How to make an art-game

Game critique corner article about art-games, proper corner on Saturday.

I hate artgames.


Mostly, they’re horrible pieces of interactive entertainment that completely miss the latter word. They completely ignore the fact that I seek form of compelling experience. Not hard-fast feelings after I just headshot a guy from five miles away, but something completely different. It’s that sort of edge that becomes somewhat of a design feature. A “punch to the gut” feature, something which takes you out of reality and throws you head-first into the mind of your avatar and the world around him. This hasn’t happened to me often, but when it does, it’s amazing and exclusive to the little video-game medium. I can safely say, unfortunately, only a few of those punches belong to certain art-games. I gave a problem remembering things but the obvious ones are Shadow of the Colossus, BioShock, Limbo (kinda) and the only strict art-game Passage.

So, how do you make a good art game?

1. Base it around your message.

If you have a story to tell or a symbol at the very heart of your message, don’t chicken out and put it forward. Don’t make all of your mechanics and experience built around a specific idea, but base it around it. For instance, let’s say I want to make a game about the holocaust and how the Nazis were so utterly brainwashed. What I would do is make the main game as brutal as possible, but make it appear to the player he is beating ‘monsters’ to death; with brief hints he is actually beating Jews to death. The controls would be simplified, or in a way that proclaims the main message (a la ‘gripping R1’ in Shadow of the Colossus). What I would not do is… well.. ignore point 2.

2. Goddamn entertainment

It’s an entertainment industry. Obviously, you’re ignoring the stagnation of the main markets and making something that matters. Something which tells a story through video-games, but you shouldn’t ignore the fact you’re making a game. Do something which games don’t often do, like make us feel guilty for having all of that shallow entertainment (a la my above idea) or do something that isn’t goddamn boring. By all means, have a fantastic message and all that good arty farty, but without that punch or without that compelling gut feeling, we have no reason to play your game. In actual fact, this links to point 3.

3. Don’t make me play it

I’d like to play another game that asks me not to play it, but experience it. Take in the full world and just go at my own pace, don’t make me ‘play’ with games. I’m pretty bored with shallow entertainment, violence without meaning, I’ll obviously be playing them for the rest of my gaming career (since they vastly out-number the ones with meaning, always will in any medium). What I’m expecting from you is to treat me as a person and not a player. Make me jump into your experience and get your message by the end, there is something to be said when you’re still thinking about a game’s message over four years down the line.

4. Don’t bullshit

Decisions that I make in the game need to matter to me, not matter to the game’s message. Misinterpreting my actions in an interactive world (a la Edmund) doesn’t really reflect upon me. If anything, you’re throwing emotion at me, I’m catching it, but I’m not remembering it. If I press, say, X to ‘use’ and it ends up being something else such as rape (which Edmund does) then yeah that reflects on what you’re saying about human control and it’s no doubt got me revolting over my own actions… but they’re not my own actions. The way I interact with an experience is on my terms, not yours, remember that.

5. Be brave

I have an idea for a ‘art-game’ as such, I won’t tell anybody ever since I’d be shot on the spot or would feel embarrassed, but otherwise, it’s brave. It tackles an idea that I haven’t yet seen explored and it’s definitely something that only  rests with the power of interactivity. It’s a bold step that will likely never be published by a main published and be looked down upon by ever ignorant person in the world. Even worse, gamers will hate it because they’ll feel violated that such an idea can take place. I can safely say, however, it’s for everyone’s benefit that the industry takes brave steps and discovers it capabilities. Maybe I can have a small role in doing that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s