says they're random.

-"Fragments of story are randomly uncovered when exploring the various locations of the island" (http://dear-esther.com/?page_id=2)

As far as I know, voiceovers are triggered by approaching or looking at certain objects, but the exact voiceover that plays is random. If this isn't the case, then Dear Esther does a poor job of communicating it to the participants, let alone why it's important to have such control over which voiceover plays when.

Also, player's can't "manipulate the story" regardless if the voiceovers are open to influence or not. Only the order of narration and parts of the story that are told is subject to change each playthrough.

Oscar Barda
profile image
That's the difference between randomness and procedures as you well know.

When they say "Fragments of story are randomly uncovered when exploring the various locations of the island" it means that player wander aimlessly and randomly and some places have more than one story bit. But if you walk the exact same path as I have done, you will mostly encounter the same story.

Sam Stephens
profile image
There's no such thing as pure randomness in any computer game as computers don't do anything at random. Computers use random number generators to create the appearance of randomness. But for all intents and purposes, the effect is still the same. As I have shown, everyone has described the voiceovers as random, because they practically are. Sure, you can technically discover what exact order of movement or actions will lead the computer to produce the same voiceovers, but you can do that in practically any software that uses RNG. People have been doing it with Pokemon for years.

But I think we are getting a bit off topic. Having complete control over both the narration and the story wouldn't make Dear Esther any more like a game than it is.

Oscar Barda
profile image
So The Stanley Parable in which you have overt and direct control over the game is more of a game or is it still not ?

Sam Stephens
profile image
This might go back to what I briefly alluded in the initial comment, the conflation of ideas such as interactivity, gameplay, choice, and control. One could say that The Stanley Parable is more interactive or gives the participant a greater and more active role in the story than Gone Home does, but the interactivity is still just functional. Once again, it's a matter of point A to point B when broken down. The player can take the story to new places, but there is still a a single path with no gamestates and equal choices across the board. It's not just about choices, it's about choices that exist on a value scale. The context for choices in The Stanley Parable are completely different. They're one of storytelling or personal expression in the face of authority.

I think Hakim Boukellif made a great point about "walking games" below when he said "the act of walking is just the sole means the player is given to partake in the game's activities." Walking in titles like Proteus, Gone Home, and The Stanley Parable is a means to an end. The softwares have walking in first-person because the aims of the storytelling is to create a human first-person narrative in the literary sense. It's a literal translation of first-person techniques of literature to interactive software. None of these titles are trying to simulate the act of walking. In fact, the walking is probably better described as gliding because the movement and correlating vision of realistic walking in a game, compounded with a real sense of our own body and vision, would create a highly uncomfortable and distracting experience that takes away from the most important aspects of the experience (exploration, storytelling).

QWOP offers a great source of comparison in that it's explicitly about walking in and of itself. Walking isn't a function of mobility to move around and explore like it is in our daily lives. It's a self contained challenge where walking is absurdly inefficient with a measurement of skill based on how far someone gets. QWOP is simultaneously an explicit computer simulation of walking and a game.

Michael Joseph
profile image
You referenced a quote from Oscar Wilde "All art is quite useless."

Self deprecating humor? An inside joke? I don't know exactly what Wilde meant by that. I'm going to skip attempting to discover the context and instead choose to imagine that he was delineating art from so called "commercial art" products where the former has a total (or at least very strong) disregard for commercial viability (widgets to be sold to as many people as possible) and is instead focused on the integrity of the expression itself. The finished result people can either take or leave... although the artist hopes others will take it.

I think this more irreverent approach to the business of making games is what is fundamentally different. Over the past decade or so indie pioneers have been demonstrating that the industry is mature enough to support "personal games" that are not deliberately being engineered to appeal to mass audiences. This liberating approach has yielded an increased diversity of gaming experiences and has helped pull the industry out of the rut of chasing the "best of breed" badge in a perceived narrow range of commercially viable genres. Indeed, indie artists have revealed just how inartistic the industry had become.

To the extent some gamers feel (at least initially) threatened by such games it's because these games are subversive to the status quo and many folks fear things that are different or that they don't understand. (one could write forever on the problem of fanaticism and people allowing their personal identity or self worth to become intertwined with specific types of games and the associated feeling of threat or personal rejection that comes with change).

