Somebody hates The Graveyard

And he hates it because it isn’t a game. I feel sorry for his refrigerator, his cat or his copy of The Collected Work of Franz Kafka. None of those are games either.

Nothing new, of course. But it’s nice for a middle-aged couple to feel that their work is somewhat controversial. 😉

The Graveyard infuriates me because it isn’t a game. The creators think it’s a game, of course. They think that by making a game which includes no choices, rules, or goal they are expanding the medium and redefining our understanding of what a game can be, but they’re really just spinning wheels. Games, by definition, include rules and goals. To make a game with neither is not expanding the definition of what a game is, but simply making quasi-interactive cinema.
Anthony Burch

So going down on our knees and saying “It’s more like an explorable painting than an actual game” on The Graveyard’s home page isn’t enough? Perhaps next time we should apologize too? Apologize to gamers for enjoying this medium in a different way than they do and acting upon that as creators?

60 thoughts on “Somebody hates The Graveyard”

  1. Shame on you for not giving us goals and rules. And boss fights, too- it’s not a game without boss fights. Plus, it’s got to have levels. First the graveyard, then the ice level, then the fire level, then the forest level. Actually, the graveyard level should be in the middle. These are the requirements for being a game. It also needs to try to be exciting. A game which isn’t exciting isn’t a game. And it needs points, because otherwise there’s no room to learn, which as we know is what games are all about. And power-ups. And while you’re at it, make it less realistic and more over-the-top fun. It’s not a game if it’s not escapism. Now, if you had done all this- what a game that would have been!

  2. I like his choice of words, the graveyard “INFURIATES ME” because it’s not a game.

    And for him to say there aren’t rules in the game (isn’t programing just a set of rules?) and there isn’t a goal (I’m sure you both had a large amount of purpose in making it) is simply ignorant.

    And infuriation is a great (in my opinion) response to have to these game. It is infuriating to be an old woman, who can barely move, who has no friends left, and who is going to die soon, at least it is for some. You may want to scream, or run away or punch something but you can’t. You’re too weak and frail. I think it’s funny that Mr. Burch believes he’s angry because the graveyard isn’t a “game” because when he describes his anger, it has nothing to do with it being a game or not, but because he’s experiencing something he sees as pointless. I feel bad, perhaps he even feels his own life is pointless.

  3. It’s not just that. I think he would like games to evolve into a truly artistic medium just as much as we do. But he doesn’t think that the direction in which we are taking it is correct. He thinks that this direction leads to a domain outside of games. And the only thing that he can reasonably object to is that we call our work “games” when, clearly -in his opinion-, they are not.

    We don’t really care what people call our work. We only call it games out of convenience. If only because if we tell a lay person that what we do is not exactly games, they look at us funny, and we need to get into a very technical discussion to explain why our work might not be a game. This may partially be a language issue. In Dutch, the word “game” means “computer game” or “video game” exclusively, while “spel” is the word that is used for a game in the strict, traditional sense of the word. It would be perfectly acceptable to tell a lay person over here that our work is not a “spel”. But if we tell them it’s not a “game”, we only get raised eyebrows in response.

    And even apart from linguistic issues, I think that there is an important distinction to be made between games in the traditional sense and computer games, especially contemporary computer games. I believe the latter are an artistic medium (or have the potential to become one) while the former are not.

  4. Is there a reason the former are not?

    I’ve seen some very moving games of chess, masterfully and at times artfully played.

  5. And I have been moved by a dandelion growing in a gutter. Many things can move humans. Not just art.

    I don’t think there is a particular reason why games haven’t developed into an artistic medium. And I don’t exclude they ever will, or even have been used as such in the past. It’s just that over the millenia that games have existed, they haven’t been used by artists as a medium much, as far as I can tell. I don’t see why this would change just because they are made with computers now.

    Unless they become something else, something other than just games. Which is what I think is happening. I believe that computer games are already widely being experienced as something other than games. But not many game developers are designing their work for that purpose. The best they seem capable of is to make their work easier and more accessible.

    With Tale of Tales we are trying to explicitly create work that caters to this other way of experiencing games. If that takes breaking a few rules, so be it.

  6. Well with fans like this giving your hard labour praise I would sit back and let cash start flowing in. After reading the whole article (having believed you only took the worst bit) it was clear this guy was really angered almost to the point of wanting to fire bomb your house.

    It is a shame that he couldn’t see past his own rhetoric and think that maybe this was a direction worth exploring. I see from your postmortem that you had to leave a great deal on paper which is a pity. Is The Graveyard something that you guys will return to in the future or will you leave it as it is “scuffs and all”?

    Keep up the good work. Eagerly awaing The Path.

  7. We’d love to return to The Graveyard. We have some ideas for additional “chapters”. But there’s so much other stuff waiting for us to do as well. So at the very least, it will be a while.

    Indeed, The Path is up next. Working hard on that right now. I wonder what Mr Burch will think of it when it’s done. It’s a little bit more “gamey” than The Graveyard -if slightly tongue in cheek. Maybe he’ll appreciate that better. Not that we’ll lose any sleep over it. 😉

  8. I wish you guys could get the funding for 8. Though i think The Path will be vary good, and probably well received, 8 is a game that i really want to play.

    like really, really bad.

    There aren’t enough games like 8 around. So, yeah. Merci.

