10 Games That Resonated With Me

Posted by
May 18th, 2014 10:14 am

Hello there! Now that I’ve played and rated 100 games, it is time. I might be a bit late in getting people to rate these games, but that’s not why I’m writing this post. These aren’t the “best” games I’ve played; at least, not by the traditional category metric. My main purpose here is to point out and analyze games that use interesting methods to tell stories and evoke emotional responses from the players.

I highly recommend you play the games before reading my analyses, as they will spoil the games for you.

Here are the games (the ordering is meaningless):



I Contemplated the Sun of Limbo


The Dead Rest Beneath Us


Le Ver








I Remember Alice



Drowning in Problems


Beneath the Surface


A Happy Place



Most of you are probably aware of the ongoing ‘video-games as an art form’ debate. If not, I recommend you go read up on it, particularly Roger Ebert’s arguments. The whole debate revolves around how gaming as a medium compares to traditional media of expression. In my opinion, the question is usually tackled from the wrong angle. We shouldn’t ask- how can we create a game that retells ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and does a good job of it? Instead we should be asking- how can we harness the power of video-games to create unique experiences unparalleled in other media? This power I’m talking about is, of course, interactivity. The medium’s undoing, according to Ebert, but I think otherwise. Jon Blow gave an interesting talk about how we can harness gameplay as a powerful story-telling device. He talks about meaningful gameplay, which is deeply tied to the story. In fact, the gameplay should create the story. The key word here is immersion- movies, books, and music all have their own ways of immersing the person experiencing them, but video games can do so much more! In video games, you can evoke a sense of agency, which in turn will make the player feel responsible for his actions. In video games, you can make the player feel that he is his avatar in a much deeper sense than in other media, or indeed in most modern video games.

In the game ‘Sopora‘, you awaken to find yourself in a coffin. You can escape, panic and suffocate, kill yourself, etc. When you do any of these, you feel like you’ve actually done something meaningful. Moreover, you don’t feel bad for the avatar, as is the case in so many games, because you feel that you are your avatar. You experience the game through his eyes. The game uses powerful audio to create tension, but it only serves to amplify the experience created by the gameplay.

Sunk‘ is another excellent example of this. You play as a man in the open sea, struggling to stay afloat. One button only, and yet you feel responsible when you drown. And just like in ‘Sopora’, when you screw up, you panic. You suffocate. And again, the sound effects and graphics are amplifiers, no more.

I loved both ‘I Remember Alice‘ and ‘Le Ver‘ very much, but the reason I’m mentioning them here is that they deviate from the pattern I’m presenting with the other games. Both games feature monotonous gameplay, and both make extensive use of text to deliver the story and the experience. The games lack in agency, but that is what makes the gameplay powerful. They stand out because their gameplay is tied strongly to the story. What I find interesting about them is that the gameplay, at least in my opinion, is an amplifier for the story, not the other way around. The experience is a sum of the various components- text, audio, visual feedback, gameplay. They create a cohesive whole that is very enjoyable and evocative. I’d like to see more games like these, because they explore in a not-so-obvious direction, and that is invaluable to the developing medium of video games.

One of Ebert’s main arguments is that games lack authorial control- if you give the player true agency, how can you walk him through a story-line? I find it very interesting to approach this question in the context of theology, but I digress. Ebert is right. We can’t guide the player through a linear story without limiting his freedom, and if we don’t, it generally ends with disastrous results. Let’s look at music- most songs don’t tell any story, and what about melodies with no lyrics? In my opinion, games can’t possibly tell stories like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ without devolving into lame movie-likes. Games like ‘Sunk’ and ‘Sopora’ are complete, and they are perfect examples of gameplay done right.

Responsibility: In ‘Beneath the Surface‘, you play as a buff American soldier who commits atrocities in the name of democracy. And you control him. This control you have over him forces you to click the ‘kill’ button in order to progress. There is no agency. You don’t feel responsible for your avatar’s actions, and by the end of the game, you despise him. The game is interesting because it attempts to elicit strong moral responses from the players, and it succeeds, to some extent. Most people quit the game because they can’t bear press the ‘kill’ button any more. That’s powerful. And yet, I think the game could benefit from a well thought-out choice mechanism. If players had a real choice, and chose to kill (which would happen a lot, I bet. Especially with the back-story provided in the game), they would really feel responsible for their actions. I can’t help but think of the LD25 game, ‘Cure 48‘. Play it before you read the post-mortem.