Credit indie developers for helping to broaden minds (and for delivering us from gaming fascism! - i jest). Art is useful for that.

Oscar Barda
profile image
Well, the idea of the quote (you should read the Portrait of Dorian Grey by the way, it's a marvellous book) is that art is essentially what's useless, in the sense that there is no practical use for a painting… Yes it's pretty, but what's it for? To be pretty? Well, that's useless, nature is already pretty, why painting?
Art is, in essence, that which has no use, and if it's made to sell, or made to have value, then it stops being art :)

Mr. Zurkon
profile image
"in the sense that there is no practical use for a painting"
Why? Does it have to be physical use in order to be practical? There is much mental use for art.

"Art is, in essence, that which has no use, and if it's made to sell, or made to have value, then it stops being art :)"
So Caravaggio's works are not art because they were paid for by the church?

Oscar Barda
profile image
Could you try to be more agressive too please? There's nothing as agreeable as being threatened by every word in a sentence.
I'll answer you when you put things in a more polite and open way.

Mr. Zurkon
profile image
It was not indended as aggressive.

I will add smileys next time to avoid confusion :-)

Michael Joseph
profile image
@Mr. Zurkon

If an artist is a master, you hire him for his expenses and his (rather valuable) time to fill a space and then you leave it to the master to fill the space. It's not just a question of "who are you to be better able to tell the master what should go there?" its also a question of why would you spend so much money on a master just to have him behave like a monkey and do what you tell him? You hire a master and you trust that his judgement is better than yours because he is both an expert and a genius. You can hire any technically competent artists if all you want is for him to make what YOU want.

In such works, artistic integrity is not compromised by being commissioned because authorial control is solely in the hands of the artist. What makes these works valuable is that they were designed by the artist and not a committee of the artistically challenged.

To this day, states, municipalities, the wealthy, commission works from foreign/domestic/local artists all the time and they follow this time honored tradition of allowing the artist to have full control because it's the only thing that MAKES SENSE (the artists are only constrained by things like the size of the space, budget and theme.) It doesn't always work out so well but... such is life...

Michael Joseph
profile image
I wonder how/if game design courses have changed over the years? Game design has traditionally been taught with a focus on mechanics, engineering and project management and not very much like literature, poetry, film, music, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. "Artists" were brought in to game projects to lend their talents to the product, but that's not the same thing as having designers who were trained to view games as a medium of expression.

And that's had to have stunted the growth of the medium over the decades.

It's the difference between say a designer like Jenova Chen who makes touching and moving experiences like "Journey" and who has a strong art background, and a designer like Markus Persson who has a programming background and made the simulation "Minecraft" that enables users to express themselves.

Not saying one title is better than the other, but are today's game design courses accommodating a full range of design approaches and styles?

Oscar Barda
profile image
Most artistic fields are similar: most writers didn't study "how to write", painters learn "how to draw" but have to go much further.
Game design schools mainly teach "how to make gamey game"

Michael Stevens
profile image
Art students certainly "have to go much further", but are expected to speak and write intelligently about the motivations of artists and specific works from a broad range of eras, locations, classes, etc. Art students are subject to regular critique from professors an peers where they have to justify why they bothered in the first place. The same things cannot be said of the people who make match 3 puzzle games.

Michael Stevens
profile image
Google Psychogeography, then come back.

Oscar Barda
profile image
Could you please be a little more agressive in a little less words?

Michael Stevens
profile image
It's frustrating to watch people, however polite and well intentioned, drone on about how Artful gaming is becoming, to embiggen themselves, when they have so shallow an interest in Art as Art in the first place. Even here, people are unwilling to step outside the bubble and consider how the intelligent and meaningful things they do plug into
The intelligent and meaningful things pursued in academics and the broader art community. Lots of people had lots to say about Catherine, but nobody knows why Zigunerwiesen was such a clear choice for the game over screen.

In the discussion of gaming, Art is a hollow term for even (especially) the people most enamored by it, only operating as a medal to justify the adultness of their endeavors, and that's why "Art games" still have more in common with Oscar themes than modern Art. There's so little drive to look the other fields in the eye, and until that changes the most interesting games will continue to be made by:
1) The "games as sports" crowd, who have a slightly less circuitous route to their destination.
2) Civilians who stumbled into game design. Especially in the 90's. Especially in Japan.