  9. I wouldn’t have had a problem if your attitude toward The Graveyard wasn’t so simultaneously self-congratulatory and contradicting. You say it’s an “interactive painting” on the homepage, then “it’s a game” at several points in the postmortem and your comment above . If you only call them “games” out of convenience, that’s a problem — there’s an entire movement of designers existing right now who take specific pride in making games and do not use the term as a mere shortcut.

    If The Graveyard were remorselessly labeled as interactive art, I’d have no problem with it at all — as it stands, however, and as I said in my article, the word “game” objectively — as in, not my opinion — implies rules and goals. Given that artgames by the Rohrers, Humbles, and Blows of the world actively attempt to derive meaning and emotion out of those rules and goals, to presumptuously lump in The Graveyard in with those games, and then dismiss the game’s refusal from the EGW by implying Jon Blow types simply don’t understand how uniquely gamelike-yet-not The Graveyard is, and that people who found it boring (having viewed it within the context of being an actual game) must be the type of slackjawed yokels who demand zombies and monsters everytime they see a graveyard. You view your own work in such a way that attempts to insulate it from critique — you call it a “game” out of laziness and refuse to acknowledge the immense weight of the word, then claim The Graveyard is somehow expanding the definition while running totally counter to it.

    I would assume you don’t seriously believe that I hate The Graveyard JUST because it’s not a game. Incidentally, I think the premise of The Graveyard, when taken as “interactive art” rather than a “game,” is reasonably interesting. I think it’s hilariously hypocritical to refer to the Graveyard as consisting of “storytelling without words” where 90% of the game’s running time consists of the theme being directly delivered to the player through subtitled lyrics, but the concept of creating goal-free, rule-free interactive art is a totally sound one. My anger simply comes from the postmortem’s hypocritical stance that The Graveyard is, simply due to the fact that you can move the old woman toward and away from a bench, a game (to prevent my being misinterpreted again: I do think the idea of an interactive experience exploring the feeling and mechanics of an old woman’s gait could be very compelling — again, however, I have to add the addendum “in theory,” given that despite the interesting way the protagonist is controlled The Graveyard squanders its interactive potential by being more of a short film than anything else). It’s arrogant, it’s incorrect, and it’s disrespectful to the people who are actually trying to create art games.

  10. And yes, yes, everyone, it’s very easy to dismiss what I have to say by assuming I want every game to be God of War or Halo — but that’s a pretty obviously incorrect conclusion, and doesn’t really lead to any interesting analysis of either my comments or the game itself.

    Three cheers for the straw man.

  11. Thank you, Anthony, for clarifying. We like to think of all games as interactive art. So calling The Graveyard interactive art seems too general. It’s like calling it a computer program. Correct, yes, but not very specific.

    On the other hand, I must admit that we simply disagree on this matter. For the simple reason that I think computer games are different from any other type of games. Not because of what they have been historically, but because of how people experience them now. You could call these people wrong. But without them, the entire games industry would collapse.

    I do simply believe that there is room within the medium of computer games for works that do not have clear rules and goals. And that there is a wide range of possibilities between the two extremes. You are correct in saying that these games, strictly speaking, are not named correctly. But that’s how language works. Words start meaning different things over time.

    And why not be inclusive rather than exclusive? What’s the harm, really? Our work does not hurt the work of Mr Rohrer, Mr Blow and Mr Humble, does it? They are still very successful and have a large following. We’re just researching the possibilities of the medium. And history could indeed prove us wrong. But what’s the harm in trying?

  12. Mr. Burch, it is one thing to say that you disagree with someone’s usage of the word “game”. It is quite another to say that it offends you. You want to restrict your view of gaming only to things with rules and goals? Fine. But the rest of us are going to play games like Wii Music and Endless Ocean, and if we call them good games it’s not a personal insult to you. Some people have different definitions of games, and different expectations from games. This is not going to change, no matter how indignantly you say your opinion.

    Games are extremely broad. Pong is not like Poker, Guitar Hero is not like Monkey Island, Animal Crossing is not like World of Goo. Games need focus- if they tried doing everything they’d achieve nothing. So everyone who makes them must narrow the art form down for himself: “I will be making this type of game, and in this genre, and this will be the kind of content I’m interested in.” I’ve played an excellent game which is played only through sound- that’s not an “insult” to people who use sound in their games, it’s an exploration of a particular branch of games. It has absolutely nothing to do with the work of gamists you like. (Yes, I used a word I made up. Get over it.) If The Graveyard occupies a part of games which is not shared by any other games, it is to be congratulated for that. Thank you, Tale of Tales, for showing us that this part of gamism, without rules or goals, exists. Thank you, for trying to make it good (whether or not you succeeded) on its own terms, and not on the terms of someone who thinks games should only be like this and not any other way.

    There is infinite potential in games. That means that any gamist, no matter how brilliant, is only going to scratch the surface. As much as people get up and say “This is what games are about!”, there will always still be the possibility of making a great game which doesn’t follow that model at all. This is the nature of games, I think. And if a game comes across which proves me wrong about that, I’ll celebrate it.