Speaking of morality, here’s another game where you are made to feel bad: ‘The Dead Rest Beneath Us‘. Well, OK, it’s not meant to make you feel bad. In this game, you are presented with different scenarios where you must rescue a person in immediate danger. As opposed to ‘Sunk’, here you don’t play the people in danger, which is a substantial difference. The idea behind this game is that you can’t actually save any of them, which is why people end up feeling bad after playing it. I must say, it was very frustrating for me as well. So here we have another case where there is a lack of agency, but does it create a disconnect? Well, I didn’t feel like I was responsible for the deaths of those people, but the game doesn’t mean to make me feel responsible. Instead, is sets out to raise awareness to the transience of life. A lofty mission indeed. This is another example of an idea which can’t possibly be executed in other media.

As we look at another game, ‘Persona‘, it seems that the ultimate lack of agency is a recurrent theme. In this game, you control your avatar through dialogue choices in various social interactions. You are presented with a choice between 3 masks, each one representing a certain behaviour. However, if you use the wrong mask, it breaks and can no longer be used; instead you have the option of speaking your mind without any filters. The premise is interesting, and it definitely makes for an interesting gameplay mechanic, but the ending presumes that you have failed to use your masks at least once, when in fact, it is possible to complete the game without failing. This reminded me of the scene in ‘Groundhog Day‘ where Phil tries to get Rita in bed, so he memorizes her quirks and gets closer to his goal each day. However, he never succeeds. ‘Persona’ could be exactly this in game form, if it would be unbeatable. Notice what I’m doing here- I’m talking in favour of reducing the player’s freedom and guiding him to an inevitable outcome. However, I’m not limiting his immediate choices, only his ultimate agency. This can lead to a very strong experience, albeit a frustrating one, where the player acts as one with his avatar, and feels like he has true agency, when in fact the outcome will always be the same.

Another game where this is the case is ‘Drowning in Problems‘. In this game, you play through a person’s life to the inevitable, bitter end. But it’s beautiful. I found myself in the part right before you can click to die, working and buying stuff indefinitely. The game is linear, and yet I feel like I have a choice. More importantly, the gameplay maps perfectly to what Notch wants us to feel from the titles of the actions. When I was clicking away, buying more and more stuff, avoiding the death button, I didn’t feel like I was clicking in a game with the theme of life. This theme isn’t artificially strapped on the gameplay- it is created by the gameplay.

A Happy Place‘ is another game where you play through your avatar’s demise. You play as a block, surviving in a wartime bunker. You walk around, cry some, eat, drink and sleep when you need to, while being constantly barraged with text. This text is the avatar’s thoughts, and it contributes a lot to the experience, but it doesn’t create it. As I said in the comments, I wasn’t sad when I died, because I knew it was inevitable, but the whole experience felt very real. Was it the audio? The visuals? The text? Maybe it was the gameplay? This one remains a mystery to me.

Last but not least, a game that scared the crap out of me- ‘I Contemplated the Sun of Limbo‘. As I said in the comments, my conclusion from this game is that I am fucking scary. What do I mean by that? Well, in this game, you control an avatar from a first person perspective, and you walk around on an island. You dive and resurface on the other side of the island, you sit on a stool, and then you go back to the other side. There you see a person sitting on a stool just like the one you sat on, and you suspect that he is actually some sort of vision of you. You interact with him and he explodes. Again, on the opposite side, you find the stool vacant. You sit on it, contemplating the sun of limbo, and then, while still on the stool, you turn around. You see the same figure standing behind you, exactly where you stood on the other side of the island when you disturbed him, and he pulls a slenderman. It’s scary, and it made me think of how other people might be experiencing my presence. The game shines in its surrealism, which is a sum of the visuals, the audio, and indeed the gameplay. I’m analyzing this game because it is completely different from the other games. When comparing these games to other media, most of them map roughly to movies or books in what they attempt to do. This one is a song. It’s a spiritual experience. Now, a lot of people would classify all of these games as ‘interactive experiences’ and not games. While I disagree with this, I find it interesting how a very diverse array of games can all be classified under one category.

And now for something completely different- my game! You didn’t actually think a post like this wouldn’t be followed by some shameless self-promotion, did you? Well, actually, my game has a lot in common with these games, so I don’t feel bad doing this

It’s called ‘A Day in the Life‘. I urge you to go play it before reading on.