Art is waiting for gaming to express an actual interest in actual things on the actual planet where Steam sales happen, rather than just the novelty of simulating it.

Oscar Barda
profile image
http://www.themgames.net/why-games/

Michael Joseph
profile image
@Michael Stevens

Perhaps a big part of the context you are leaving out is how not very long ago, everyone in the industry was saying all games were art. You still hear that, but it's no longer the consensus that it was. And the implications of that mistaken belief of yesteryear were helping to pigeonhole games and trap the minds of designers.

I don't think anyone is exaggerating the current state though. But there is a consciousness there now (which folks are deservedly excited about) which has primed a feedback loop resulting in more designers TRYING to explore ways of making fun and interesting games that ALSO teach (honestly and with integrity as opposed to through pandering and selfish manipulation and presenting of opinions, portrayals and ideas that the designers do not hold or believe themselves), that inspire players to think about concepts outside of the game itself, that evoke emotions -- again, in a way that demonstrates artistic integrity because if art is anything, it is honest. Art if not _the_ truth, is a search for truth and that search is what gives everything meaning.

And this exploration and this feedback loop is what will bring more "civilians" into the game development scene and is what will give birth to more games created by designers with (shall we say) more artistically attuned minds. And by that I mean expressively and not just those wielding technical mastery of color theory and composition and such.

And it's no surprise that players are having to get over their preconceptions and learn to appreciate finer things given what their diet consisted of in the past. The goal isn't to turn all games into "artsy" games. The goal is to get "artsy" games on the menu and for players to have a wealth of choices beyond burgers and fries.

This is healthy for players and the industry.
--
P.S many other art forms have lost their souls too (least for those that ever had one) and become mindless things to the myopic mainstream that steal our precious time and we don't know what we've lost sometimes until we see present day flashes that make us remember the past
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOTYuSoX8ck

Soulless mindless things are not art. And every culture knows that such things herald destruction (mind, body, or spirit or any combination thereof).

Hakim Boukellif
profile image
Not sure I agree with it being an "art movement". In all the games mentioned in the article, the act of walking is just the sole means the player is given to partake in the game's activities (usually exploring an environment and/or experiencing a narrative of some sort) and the lack of other mechanics just means that apparently no other were necessary to achieve whatever the game is supposed to achieve. But nothing about that suggests anything about the nature or method of what the game is trying to achieve or any of its aesthetic qualities. For example, you could also make a game like this where you're walking on a beach and you're constantly surrounded by young women in bikini.

Also:
"Justwalkingism is the old maxim «what’s important is the journey, not the destination» made into game."
This should be the case for any kind of game. A goal or victory condition is just something that gives the player direction, what matters is the process the player goes through to reach it.

Oscar Barda
profile image
The thing that makes it an art movement in my opinion is that
1) Many games partake in it in different genres
2) About the maxim, many game are about the Journey but they don't say so. God of War 3 is about the journey but it says it's not to push you ever further in the game.

Hakim Boukellif
profile image
" 1) Many games partake in it in different genres"
Doesn't that just make it a trend? Are one-button games an art movement? Or games with Quick Time Events?

"2) About the maxim, many game are about the Journey but they don't say so. God of War 3 is about the journey but it says it's not to push you ever further in the game."
This isn't entirely clear to me, but I think what you're trying to say is that most games announce the goal as the most important part to the player in order to push him to reach it and these "justwalkingism" games don't? But is that really the case? Many games don't make that announcement explicit, it's just that if you don't kill those monsters or place those bricks in such a way that they disappear, the game ends. Do most of those games you mention in the article not push the player into actually walking somewhere else with the (implicit) promise that they'll experience something more interesting than just staring at the same rock all day?

Nick Harris
profile image
"Walking, moving a character through a space is indeed gameplay..."

No it isn't.

Experiential < Interactive < Adventure* < Game†

*adds a Stake.

†adds Competition.

Choosing to hold down the W key does not make an experience into a game.

Oscar Barda
profile image
So if you mapped one button bob to the W key, it wouldn't be a game right? :)
Right.
http://armorgames.com/play/5286/one-button-bob


none
 
Comment: