We take another of our occasional forays into the world of gaming tonight. This being the Streetlamp you needn't expect a review of the latest hyper-violent, first-person shooter, of course, but a glimpse at the artistic margins of the gaming world. Those of you who've read our previous pieces on existentialist, 8-bit heroes Ledo and Ix or the bleak, Russian, street-child art-game Ulitsa Dimitrova will know what to expect. Like Ulitsa Dimitrova, the game I'm writing about tonight, Jordan Magnuson's Loneliness, is not so much a game as a piece of art that utilises gaming principles and conventions to make its point. But in doing so, it also expands the mechanics of gaming in a very interesting way, as you will discover.
Let me set the scene. A couple of years ago, Jordan Magnuson set out to travel the world and came up with the concept of 'game trekking'. His idea was to use short flash-games, which he developed on his travels, to try and convey thoughts, ideas and feelings about the things he was learning and experiencing on his journey — computer games as a form of reflective travel-writing, if you will. Magnuson, however, is not your average flash-game creator looking to give you something meaningless to while away long bus journeys. If you play any of the games he's made so far you’ll soon realise that his emphasis is on experimenting with the medium, and on the exploration of place and how it relates to us as humans, over and against 'fun' or gameplay as such (which is why he prefers the label 'notgames' for his creations).
The 'notgame' Loneliness is an experimental, minimalistic microgame about loneliness, made for the Korean middle school students Magnuson taught for a year. Loneliness tells the simple story, through a series of black blocks on a white background, of one person who is shunned by everyone around them.
The interesting feature of this 'notgame' lies in its inherent mechanics. The narrative of the game is simple, and seems at first confining, but its beauty lies in the fact that the very mechanics of the game allow the player to explore a wide, possibly limitless, range of choices. The game narrative features no words or instructions and by dint of being undefined is different for every player. As you play you realise that the narrative is determined by HOW the player plays the game. Thus, each response to the game is its own distinct narrative. The conscious choices you make while playing are an example of how you respond to Loneliness. By having the meaning embedded in the mechanics this allows the player to make analogue rather than binary choices. It allows us to make a combination of choices. The combined choices of each player is possibly unique. In playing Loneliness you set your own goal and craft you own story. In a world of trivial, time-wasting, insignificant, and juvenile game-play this act of creative interaction is almost subversive.
To see what I'm on about you can try playing Loneliness 'here' at NecessaryGames.com, a site founded by Magnuson in 2009 explicitly focused on exploring meaning and significance with games. Magnuson has many other interesting 'notgames' available and every game he makes for the game trekking project is 100% free, open source, and cross-platform. You can view his portfolio at necessary games 'here'.
You can visit his game trekking site 'here'.