In this game, you control the individual actions in your avatar’s life. You set a certain period in your life where you learn programming, and in the following frames, the option of making a game is available. There are three objectives- ‘Get a job’, ‘Be happy’ and ‘Start a family’. To fulfill the job objective, you need to work (which requires that you learn programming), ‘Be happy’ requires that you learn the piano and make a game, and to start a family, you need to work and date. People figure all of this stuff out in the first couple of minutes of the game, and then they realize that the overall objective is to get all three objectives at the same time. They manage to get a job and be happy, and they manage to get a job and start a family, but they can’t get all three. Most people realize this, and this is what I set out to do. I wanted people to realize that they can’t get everything in life, and that they have to make choices. It doesn’t matter if you quit the game with some objectives activated rather than others, there’s no text or cutscenes to acknowledge your choices. The game ends in effect when the player realizes what the message is. A strong theme that I have noticed in people’s playthroughs is that they get frustrated when they try to figure out the game. They attempt to solve it as if it were a puzzle, but it doesn’t unfold. Now, this game doesn’t tell a story, not does it evoke spiritual emotions. If I had to classify it, I’d use the word that flrn used to describe his game, ‘The Dead Rest Beneath Us’ – vanitas. Both our games aren’t exactly games in that they are more static in nature, and would compare best to paintings.

I want to create a discussion surrounding the ideas that I have presented here, so I’d love to read what you people have to say about this!

If I have offended anyone, please accept my apologies. I only mean to provide honest feedback and encourage discussion.

22 Responses to “10 Games That Resonated With Me”

  1. Snoother says:

    I agree with your analysis of my game. I’m glad that you recognised the importance of playing v. quitting the game, but, yes, it does indeed need more agency. How can morality work without responsibility? It’s a serious problem. I’m toying with the idea of giving players illusory choice, kind of like in the scene with the guy in the bed. But if I were to let players choose to be “nice”, then the players who take the route will doubtless experience a boring narrative and miss the message. Too many dilemmas! Oh, and I’ve got to check out Cure 48.

    I love what you had to say about I Remember Alice: “The games lack in agency, but that is what makes the gameplay powerful.” I think this is something more game designers need to understand — and some of the most affecting games are by those who indeed understand it. Have you ever played Rameses by Stephen Bond, for example? I won’t spoil anything, but it toys with limiting agency to an extreme degree, and it serves the narrative so well. And Dear Esther’s themes of inevitability worked really well with its highly-linear gameplay. And, of course, everyone points to that famous scene with Andrew Ryan in Bioshock 1. Limiting agency is one of the most fascinating game debates IMO, especially at a time when so many people mistakenly focus on high-agency stuff like open-world immersiveness or “emergent gameplay”. Not that those things aren’t valuable, just that they aren’t always the best way to make games.

    And I like where you went with your game: that the game state will always be incomplete; you can’t maximise everything; you can’t always win. Again, this is another things I’d love more games to explore. My major criticism about And the Moment is Gone was that you could win. (I know that sounds strange, but hopefully you understand.) The narrative would have been far more powerful if no matter how hard you tried you always failed to have a rewarding social interaction. It was still a really innovative and noteworthy game, but this aspect bothered me. In a way, I was trying to something similar with my game. Hence the ironic statement at the end, which I won’t spoil here.

    And there’s some stuff you’ve listed that I’ve got to check out at some point. Too many good games.

    • iambored2006 says:

      In my opinion, giving players the opportunity to be nice would make it all the more powerful when they pick some of the immoral options. If I understand correctly, you want your game to make people think about their actions at a deeper level when playing FPSs and the like. Picture this, then: the player enters the cave and encounters a stinking commie. He’s been conditioned to it by countless games, the game itself presents it as the objective, and he simply finds it amusing, so he kills the commie. He doesn’t expect the amount of brutality that ensues, but he enjoys the detailed description of his actions nonetheless. The second time around, he starts feeling uncomfortable. The third time, he picks the merciful option just to see what it’s like and to push the boundaries of his freedom in the game. At this point, you could limit his freedom to be merciful on the pretext that it’s his job to kill these commies. I’m not sure about this, but if it makes some people quit the game, the game could benefit from it.
      The point is that the player transforms during his playthrough. He understands the message, and this is reflected in his actions. He feels better in the end, after having picked the merciful way, and he will no longer play FPSs the same way.
      IMO, by reducing the player’s agency in this game, you risk alienating him. He has to feel like he is his avatar throughout the whole experience.