  13. Game

    n.
    An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime: party games; word games.
    A competitive activity or sport in which players contend with each other according to a set of rules: the game of basketball; the game of gin rummy.
    A single instance of such an activity: We lost the first game.
    games An organized athletic program or contest: track-and-field games; took part in the winter games.
    A period of competition or challenge: It was too late in the game to change the schedule of the project.
    The total number of points required to win a game: One hundred points is game in bridge.
    The score accumulated at any given time in a game: The game is now 14 to 12.
    The equipment needed for playing certain games: packed the children’s games in the car.
    A particular style or manner of playing a game: improved my tennis game with practice.
    Informal.
    An active interest or pursuit, especially one involving competitive engagement or adherence to rules: “the way the system operates, the access game, the turf game, the image game” (Hedrick Smith).
    A business or occupation; a line: the insurance game.
    An illegal activity; a racket.
    Informal.
    Evasive, trifling, or manipulative behavior: wanted a straight answer, not more of their tiresome games.
    A calculated strategy or approach; a scheme: I saw through their game from the very beginning.
    Mathematics. A model of a competitive situation that identifies interested parties and stipulates rules governing all aspects of the competition, used in game theory to determine the optimal course of action for an interested party.
    Wild animals, birds, or fish hunted for food or sport.
    The flesh of these animals, eaten as food.
    An object of attack, ridicule, or pursuit: The press considered the candidate’s indiscretions to be game.
    Mockery; sport: The older children teased and made game of the newcomer.

  14. Now, humbly to Mr. Burch.

    I’m supposing with your strong argument for the reservation of the term “game” that you are a student of English. I empathize with you, so am I. That’s why there are these three frustrations we must both face.

    First: words are constantly changing definition. I personally hate this. When I was applying for college years ago, and I took the ACT, the word “enormity” was used to describe a redwood tree. Since I last checked, no tree ever commits an act of monstrous wickedness: the word enormity should have been reserved for describing the holocaust. I, of course, notified them of the error, and received the response that in the latest dictionary enormity’s definition was broadened to size, however with a footnote that said that traditionally the word had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, words don’t continue to mean the same thing ad infinitum. And it sucks, but we can live.
    Second, not everyone only speaks English. When I say not everyone, I mean Tale of Tales. In a previous post on this blog entry, they mentioned in Dutch the word for Video Game has nothing to do with the word Game. Now, as you and I, Mr. Burch, both as students of language, that words are not just words, they bring the understanding of concepts. That’s the true power of language. Tale of Tales is fortunate to have a broader concept of the two, because they are familiar with a language that does not make the two one. English is great, but not perfect, and can hinder our understanding of some concepts.
    Third, art constantly redefines itself, why can’t games be different? I see artists that turn urinals on the side, name them “the fountain,” sign them, and are punished with fame and a secure spot at museums. Why, I ask my self, should I constantly try to appropriately render skin with my brush strokes when others are lauded for tilting a pisser on the side?

  15. The reason is, this artist has blown open art for what it is in an act as simple as tilting and signing a urinal, and in doing so redefined art for everyone. Tale of Tales has redefined what a game MUST be. And though I don’t particularly enjoy the graveyard, and don’t plan on firing it up soon, I see the merit, and encourage them to think even harder and push themselves even further. Whether I like what they put out or not is irrelevant. I’m THINKING now in a way that I never has before, my realm of knowledge and understanding is broader now than it was before. Yours could be too, Mr. Burch. And it probably is, though you deny it. You have something to hate, and reasons to hate it: can’t you at least recognize what “The Graveyard” has made you realize? It’s blown you open for what you are, what you believe, what you hold dear. I know you now more than I would had you not played it.

    And it’s good, we should all get to know each other better.

  16. Personally, I don’t think Marcel Duchamp was an anarchist. A comedian, perhaps, yes. But, if you familiarize yourself with his work, you will notice that Fountain is not an isolated joke. Its sensual shape and sexual connotation firmly fits within Duchamp’s oeuvre that is pre-occupied with the relationship between the genders, erotic or otherwise.

    And while I appreciate that his ready-mades have been an inspiration to many rebellious artists, I regret that the more profound and poetic meaning of Duchamp’s work is not more widely known. Likewise, I would find it a pity that the meaning of the work that we do at Tale of Tales would get lost in some weird kind of discussion about linguistic purity.

  17. “Games are extremely broad. Pong is not like Poker, Guitar Hero is not like Monkey Island, Animal Crossing is not like World of Goo.”

    Yes, they are; that’s my point. All the games you’ve mentioned have explicit rules, goals, and win/loss scenarios. As a vast majority of definitions Ben pointed out show, this is what defines a game — from Pong to Raph Koster, games are defined as including these simple mechanics.

    I think the misunderstanding is that I’m some sort of close-minded jerk who wants to reduce the definition of games to only include Parcheesi and The Marriage or something. My point is that to make The Graveyard the way it is, then call it a game, is like drawing a comic book and then calling it a novel — simultaneously disparaging the medium you aspire to, while misunderstanding its strengths. The limitations of that medium define that medium, and to break with them is not to expand that medium, but to actively move away from it. You can’t make a film without any moving images, or a novel without words, just as you can’t make a “game” without rules and goals. Refusing to do so isn’t a mind-expanding exploration of the medium’s possibilities, it’s just creating something that doesn’t fit in that medium.

    If the word “game” being was used as an ironic, self-reflexive statement on the game itself and games in general (like, say, “The Fountain” or this: http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/467574), I would see the point of calling The Graveyard one, but it just feels like grammatical shorthand at this point. Michael points out that words change over time, but is that really your intent? To use the currently-wrong word repeatedly in the hopes that some day its definition will completely change from “rules and goals” to “anything interactive”?

    Though I do agree that “interactive art,” or labels like it, encompass a great deal of real estate, I wouldn’t say it covers any more than “game” does. “Game” covers everything from Braid to checkers, from (I think we can agree, un-artistic) sports to intentionally artistic media. That’s a huge umbrella much bigger than “interactive art”, when you consider that every single sport and board game in history of mankind occupies the same vocabulary word as Metal Gear Solid. “Interactive art” specifies both the medium and the intent, without contradicting the “rules/goals” basis that most of Ben’s definitions speak to. As Ben said, this may be more of an English issue than anything, but given that your label of the game greatly influences the context in which people view it, I can’t underestimate the importance of linguistic accuracy.

    And Ben, of course I acknowledge that The Graveyard is important in making me realize certain things. I state several times in the linked article that, despite (or because of) my irritation at it, it’s an incredibly important “game” or “game” attempt given the medium’s infancy. The things I learned happened to be far more related to my problems with it and the design philosophies behind it, but yeah — I did learn something, of course.

  18. To say that the Graveyard has no rules or motive for playing is to discard the very purpose of the game itself, since it is governed by the one simple and inescapable rule of life: Death. The creators even to go the extreme of forcing the player to reinstall the game in order to play again, just to emphasise the finality of an event that most of us only experience once in our lives. To me this is an apt comment on the world of video games where death is just an inconvenience, an obstacle to their goals. Rather, would it not be nice to think of death in a game to be a nice happy conclusion rather that the big “you lose try again”?

    Being an avid player of pen and paper RPG (take note of the last letter) there are those games out there that throw aside all sibilance of rules and operate purely on an interactive discourse between players. But despite the rule-less scenario I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to believe that we (the other players and I) are playing a game. The game itself to my mind is in the creation of good old fashioned make-believe. Is this perhaps what we need to focus on “make-believe” rather than awkward terminology?

  19. This is an especially amusing discussion in the light of the enormous doubts we had back when we started working with this medium about calling our work games. For a start, we considered it an insult. Plus using that word made it harder to get arts funding back then. We also thought that we were making games exclusively for people who didn’t like games. But after a few years it dawned on us that we were wrong. That there was as strong interest from the gaming community for our work, that many gamers did like it, that many people considered it a valuable part of the research being carried out in the maturing and expansion of the medium. So we ended up embracing the term. It became too cumbersome to avoid it.

    Feel free to call our work “interactive art”. And feel free to disagree with us and many other people calling it “games”. If you have a brief look at any reviews or blog posts about our work, you will quickly see that almost every expert or hobbyist finds it hard to call our work “games”. Some, however, find that interesting. Others find it simply wrong.

    Personally, I maintain that there is a crucial difference between computer games and other games. And that, for the maturation of the medium, it is this difference that should be explored. It may very well be that the maturity of the medium of computer games lies outside of the terrain of games as such. After all, not all computer games have their roots in board games or sports…

  20. Indeed. The first definition of “game” is very broad:

    An activity providing entertainment or amusement

    I think we are able to think of our work is games because it reminds us of how children play with dolls, or other other forms of whimsical play. Things that people do to amuse themselves. Should I inform my daughter that what’s she’s doing is not a game? Does it matter??

  21. “To say that the Graveyard has no rules or motive for playing is to discard the very purpose of the game itself, since it is governed by the one simple and inescapable rule of life: Death.”

    I don’t see what you’re getting at here, Monty — you act as if it’s impossible to develop these ideas through a set of rules (as Passage did), or that simply because that’s the theme, The Graveyard is a game. Yes, The Graveyard is about the finality of death, but removing all player choice or goals is not intrinsically necessary to the development of that theme, or the only way to do it. Just because you can move the old lady at the beginning and ending does not make it a game, and while it’s great that you feel like you’re playing a game when you experience rule-free pen-and-paper RPGs, historical wisdom (and, again, the vast majority of objective definitions of the word as provided by Ben) states that games are, by their very nature, defined as combinations of rules and goals.

    “If you have a brief look at any reviews or blog posts about our work, you will quickly see that almost every expert or hobbyist finds it hard to call our work “games”. Some, however, find that interesting. Others find it simply wrong.”

    It’s interesting, of course, but you don’t find that fact that “almost every expert” doesn’t consider your work to be “games” more of a reflection on your misguided terminology than anything else? You ask if it matters that we dictate differences between whimsical make-believe and games, and the answer is simple: absolutely.

    Labelling and referring to your works as “games” alters the entire context in which they are viewed. In your postmortem, you derisively point out that anyone who found the game boring must only want to fight zombies and monsters (which, obviously, is not the only reason anyone could find the work disappointing); did you stop to think that maybe the fault is not theirs for being disappointed, but yours for providing those false expectations in the first place? Calling something a “game,” like calling something a “movie,” contextualizes the work and sets up certain expectations — the player assumes that this will have rules and a goal, and my interactivity will make a difference in the game world. When they play The Graveyard and find it has no rules, no goal, and the interactivity has little to no effect whatsoever on either the game world or development of the theme, why shouldn’t they be disappointed, in the same way that someone might be if they’d been promised a film and were instead handed a flipbook? Gamers, now exposed to the possibilities of deriving meaning from game rules thanks to Rohrer and Humble, understand what comprises an art game and what does not. Why try to shoehorn your work into that genre when you outright admit that they’re “more like interactive paintings,” and that “experts” don’t call your work “games”?

    “after all, not all computer games have their roots in board games or sports”

    If you look at games on a completely superficial level, then no, it would appear that this is not the case. But if you examine the one common thread throughout every game in history — rules, goals — then they most definitely do, whether intentionally or not, have their roots in Go, or Chess, or Tag.

    “I maintain that there is a crucial difference between computer games and other games…”

    That difference being?

  22. I have tried to explore the difference between computer games and other games a while ago in this post. But I don’t think that article is conclusive. It’s an emotional experience and I have a hard time describing it.

    It is probably firmly rooted in the way that Auriea and I play computer games ourselves. We love being immersed in the virtual worlds that computer games offer, we love to interact with the characters, with the environment. We love to discover things, change things, etc. But when the game presents itself too much as a game, when it demands that we acquire certain items, achieve a certain goal or kill a certain opponent, we are often turned off. Most often not by the bare fact but because there is no way around it. At such moment we feel like the game is preventing us from playing.

    Traditional games don’t really offer this form of playing. I admit I have tried to play with chess pieces as if they were characters in a story, but you don’t get very far with that. The rules are too obvious, the board to abstract, etc. Many computer games, on the other hand, offer a certain amount of freedom from these rules, offer a way of playing that is entirely unique to the medium. Playing with story, with structure, with communication. The player can put things together in a certain way and the game can respond to that. It’s a very magical thing. Something you can’t find in traditional games.

    Personally, I think limiting this medium to rules- and goals-based experiences is not just a terrible waste but also reactionary. Games are ancient. I’m sure the computer offers some additional possibilities to designing them. But I’m much more interested in creating things that are only possible with a computer. And I think that in discovering the things that the computer does better than any other medium lies its maturity.

    Is any computer game better than chess?

  23. “You act as if it’s impossible to develop these ideas through a set of rules”
    Not at all. I merely acknowledge that the method used by Michaël and Auriea to be valid and worthy of whatever they choose to call it. I’m sure there are many other games that deal with the themes of death but we are not talking about those are we. I don’t renounce games with rules, inasmuch welcome with open arms those without. As I said clearly in my post perhaps we should be focusing more on the make-believe aspect which, let’s face it, is the cornerstone of what we are talking about. But one thing that perhaps I should have added to my post was that rules don’t make up a game but the game incorporates rules to administer structure, fairness and balance. I don’t expect you to agree with that statement but I hold it to be true.
    Everything discussed here is merely rewording what has happened before. The mighty novel entering the great canon of literature springs to mind as an apt simile, who would dispute its validity today? Even after its long established reign out pops a writer like James Joyce and look what happens. All it takes is a leap of faith and a smile. Maybe the Graveyard isn’t the game these guys wanted to make but it’s in a direction well worth exploring, not as you put it “ as an abortive jump in the wrong direction.” Nobody is forcing you to accept what they say but you really do need to lighten up and let these guys have their input on what seems to be a stagnant platform. Maybe their up and coming title might please you more. You may be in a majority or minority with your opinion that is irrelevant; they should be respected and given room to flourish. Although this line of dialogue is mildly amusing I feel like prancing around The Endless Forest care to join me?

  24. Michaël, I completely understand where you are coming from in terms of the fun of exploring a virtual world, and I think that’s all the more reason to distance what you’re doing from what games, by definition, are.

    You want exploration without rules or goals, where games often necessitate linking exploration with goals. you want to explore other things using the freedom of computing power, and that’s a perfectly admirable objective (and why I prefer Endless Forest to The Graveyard, given the former’s reliance on interactivity and the latter’s on a musical cut scene) — all I’m saying is, by definition, these things to not comprise a “game”. That, in and of itself, is not a quality judgment but merely a statement of definition; if anything, you should be happy to not call your works “games,” given what they ask of the player versus what rule-oriented, goal-driven experiences do. It may be a semantic argument, but it’s one with strong rhetorical reprecussions.

    Given that you want to move away from what games by definition are, given that experts and laymen don’t consider them to be games, and given that you initially toyed with not calling them “games” at all, why not drop that arbitrary, self-contradicting label altogether?

  25. Correction: I do believe that laymen call our work games. And, per definition, laymen form the majority of the audience. That’s doesn’t mean they’re right, of course. But who are we to correct them?

  26. Strictly speaking, we don’t call our work “games” as such but “computer games”. In practice, of course, that is often too long a term to use in text. As mentioned above, in my language, Dutch, the English word “game” is used exclusively for computer games. It would be nice if there would be a new word for computer games in English.

  27. Given that you want to move away from what games by definition are, given that experts and laymen don’t consider them to be games, and given that you initially toyed with not calling them “games” at all, why not drop that arbitrary, self-contradicting label altogether?

    thats an interesting question. and the answer is complex.

    1) Its not really arbitrary. this happened, as michael said, because other people called them games, many many gamers and non-gamers are attracted to both TEF and The Graveyard AS GAMES. call them wrong and misguided if you want but it doesn’t change the facts. it seems to be the best description considering the use of the medium.

    2) people who like art, don’t pay attention to interactive art. put another way, we LIKE the games audience and their attentiveness to interactive projects. visual art audiences have a set of expectations that we are not interested in (and describing that goes beyond the scope of this blog post.)

    3) there is no number 3 actually. games audiences are interesting audiences. they are fun to make things for. they actually PAY ATTENTION (thank you also for doing so.)

    i do feel that this is all semantics to spite what you say. the confusion is not a problem for me. don’t see how it hurts anything else. on the contrary. ONLY extremely involved hardcore games people have EVER had a problem with us calling whatever we make a game… even most of those haven’t had a problem at all with it, that they’ve mentioned to us.

