If you insist on reading this, I will tell you about a fantastic experience I had with There is No Game: Wrong Dimension, an app available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
Developed and conceived by Pascal Cammisotto of Draw Me a Pixel, the app introduces you to Game, a game that insists it is not a game, whose various attempts to get you to stop playing him / it lead you both on misadventures through gaming history.
There is No Game is, of course, a game by whatever definition is currently en vogue. But its larger thesis is not about what is and isn't a game. Instead, it's an experience that asks the player why a game's genre and aesthetics should matter at all. Like many games that mash-up puzzle solving and environmental storytelling, There is No Game does not even feature a tutorial. It has no gameplay loop. It barely has a control system. Instead, users are challenged to find a way to progress — by any means necessary.
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THERE IS NO GAME. READ ON AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
Game, the character, is your constant companion throughout the experience — willing or otherwise. Through him, we get to meet a wider cast of characters: the antagonist Mr. Glitch, Game's estranged girlfriend GiGi, and even the creator of There is No Game itself, as well as a handful of others. This crowd becomes the only constant throughout your playthrough, which often consists of dissembling the very constraints of the genres you find yourself exploring along the way.
As you and Game hunt down Mr. Glitch (whose lack of a coherent evil plan becomes a running joke) across a library spanning video game history, you'll snap pieces of a point-and-click title's UI off, you'll make counterfeit money to spend on a free-to-play app, and you'll rearrange pieces of the literal credits to change the entire app's genre or art style, among many other meta-mechanics.
These ideas are built to feel wholly the player's own, like they're the only one clever enough to think of such methods. Even the directive to progress through the app is something you must scrounge up for yourself; the app itself literally begs you to hit a button that will force close it through flashing arrows and labels that read "This way!" Plopped into this universe with nothing but some initiative and your memories of games past, you're left with your own need to progress and the disembodied voice of the game itself.
The experience provides many opportunities to laugh at gaming's various conventions but, as the game progresses, it must still respect the core elements that every title must deliver in some form or another: Memorable characters, adventurous exploration, and the feeling of accomplishment. Every advancement along your journey — even switching between game genres themselves — is the result of creative solutions cooked up by the player. Want to progress past the arbitrary obstacles in a Zelda-style RPG? Well, you don't have the "key," so you're left to figure out how to use whatever's on-screen to slam through.
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Oftentimes this means collecting various items with various conventional or unconventional attributes and dragging them over to where they are needed, which towards the middle of the game can begin to feel repetitive. But this issue, and the game's short playtime overall, seem to be the result of a lack of funding on behalf of a developer with no end of ideas but only limited resources. The game itself comments on this, allowing you to see the game's creator, forced to slave away developing a free-to-play GPS-based app á la Pokémon Go that has exactly zero characters and nothing, in particular, to say about itself or anything else. Through a handful of tongue-in-cheek references, we come to discover the game's development history. Like, for example, the failed Kickstarter that was meant to fund the whole endeavor.
But a lack of budget is trivial in the face of such charming ideas. If anything, the game's small scale gives its message all the more weight; that genre and graphics and gameplay mechanics are all wonderful things to have but ultimately become meaningless distractions without characters you care about and something to say. The game's bleakest depths are, appropriately, microtransactions that, rather than being plot or character-driven, only exist to waste users' time with the promise that after just one more purchase, they'll finally be able to get to the game. Of course, the very existence of pay-to-win functions transforms any game into, well, not a game at all really.
“Your only constants are the need to progress and the disembodied voice of the game itself.”
There is No Game pulls off its magic tricks with so much earnestness and heart that you can't help but be delighted and moved by its ideas. The plot twists are engaging, the characters are memorable, the music is divine, and the various art styles ooze charisma. But, as There is No Game will be the first to tell you, the important part is the title's meta-message: Video games, like anything else, can be art. All it takes is interacting with an audience and having something, anything, to say to them.