      The problem with emergent gameplay and high-agency is that it’s (generally) ultimately meaningless. Agency doesn’t stop at having freedom of choice and being able to affect the world. It has to have a real impact on the world and, ultimately, on the player. If the player doesn’t feel like a choice he’s presented with has any moral implications, he won’t bother thinking about it and will eventually get bored with the game.
      You want to give the player agency so that he is one with his avatar, but at the same time, you want the avatar to go through something meaningful that the player experiences through his avatar, and that involves limiting his agency.
      If you haven’t played Cave Story, don’t read the rest of this paragraph as it will contain spoilers.
      Remember the part after the first battle with the core, when Curly dies? Most people on their first playthrough of the game don’t realize that they can save her. So, in effect, they have no agency at that point. They feel devastated about it, but they don’t feel responsible, because they didn’t have a choice. When they read on the internet that they can actually save her, the whole affair suddenly seems very meaningful. If they play the game and don’t save her, they are to blame. It can be phrased this way- what we should strive to achieve isn’t emergent gameplay, but rather emergent agency.

      I didn’t put ‘And the Moment is Gone’ on my list because I didn’t have anything interesting to say about it (that’s not to say that the game itself isn’t interesting, though). After a second playthrough, I think I have some conclusions to draw from it. For example, I find it interesting that there are so many similarities between it and ‘Persona’. Anyway, I personally couldn’t beat the game at all. I agree, however, that the ability to beat the game could be detrimental to its message.
      Here’s an interesting comment from the page:
      “I’m really hoping there’s no way to win. Not for the sake of any pride but for the sake of the inevitable creepy aspects of how the actions you force me to make builds into a narration that says that as long as I have the magic string of phrases whichever girl on the subway will find me attractive. Like they are locks to pick. Only reflecting your actions, no volition on their part.”
      I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

      • Snoother says:

        I like the idea you’re presenting, but what if the player chooses to be merciful on the first few attempts and then their ability to be merciful is limited thereafter? They won’t have understood the message, as they didn’t have the inclination to kill in the first place. I’m wary of making a game that will only work for certain gamers. I also don’t want to make the player feel better: I want to them to see blood on their hands and taste bile on their tongue, to put it nicely. (I like sadistic game design.)

        The balancing act of player agency is important. But I would argue both extremes also work by themselves. Yes, when connecting the player to their avatar agency is vital, but it has to be compromised with the introduction of any purpose, be it narrative or mechanical, as you say. But in games where you control a character rather than have a character represent you, or in games where you are just an abstract cursor manipulating things, extremes of agency can be employed. It’s hard to think of examples that I’d know you’d be familiar with, because loads of these kind of experiments have been done in stuff like Interactive Fiction, which is obviously obscure to many.

        Kind of related: I’ve been playing around with the idea of a Twine conversation game that plays itself (random, expansive branching paths chosen by the computer based on certain variables). I think that’s an interesting subversion of agency.

        Oh! I’ve suddenly thought of an example. Did you ever play The Entertainment, an interlude of Kentucky Route Zero? If not, I’ll try an explain the premise (free from anything but the tiniest of spoilers). You play as a bar fly (the figurative kind) and your agency is limited to sitting on a stool and looking around with your cursor while a 40 minute or so conversational scene takes place around you. You merely absorb what’s going on around you, or look at other items like your table or the jukebox. You quite literally play the role of the bar fly, and their is an extreme limiting of agency because. And, might I add, it works very well indeed.

        I haven’t played Cave Story, but I nevertheless read your paragraph. Your idea of emergent agency made me grin — it’s quite ingenious. It would get rid games that were otherwise a movie or book but with choices/game mechanics tacked on; and it would get rid of games that were purely mechanical but have a narrative tacked on to circumscribe players The idea that player agency emanates from the premise is a near-perfect way to approach things, I think. And it would actually suit the example of the bar fly in The Entertainment.

        And, yeah, I agree that commentator on And the Moment is Gone said it brilliantly. No need to say anymore.

        • iambored2006 says:

          ‘Hotline Miami’ strikes an interesting balance. You don’t have any agency in that you can’t choose to not kill the enemies in the game. In fact, the objective is to kill them all in the most gruesome ways possible. And it’s extremely fun. But then, after you have completed the objective, you have to walk through the death that you have brought, and you feel guilty. I think the reason I felt more guilty when I played ‘Hotline Miami’ than when playing your game is that in HM I had a lot more control over the killing, and it was fun, so I was one with my avatar. It was the reason I played the game in the first place, so I suddenly felt very bad when confronted with what I have done. I don’t know to what degree this can be achieved in an interactive novel, yours was the first one I’ve ever played.
          However, I think successfully eliciting a specific response from every single player would be impossible.

          Man, you’re referencing the weirdest games! I played ‘Rameses’ earlier, it was very weird. Is the idea that whatever you do, you can’t actually affect the narrative?
          Anyway, I played ‘The Entertainment’ before reading your description and was very confused at first. I like the idea very much, especially how meta it is. I think I’m missing what you’re trying to say, though. I wouldn’t classify this game in respect to agency, it’s something completely different. I’ve been working on a game for the past couple of months which is similar to it in that regard. You control a person in a waiting room who must wait for 6 minutes. To pass the time, you may talk to the other people in the room, read some books, play the arcade machine, or just sit in a chair and listen to the music. If you don’t like the music, you can turn off the jukebox, but if someone else really likes it, he will eventually turn it back on. It’s supposed to be an allegory for life. Now, in this game, not only do you not have agency, but the whole idea of agency is irrelevant.
          They are both similar to my LD game in that they’re extremely static. There is no development beyond a click when the player understands the premise. Basically, there is no pacing. No pacing – no agency.

          • Snoother says:

            You’re kind of there with Rameses. The point is that you can’t exert agency because the player character is to shy and insecure to say/do what you request. You can play the whole game by just pressing “z” because of this.

            I loved Hotline Miami! And maybe this sounds awful, but I never felt guilty… Nor did I complete though, so maybe I missed something key. But I can see your reasoning. In fact, I’m almost tempted to say I should have gone down the HM route: no option not to kill, but loads of ways to kill. This would be quite possible in Interactive Fiction, but then you’re still left with the issue of no responsibility on the player’s behalf. So I suppose you just have to settle with, as you say, it being impossible to successfully elicit a specific response from every single player.

            And what you’re referring to about not classifying The Entertainment in respect to agency brings up the troubling point: how do you define agency? For me, any form of choice is agency. Choosing to look at one corner of the room rather than another is agency. Choosing to drink or not to drink is agency.

            Oh, and the game you’re planning sounds sublime by the way! But it actually sounds to me like agency is highly important to it too. It’s all about choice: do you turn the jukebox on, and if so what do you listen to? who do you talk to, if you talk to anyone? what do you read, if you read anything? what arcade games do you play, if you play any? You get the gist.

            And I’m not seeing how you’ve linked no pacing to no agency?

            • iambored2006 says:

              I actually didn’t complete ‘Hotline Miami’ either. I think the biggest problem games like HM face in regards to agency and player involvement is scope. The bigger the game, the harder it is to achieve what we’ve been talking about. Job Blow talks about this in his talk. He says that the game ‘Gravitation’, which serves as a case study for his theory, is more of a prototype than a complete example of an application of his theory.

              The formal definition of agency is indeed something like what you said- a bare-bones freedom of choice. I’ll explain how I see it- true agency (or whatever you wanna call it) involves meaningful interactivity. That is, it’s not enough for the player to be able to make choices. He has to have the ability to manipulate the world around him. In the context of theology, the question of whether or not free will exists is important, but free will amounts to nothing if we can’t change the essence of the world around us.
              In ‘The Entertainment’, there is some basic interactivity, nothing more, and that’s what I like about it, and I think you as well.

              There is no true agency in my waiting room game because you can’t really affect the world around you, and there are no multiple outcomes. Your actions don’t truly matter, once you exit the room.
              I want the game to affect the player in the real world. Sitting in a chair means nothing mechanically, so the only meaning it has is what the player invests in it. Sitting around and listening to the music doesn’t affect the avatar, but the player enjoys it (or not). When you play my LD game, coming to the conclusion that you can’t get all the goals doesn’t help you beat the game. Once the player understands it, the message of the game no longer lies in the game itself, but rather in the player’s mind. If you’ve ever played ‘Portal’, you’ll know what I’m talking about- burning the companion cubes bears no meaning in the game itself, it’s the player who invests it with meaning.

              What I meant in my comment about pacing is that the games function more as toys (or paintings) than traditional games. In a traditional game, you have a goal and means to achieve it. You would usually have a physical location that can change, and it would be mechanically essential to the game. My own LD game would fall in the category of traditional games if it were beatable.
              I’m not saying anything about superiority, but what game would you say fits better in a museum, ‘The Entertainment’ or ‘Braid’?

            • iambored2006 says:

              I’ve just played this game- http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-29/?action=preview&uid=34553
              Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that it takes the extreme lack of agency approach, and it works really well, at least in the first minute or so. I was terrified of what will happen, and because I couldn’t really control it as I was walked through the creepy storyline, it was all the more powerful. This feeling kind of dissipates after a couple of minutes, which is a shame, but hey, it’s an LD game.

              BTW, I didn’t quite understand what you were talking about with that Twine game. Is there a player, or is it an experiment in AI?

              • Snoother says:

                “the ability to manipulate the world around him” — okay, I see where we differ know, I think. For me internal agency is as important as external agency (both terms I’ve just made up, by the way). That is to say: choices you make the affect the player or the player character, like choosing whether or not to read a magazine or talk to someone, is often as important as the ability to world build. And when you say “meaningful interactivity” my instant reaction is: well, meaningfulness is far too subjective, is it not? But if I take it in the way I think you mean it, then internal agency surely has to be important.

                Oh, and take what you said here: “Your actions don’t truly matter, once you exit the room.” I think you may be able to pre-empt what I’m about to say… They matter to the player who remembers them, and fictionally they matter to the player character who still lives on abstractly. The actions undertaken in the game could therefore have a profound effect.

                I think you allude to this when you discuss the play investing actions with meaning. Surely this is a meaningful interaction and an example of internal agency?

                And my goodness do I dread the philosophical conversation about free will. I’m a determinist; I think free will is an illusion; and any debate on this will probably last an eternity.

                The question you pose at the end is difficult. The Entertainment has more artistic and cultural value I’d say, but Braid is a key game in terms of history. It’s hard to decide without claiming one to be superior. I probably edge towards The Entertainment, but that may just be because I prefer it significantly. I just don’t see Braid having much more going for it than history and a neat (but not perfect) gameplay-narrative twist.

                I played through the game you linked to way back at the start of the comp, and had completely forgotten about it. I agree it works well at first, and doesn’t really keep it up. Not sure what else to add, but it’s a good example.

                The Twine thing I mentioned is less related the more I think about it. The idea is that the computer plays the game and you watch — almost like the computer is making a live “let’s play” video for you, but without the annoying voiceover. It poses a grey area for me: it’s not a film or novel, because each experience will be very different and is technically being played by someone — the computer; but it’s not a game because the player has no input. I suppose the weird question in this instance is: does the computer have agency? hehe, it’s a weird thought to me.

            • iambored2006 says:

              I opened a new “thread” (the new comment on my blog post), the website won’t let me reply to your message.

  2. Snoother says:

    Eek. Apologies about the grammatical errors. It was written from a haphazard flurry of thoughts.

  3. Thanks for mentioning my game Sunk. Glad is resonated with you. You mentioned that when you died you felt like it was your fault. I worked pretty hard to make the game as skill based as possible so it wouldn’t seem unfair.

  4. Evilion says:

    Thank you for the mention of I Contemplated the Sun of Limbo ! I love your statement about it being a song. I’m happy that it resonated with you such a way, while scaring you like hell. If you’re interested in my creative process and my own vision of this game, you should read the post-morted stuff I wrote some time ago : http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/2014/05/04/about-i-contemplated-the-sun-of-limbo/

    Thank you again !

  5. Woftles says:

    Hey, I made “A Happy Place”! Thanks for the feedback, you seem to have gotten what I was sort of going for with my entry.

  6. iambored2006 says:

    “they matter to the player character who still lives on abstractly” actually, his exiting the room represents death :)
    Of course, this internal agency is very meaningful! I base my whole waiting room game around it, as well as my LD game. I would generally refrain from calling it agency, but I guess internal agency is a good compromise. The big issue here, I think, is that when a game is based so heavily on internal agency, the borders between it and other media get blurred. Did I find the music profound because I like it, or because I understood its symbolic significance in the game world? Was my choice to watch the scenes in ‘The Entertainment’ instead of looking around the room meaningful in and of itself, or was it only meaningful because I enjoyed the play itself?

    You misunderstood my question regarding ‘Braid’ and ‘The Entertainment’. I didn’t mean it in respect to quality or cultural significance. I meant to convey how they are extremely different games, and that ‘The Entertainment’ fits more next to paintings than ‘Braid’ would. I always find it interesting to think about how games will be exhibited in museums in the future. It’s easier to put ‘The Entertainment’ or my own game in a museum, because they are pretty much engines for the player to invest meaning into, much like a painting. They require the player to act outside of the realm of the games themselves. ‘Braid’, on the other hand, is more like a movie, in that you have to engage in it as a prolonged activity before “getting it”. It’s not a toy to be placed in a museum for people to play for a couple of minutes and then move on to the next thing. Again, this has nothing to do with superiority. I just find the diversity of games the medium can produce to be absolutely stunning.

    I also think that free will is an illusion, so don’t worry. The interesting thing about this conclusion is that it doesn’t exempt us from making choices. Picture this scenario- you walk on a path, and reach a crossroads. After you have made the choice to go left, you reflect on it and realize that you didn’t really make a choice. Your “choice” is a result of your upbringing, your genetics, your diet, and countless other factors, but it wasn’t a conscious choice. The idea of conscious choice is impossible, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The interesting thing here is that before you have made your choice, you can’t say “I don’t have free will” and expect the choice to be made for you. Free will is an illusion, but you live it no matter what your thoughts of it are.
    Your game idea is very intriguing indeed. If you program the machine to act according to specific rule-sets of behaviours, you are essentially the parent educating the child, and the machine has no agency. If you tell it to decide randomly, it still has no agency. The funny thing is, I thought about this from a programmer’s perspective after reading what you had to say about free will. Let’s say that you are god’s tech savvy assistant. You are tasked with programming the human mind. You program how his upbringing will affect him, you build the whole genetics system that will also affect the process. Then you realize that his choices will all be easily predictable. God says this won’t appeal to the target demographic, so you decide to add a magical component to the mix. This is free will. But how do you implement it? If you use randomization, you are essentially giving over control to the quantums, and no one likes those guys anyway. But if it’s not randomization, what is it then? If we can’t program free will, does that mean that it’s impossible? Or did god take over the project at this point and write the ultimate algorithm that only god can write?

    • Snoother says:

      “his exiting the room represents death” — now that is a cool twist!

      I’d say choosing to watch the play rather than looking around the room was meaningful in and of itself. Imagine not being given that choice. It would therefore be essentially a film, and that wouldn’t have worked at all. So in that sense it’s meaningful, though I am seeing your point.

      Ah, really did miss the mark with your museum question! Completely agree with this statement: “I just find the diversity of games the medium can produce to be absolutely stunning.” And I wish more people could be persuaded on it.

      Whenever I reflect on something I’ve done I rarely think of it as a choice. I think of many possibilities, and that I just happened to have experienced one of them. Even if you took the argument to its extreme and say “right, free will is an illusion, so I just won’t do anything and see what happens,” you’ll find that hunger, stress, anxiety, boredom — all these things — will force you do act. So I don’t think free will is an illusion that you have to live no matter what. I do think determinism screws with morality, though, and I find that I still invoke free will when talking about morality and justice.

      I think that even if we can’t program free will it doesn’t mean free will is impossible. Like a lot of things in science — nothingness, for example, or gravity — it may prove horrendously difficult to replicate or to logically comprehend. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t true. (Playing devil’s advocate here.)

      Your last paragraph confused me slightly. Are you arguing that free will could exist as a divine creation, or was it just a fantastical example? If it’s the former, you’re talking to someone who thinks that if God does exist, he’s both unskilled and malicious. But if it’s the latter, I think I see your point in describing what free will means in terms of computing and technology. Anything I were to implement — and I’m by no means a programmer, as you can doubtless tell — would be illusory; it would have to be randomisation or something similar.

      And my goodness do I hate the quantum shit. I have a friend who’s always trying to explain it but his attempts are never anything but futile. How it differs to randomness is beyond me…

      • iambored2006 says:

        I want my game to make people think of how they feel about the dead time in their lives, or indeed, their overall time expenditure. Nowadays, you’ll often find yourself killing time while waiting for something, usually by playing some stupid game on your phone. I want to make people think about that, but it’s even deeper- I want people to ask themselves whether or not they are living their whole lives this way. Maybe everything we do amounts to no more than time killing. In the face of death, even the greatest work of art is like a magazine in a waiting room. So, for example, you can play on the arcade machine in my game. Then you ask yourself- did I play this game for the sake of playing it, or because I didn’t have anything interesting to do?
        The biggest problem I’m facing is how to make sure that a reasonable number of players understand the premise. It’s not at all obvious, like my LD game, and I’m afraid that no one will understand it. I’ll be glad to hear any ideas you have to suggest.

        Heh, how would you rate god’s entry? I would probably give him 5 stars for innovation and 1 star overall. (BTW, congrats on your results!)
        Considering the amount of research we have made into computer science, I’m pretty sure it can be logically proven that it’s impossible to program free will. But then again, we don’t even understand free will in the context of biology. In any case, we know our tools well enough to know that nothing we program will ever have free will.