    We make a lot of things, some more game-like than others. that’s just the way it is.

    the inevitabilty and simplicity of death IS THE GAMEPLAY. life and your consequent inability to do anything but walk, sit down and wait to DIE are the RULES.

    lookisee… IT’S A GAME!

    i do think you’ll like The Path better than The Graveyard btw.

  28. the confusion is not a problem for me

    Indeed. I actively enjoy the confusion! And I think our audience does as well.

    When you gave the example, Anthony, of giving a flip book to an audience expecting a movie, I must confess that I thought “Cool!” :)

  29. oh and as an excersize.
    take the Graveyard to your mother.
    say nothing, but have her play with it.
    afterwards, ask her what she thinks it is.
    report back your findings. maybe we will listen to her.

  30. Look, if you want to use the word “game” as a shorthand for tricking a more receptive audience into experiencing your work while ignoring what the word actually means, fine — whatever you want.

    But the ridiculously contradicting, self-congratulatory nature of how you treat your work (at least, as I garnered from the postmortem) as games or not-games is just a refusal to self-critique, of trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    It’s a game because the restrictions are rules (as a side note: if having no options but to do what little the game allows are rules, then, by that definition, don’t novels and movies and noninteractive art have “rules” as well, thus making that definition of “rules” as it relates to interactive art meaningless?), but it’s not a game because there are no goals? It’s a game because laymen call it a game and because it’s on a computer, but no, it’s actually an interactive painting? You take the inherent compliments of belonging to both art forms — “this is a game, and thus whatever unusual things we do are redefining the constraints of the medium and expanding peoples’ understanding of it,” “this is not a game, and thus it is your problem if you approached it as one and did not like it” — but refuse to examine the faults or inaccuracies of trying to have it both ways.

    My mom was not available for game critique, but just a few minutes ago I made my Dad (60 years old, doesn’t play videogames) play through the whole thing. The following is a rough transcript of our conversation:

    DAD: What do I do?

    ME: Press the arrow keys to move.

    DAD: What am I supposed to be doing?

    ME: (Silent)

    He moves to the bench, but doesn’t know what to do with it. I tell him to press escape, and he does, then follows the instructions and sits down. The song starts playing.

    DAD: What do I do now?

    ME: You can either listen to the rest of the song, or leave.

    DAD: That’s it? You just listen to the song?

    ME: Basically.

    DAD: That’s weird.

    He leaves the graveyard.

    ME: Would you call that a game?

    DAD: No.

    ME: Why not?

    DAD: You don’t do anything. You just walk and turn, then hear a song. It’s just barely interactive music.

  31. i’m so glad you actually did that. did he like the song? what did he think of the soundscape? the look of the cemetary?
    (too bad you couldn’t ask your Mom though, i think her point of view may be more interesting.)

    and we are not “tricking” anybody.
    there are differing points of view on what that word GAME means, Anthony.
    We accepted that, why can’t you?

  32. Let’s say you were to take The Graveyard as it exists (in the paid version), but add one line of text at the beginning:

    “The old lady may die at any time. If she does not die, you win.”

    Now you’ve got a clearly articulated rule and goal, making this a game of luck by any definition. Am I wrong?

  33. You take the inherent compliments of belonging to both art forms […] but refuse to examine the faults or inaccuracies of trying to have it both ways.

    I admit we are trying to have it both ways. In fact, we consider the potential for ambiguity one of the great features of the interactive medium and one of the reasons why it is so suitable a medium to create art with for today’s society.

    But how exactly do we refuse anything? By choosing this path we have made it very difficult for ourselves to have any sort of career in the games industry. And only very specialized places will have us in the art world. We have virtually no peers and a lot of work ahead of us. All we have is our audience.

    We believe in our work. We are proud of it. But we are perfectly capable of listening to serious criticism. All we have heard from you is that we shouldn’t think that our work is expanding the medium of games because The Graveyard cannot be called a game. To me it seems like that would make it a prime candidate for expanding the medium.

    But ultimately it doesn’t matter, does it? If Nintendo can sell recipe software and training programs through gaming channels, why can’t we sell art through them? Computer games are growing into something much larger than simply games. Our work is only a very small part of that evolution.

  34. just a refusal to self-critique
    i don’t think you know me well enough to make that statement.
    we consider (and state) that The Graveyard is an experiment. It is perhaps an illustration of a very extreme opinion, that the least interesting part of a game is what you would call “rules” or “gameplay.”
    We never expected everyone to like it. But much self-critique went on. To make sure it was saying what we wanted it to say.
    In order to do that we had to cut away everything that was what we didn’t like about games. To find some essence of what it was about video games we did like.
    Now you come along and really really want us to admit that we have not made a game. I will never understand why that mattered to you in the first place. But you are passionate, i’ll give you that.
    When you make something and share it with someone and some people like it and some people hate it and some people agree and some people disagree. It is not a lack of self-critique that keeps you believing in your ideas and ideals. It is precisely because we HAVE thought it through and that we are proud of what we made. And your “i hate your game” article is good for the LULz but is not the way to come at someone with a critique either. Maybe it is on the net… maybe that is what you are used to.
    I’ve been tempted on many an occasion to write hate posts to game developers. And what keeps me from doing such a thing is the knowledge that it is pissing in the wind. That those people had very good reasons why their game came out the way it did. That most people who take the trouble to make a game does so with good intentions. Sometimes I get their point and sometimes I don’t. But every game is a feat of engineering and human skill and I can respect that, even if I think their content is unworthy of the name of Art.

