Proteus was released earlier this week, and has caused quite a ruckus online, as players argue over its video game merits versus its lack of traditional gameplay. Here, UK editor Mike Rose discusses why there's perhaps a little too much snobbery going on.
It's an awkward point to have to make, but here goes: Enjoying recently released "anti-game" Proteus does not make you a better, or a more refined player, than anyone else.
It's currently not cool at all to say that you didn't enjoy Proteus, or to even hint at the idea that this isn't one of the most important video game releases of the here and now. This is an experience that is pushing the medium of what video games can offer us, and speaking out against it means that you clearly just don't like video games, period.
For those who have somehow missed it, Proteus presents you with a randomly generated, pixelated island to roam around, with animals to chase, rainclouds to walk under, and a night and day cycle which forms the basis of a vague sort of narrative.
I personally enjoyed my time with the game. It was a relaxing half an hour succeeding a bustling day of work, and it allowed my curiosity to wander off with a mind of its own.
That being said, I'm 99 percent sure that I'll never go back to it ever again. In my eyes, it's an experience worth having that truly did make me question what a "game" can be -- but I don't particularly feel the need to experience it again. Once was all the fill I needed.
My girlfriend had an entirely different experience. She sat down to play for five minutes, after which she took the headphones off and said "I don't get it."
I forced her to play a bit more, so as to experience the night-time in all its glory. But another five minutes, and the headphones were off again. "This is really boring," she said. "There's nothing to do, and the world is dull."
"No it's not," I replied... but then I sort of ran out of words. I mean, how was I meant to make her see what she was missing? If she wasn't "feeling it" emotionally -- which, let's be honest, is the essence of the experience -- then what else was there for her in Proteus?
And in turn, this made me consider the following: What if it was me that was trying so hard to get something out of this walking simulator, that I had lost sight of the fact that it literally is a game about prancing around a lo-fi island for half an hour?
Here's a comparison that will make monocles drop to the ground, and make me very unpopular: I've just spend the last three weeks gunning it around Far Cry 3's massive, gorgeous, detailed, incredible playground, with a brilliant soundtrack to boot. If Ubisoft had removed all the gameplay, all the characters, all the interactivity, and instead created an experience that was based solely on exploring the island while the music willed you on, would it be worth playing?
Probably not -- if anything, it would then be seen as a tech demo to showcase how beautiful Far Cry 3 looks. That's not to say that Proteus is a tech demo, but rather, that when someone complains that Proteus is boring because it has "no gameplay," should we really be so harsh as to snap at them for not being "clever" enough to understand it?
It's pretty easy to gush about Proteus and sound intellectual -- the imagery, the integration of sound and exploration, the sheer bliss of it all! -- and, in turn, dismissing the "I found it boring" argument is a piece of cake too. "You just don't get video games like I do!"
I've personally been on the other end of this argument before -- I didn't enjoy last year's Dear Esther at all (and that feels like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders to say out loud).
While I appreciated the game for what it was attempting to do, and I'm definitely glad that it exists, I just didn't "get it." I walked along a beach for a while, up a tight hilly path, through some fields, and into a cave before I decided that I was far too bored for my own good. I tried as hard as I could to engage with the spoken story, but it didn't grip me at all.
I remember mentioning the fact that I didn't really like the game to someone at a conference last year, and instantly wished I hadn't. As it turns out, you're simply not allowed to say bad things about these sorts of video game experiences! I learned my lesson.
And this is what I'm driving at: I am all about pushing the video game medium forward, and for that reason I see games like Proteus and Dear Esther as a huge step in the right direction. I'm hugely glad they exist, I'm happy to have experienced them, and I hope Proteus sells by the bucketload so the developer can continue to make his mark on the industry.
But what right do I, or does anyone else, have to tell someone who doesn't like it, or doesn't want to play it, that they are wrong and/or stupid?
Here are the facts about Proteus: It is very different from the norm. It has no real (or perhaps atypical) "gameplay" as such. It's clearly not for everyone. Part of pushing the medium is being open to ideas and opinions of others, so when someone is being mocked for not enjoying themselves "as they should be," who really has the higher ground here?