Videogames That Don't Look Like Videogames

When I first released Coming Out Sim, I expected people to dismiss it as “not a game”. What I didn't expect, was for people to praise it as “not a game”.

Like it or not, most people outside of games (and even inside games) still see it as escapist entertainment. That's the audience expection. As much as I applaud and admire people trying to work against that perception, I wonder if we can't just sidestep the stigma... by making videogames that don't look like videogames.


Interactive Articles

Parable of the Polygons was my most popular project to date, (finally outdoing my :The Game: games!) and I think that's thanks in part to the fact it didn't look like a game. Parable and the rest of the Explorable Explanations movement are the most successful examples of interactive blog posts. (Another example: the The Wall cutscenes from Nothing To Hide?)

Interactive Comics

Randall Munroe of xkcd's got this pat down. There's the one-choice-per-panel mechanic in the Lorenz comic, which could be easily re-used for many interactive stories! (including Coming Out Sim) There's also interesting possibilities in the non-linear exploration of Click and Drag or Pixels.

Interactive Film

I know a lot of games go for a "cinematic" feel, but they still end up looking & feeling "game-y", for the worse. Then there's Plug & Play. Your mileage may vary, but it felt a lot more like an animation than a game, and in a good way! I'm most surprised by how well cutting between scenes works - switching gameplay modes suddenly without user input would seem like it should be jarring, but it works beautifully in Plug & Play, for surreal match cuts. (Also, there's VR Cinema, for interactive-ish films)

Interactive Books

Device 6, yo. It's fabulous. (it's also the header image for this post) They use every affordance of the book & ebook as part of the play. (e.g. you'll need to rotate your tablet several times to navigate the word-mazes) I'm also excited for the upcoming augmented reality game, Ice-Bound, which will require a physical book to play!

Other Possibilities

  • Interactive stageplays? I mean, it seems like "play" and "play" should go together well...
  • Interactive music/radio? That's not just a rhythm game. I'm thinking of player + procedurally generated music like in Sound System II.
  • Interactive an-art-form-that's-NOT-a-mass-medium-like-all-the-above-examples-and-maybe-is-something-like-oh-i-dunno-perhaps-food?

Originally, each section title was “Games That Look Like X”.

Then I realized - no, that's not quite right. Instead of thinking of it as one art form aping another, I'd like to think of it as creating entirely new mediums, by mixing interactivity into old mediums.

The reason I loved games... and I spent a long while pondering whether to say "love" or "loved"... was because of all the things interactivity could do: puzzles, learning, role-playing, creativity, exploration, procedural rhetoric, evoking moods through play, and so on. Alas, the whole environment is too hostile, too crowded, too constraining.

Interactivity's the best part of games... and it's wasted on games.