    Not saying the project is perfect. Would never say that because I know what we would want to do to make it better. Part of the purpose of that “arrogant” post-mortem was to talk about that experience of having a limited time, budget, resources, skill. Maybe you should be our writer 😉 We weren’t able to communicate our reasoning to you via the game or via words. But I am thankful that there are many other people who got it. Tell me, which would you listen to. Especially when you are on a train of thought…. when you think you are glimpsing the beginning of something? And you think you know what direction you want to go in. The person who writes a thoughtful article appreciating the reasons you made what you did, yet criticising the flaws, making suggestions. Or some crank who trolls you on Destructoid and demands you change your mind even when you explain that this is impossible, that the reason we made up our mind in the first place is precisely for the reasons he’s talking about.

  35. As far as the game/not-game is concerned, the very least the authors could do is show some humility and accept any criticism which is not outright a personal insult.

    Stop cushioning yourselves in your own opinion. Nobody is denying you put in a lot of effort into this.

    But you have to take your own presumption down a notch at all levels, especially so you can see how valuable criticism is.

    Instead of deflecting it, you should use it to grow and make even better products.

  36. oh my goodness. for the record…. we take criticism. this blog is FILLED with it. Our forum is filled with it. We are constantly discussing our games with lovers and haters. We go to big conferences and show our games to strangers and have them tell us what they think. We talk to students in schools. We take anonymous surveys. We ask other game developers. We USE that information (maybe take a look at The Path blog on how we do that.) It is NOT uniformly positive. It is NOT uniformly negative. Good things come from it. Useless things come of it. Our opinions evolve… just like anyone else’s does based on feedback (imagine that). At the end of the day we think and decide. For some people the decisions we take work, for others it doesn’t. But no way do we want to do what everybody says. So.it.goes. Read my post above.

  37. “They think that by making a game which includes no choices, rules, or goal they are expanding the medium and redefining our understanding of what a game can be, but they’re really just spinning wheels.”

    But…I have the choice to take as much time as I want to get to that bench! And that bench…It’s my goal! Just like my goal is to finish my song. And the rule? Well that’s…um…not to run or you’d break a hip!

    Nah, I’m kidding but that’s just an example of how you can make ‘goals’ and ‘rules’ if you want to. :)

    (I do get what he’s saying and I respect it. I’m just having a little fun.)

  38. gah. and Anthony, if you think the postmortem is bad you’ll lose it completely if you read the REALTIME ART MANIFESTO ah, nostalgia…
    I think we’ve gotten several shades less “arrogant” since then. We want to amend and correct that text based on things we’ve learned and criticism we’ve received since we first presented it in 2006. Not sure it would make you any more accepting of what we do or clarify our reasons why… but, hey, i offer it in friendship.

  39. Hello, this is just my humble two cents.

    In my personal experience with the free version of the Graveyard, I found the piece only remotely fitting the description of ‘computer game’ but in my opinion, the tag works. I think I find it fitting because of my LARPing background, especially since in the local playing style rules and goals often can bend for the sake of dramatics.

    I don’t think everything in the world has to be labeled, boxed and categorized, and I love that the Tale of Tales people embrace ambiguity. As a writer, I also don’t like restricting myself to how things have already been done, or to any normative ways it “should” be done.

    To try ensure that this is not just some flaming hippy fan talk, I assure I’ve played computer games, board games, card games, roleplaying games and live roleplaying games for twenty years (I’m somewhat potty about games I suppose) :)

  40. But you have to take your own presumption down a notch at all levels, especially so you can see how valuable criticism is.

    I haven’t really heard any criticism. Just somebody saying that The Graveyard is not a game, and therefore worthy of contempt, and telling us that we shouldn’t use the word “game” for our work because we’re not expanding the medium in a way that he approves of.

  41. No we didn’t know about that. Wow. Worth Playing. :) Love the two comments so far. Both are right, actually. I suppose Anthony will feel better knowing that Greg Costikian (at least partially) agrees with him. But I also hope that he will take into account what we’ve already said.

  42. Thank you, Malja. That’s interesting.

    I’m actually beginning to regret this discussion.
    The Graveyard, regardless of whether it is or is not a game and what that says about its value, is first and foremost intended to be a meditation on the subject of old age and death. Inspired by the peace and quiet of a cemetery I remember from my youth and by my -at the time of creation- aging grandmother who was preparing to die and talked about the subject all the time. If The Graveyard does not help you think about these issues, perhaps it is because you are not concerned with them or because we didn’t do good enough a job at creating a piece that allows you to. We know that it is far from perfect. But if you give it a chance and work with it, rather than against it, I think it can still give you a worthwhile experience.

    This is not about game design. It’s about life.

  43. yes. more than being “humble” we should probably remember what really matters. and it isn’t game design.
    ..though we now have OFFICIALLY made ‘the game that dare not speak it’s name’… i don’t think “Interactive Applications” is gonna fit in that little bubble on the homepage 😉

  44. My two cents, if you don’t mind.

    The only really important question is, is it art ? According to Tolstoy (he wrote very interesting essay’s on the subject of art) it defenitly is, because it communicates feeling.