  7. Snoother says:

    God gets 5 stars for humour (a particularly sadistic kind, but still) and 4 stars for graphics — one star deducted for all us visually impaired people.

    And congrats on your result for innovation! Though your game seemed underrated for some of the other categories, in my opinion.

    I’m curious as to whole this game opens. Does it just with the player in the waiting room? I can see your fear that people won’t get it — indeed, I can see myself hitting the end, exiting the waiting room as representing death, and being quite confused. But I’d like to think I’ve got the interest and attention to contemplate on this and eventually uncover its message. Not sure what to suggest, though. I’m used to writing prose, where you can imply certain messages a lot more easily. But with a purely graphical game (which I’m guessing yours is) it’s tricky. Sorry, that’s very unhelpful of me!

    Also out of curiosity, will the player character be defined or just an avatar for the player?

    • iambored2006 says:

      Thanks! My only regret is not taking off the original version. I should have replaced it with the complete version the day after the compo, as some people have suggested, but oh well.

      The game opens with you entering the room. There’s a board on the wall with timers for each person in the room, and yours starts at 6 minutes. I think most people will catch on to that, at least.
      I have several methods to convey messages to the player- dialogue with the people in the room, books in the bookcase (most of which are interactive), so I’ll find a way to make sure it’s not entirely ambiguous.
      You can try the current version here- https://www.mediafire.com/?i1xv7xq9m77l9c4 , if you like. I’ll post the finished version on the LD blog when it’s done. You control the player with WASD and rotate the room with the mouse. Press space for interesting stuff.

      I’m not sure what you meant with that last question. The in-game character has no backstory, if that’s what you meant.

  8. Snoother says:

    correction: “…as to how this game opens.”

    Also, I mistakenly didn’t post this as a reply, oh well…

  9. Snoother says:

    And I’ve just realised calling myself visually impaired is incorrect: just short-sighted. Two mistakes now; how clumsy of me.

  10. GamerTaters says:


    Thanks for mentioning Le Ver and sharing this article and apologies for the lengthy delay in writing back to you. It was a very interesting read. Le Ver was, personally, my first ever stab at creating a narratively driven game experience and our team is quite proud of the results.

    I enjoyed reading your take on the game and agree that our game does not have much in terms of agency, but this lack of agency, much like you remarked, really helped solidify the overall experience. Our approach was to build our gameplay around a feeling, idea and mood that we decided we wanted to establish for the game. Le Ver was meant to be this game you played to experience something more than just to play something.

    In building Le Ver, we were very keen on creating a world with a procedural element to it. Although the overall narrative in Le Ver is very much the same in each play through, the world itself as well as the order in which the dialogue is presented to the player, is entirely procedural. From a dialogue perspective, it was important to us because we wanted to make sure the player had a slightly different experience each time. Dialogue was crafted in such a way that the message and feelings expressed were largely the same, however the words and ideas used to express these feelings was always a little different. From a world creation perspective, we felt procedurally creating the world around the player helped create a false sense of openness, and perhaps by extension agency, in what really is a very linear game at the core. In Le Ver, you can go anywhere; the world builds itself around you as you go. In the end however, you will always experience the same story queues, its just a question of how you get there and what you get to see along the way.

    I really enjoy the idea of creating interactive narratively driven gaming experiences whose primary focus is to make the player feel and think. With this approach in mind, its crucial that the gameplay be constructed to reinforce the message you want to convey and not the other way around. We enjoyed making the Le Ver and I’m very interested to see where it takes us as we keep learning and growing as burgeoning game developers.

    • iambored2006 says:

      Thanks for sharing this! It’s too bad that you didn’t share this in a post-mortem, I bet I’m not the only guy who wanted to read it after playing your game.

      Anyway, I really like where you’re going with this- “procedurally creating the world around the player helped create a false sense of agency”. I talked about this in my long conversation with Snoother. The meaning of your various actions in the game transcend the realm of the game itself. Mechanically, it doesn’t matter if you choose the left fork or the right one, or if you choose to pick up an object along the way. The player is tasked with investing meaning in these actions. In the game I’m working on currently, the player waits in a waiting room. He can sit on a chair, but it doesn’t affect the “gameplay” at all. Sitting on a chair means nothing more than sitting on a chair, in the context of the game’s rules. I want the player to do it (or not) because of what it means to him outside of the game.
      I think your game has a lot of potential if it goes in that path (or not; you can expand it however you like), and I’d like to see what else you come up with in the future!

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