    So if you follow this view on art and consider the graveyard art (as I personally do) then the next question is ; what medium do you use ? Games (like writing, painting, …) is a certain way of communicating. A tool to express something.

    The categorizing and bogging down with rules and limitis of such tools (like “this is literature because those are the criteria”) is pointless, because it’s all about the art. Never about the tool. It doesn’t make any real difference except to the critics which medium is used and what it is called. What matters is “does it communicate what it means to” of “is it art”

    So really, it’s just a difference in how you label things, wich has no real importance to the contents at all. All that matters is what it does and if it does it well :-)

  45. I don’t really have much to add to the discussion here. I just wanted to suggest that this be permenantly linked in the sidebar of the homepage. Everyone who posted in this expressed oppinions that made sense, and did a good job of describing their views. It’s a great read so far, and future ‘it’s-not-a-game’-ers and ‘yes-it-is’-ers would probably benefit from looking it over.

  46. You’re right Emriss, about the interestingness of this discussion. Which is why I visit this blog far more than i should! You’d think that the way “video games” (i’m so bad for using the term that’s being hotly debated while we speak) that the artistic and philosophical conversations that take place here would be incredibly minor. But i find them to be some of the most fulfilling that I currently have access to.

    Now, after 30 comments or so, I’m again reminded of Zen Buddhism. Michael and Auriea, if i understand correctly, purposefully speak in contradictions, or perhaps paradoxes. I don’t think they do this unintentionally or that it’s wrong to do so. I say this, because Zen Buddhists, in seeking enlightenment, do this all the time. The Zen Buddhist preaches that our perceptions and language bar ourselves from true enlightenment, and that too confound the logic is to open the mind. Now, though finding myself in a rock-like state isn’t on my morning to-do list, i find that the paradoxical brand of mine cleansing is incredibly important. So i have no problem with “It’s a game, but it’s not a game.” In some ways yes, the graveyard is certainly a video game, in other ways, it’s certainly not. I don’t think this is a percentile, quantitative measurement.

    I view it like this, in a metaphor i read in “The Devil’s Delusions” (fascinating read, by the way, if you are so inclined.) Light is a wave, but not like any wave you’ve experienced before: because it’s also a particle. Light is a particle, but not like any other particle: because it’s also a wave. There’s no percentage there, it just IS both. I guess you could say that light is NEITHER a wave NOR a particle, because, well, by definition it’s not. To say it’s both is confounding.

    It makes me think of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip: Calvin asks his dad how a lightbulb works, his dad says “magic.” Calvin goes into the other room and turns a lamp on, and says to his mother: “look! Magic!” His mother promptly replies, “that’s not magic.”

  47. Wow. Intense.

    I am very sympathetic to ToT’s approach and themes in their art making AND I agree with Mr. Burch.

    For me, I first and foremost create/design games to express something. Next I spend a long time making sure this thing I am making says what I want it to say. Then I go through the pain in the ass of implementing it. This process takes a long time and so far for me my output has fit the formal qualities of games – but I could very much imagine coming out and not. If this did happen, I would want whatever I made to be looked at by the games community because it would be pretty stinking close to a game.

    I don’t think I would insist on calling what I made a game – but if it meant I would get the game audience I probably would (which is part of what Michael and Auria are saying?)

    I find myself wondering if you set out with the intention of making games in the first place or if other people imposed that title on you and you went with it. Rev Anthony is right when he says that calling The Graveyard a game makes the word meaningless (though, this is a very “artsy” move that is right in line with the sort of stuff that has happened in the history of other mediums). Realtime Art seems like a great way to explain what it is you do and you seem to have little problem with that (given your manifesto). Do you really think people would start barring you from game related discussions? Maybe you could head a whole movement! I know I am working on a realtime art project that I am sure as hell not going to call a game… (at least not around Mr. Burch)

  48. Yeah, we set out with the intention of making games. 8 was a game project, one where we wanted to make a game that was different, very different for its time. And it was the beginning of us questioning why games were so stuck into genres and why there MUST be rules and traditional gameplay (shooting, scores, game over etc.) Exploring what we felt about interacting with virtual worlds, The Endless Forest didn’t actually start out as a game but became one because it was fun to make it be one (and a million other reasons too numerous to go into in this reply.) The Graveyard is meant to be a game, though only in the sense that it makes you meditate on certain themes and wonder what a game is or should be.

    I am not into labels. People have called our work all kinds of things (flattering and not) over the years that we’ve been involved with making art/design/whatever with computers (going on 15 years now, depending when you start counting.)

    I am sympathetic to people who want to protect the word ‘game’ as meaning something specific. I guess its like what happened to the term ‘Art’ in fine arts… Art can be anything and is thus rendered somewhat meaningless. But people learn to live with the shifts in meaning.

    I guess it is interesting to call The Graveyard a game simply because that was what inspired it. And to call it anything else wouldn’t have gotten it the *critique* we were looking for. But it is just one small project.

    I am far more eager to discuss the subjects The Path is going to bring up, once it comes out (if we ever get it done.) It is a game and I think calling it such will be the last thing people will want to argue about.

  49. I am no gamer. Perhaps that is why I love the Graveyard. I find it very moving, but unfortunately I cannot get the old lady to sit down on the bench. She turns around all right, but doesn’t look back and doesn’t sit down – so I don’t get the song either! Can you please tell me what I might be doing wrong?

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