Make love, notgames.

Notgames is an initiative that we started in the wake of my New Years Resolutions. It has been growing behind the scenes and is already a nice place where developers can meet and share experiences. The purpose of the Notgames initiative is to encourage and support the development of digital entertainment and art that is not games. You can read more about our intentions here.

The most active area of the initiative is the web forum where we discuss development and theory, each other’s work and that of others. There’s also a Tumblr feed which acts as a kind of collective stream of consciousness in images and words. And we recently started a blog and a Facebook page.

The initiative is open to anyone with an interest in the creation of leisure software outside of the confines of games. It’s a supportive environment for the exploration of this vast new terrain. Register for the forum if you would like to participate in the discussions, the Tumblr feed or the blog. Or simply become a fan on Facebook to stay in the loop.

Art History of Games presentation online

We have posted the text and slides of our presentation at the Art History of Games symposium last Saturday in Atlanta.

Over Games

Videogames are stuck. Despite of the ongoing technical evolution and the continuous calls for a new medium, videogames have stopped evolving. They have found their comfort zone. Videogames are happy. Happy being exactly what they are. Fun activities that nurture our inner child.

While our inner grown-up is starving!

We need a new medium that can help us cope with the complexity of our post-historic universe. The interactive, non-linear and generative capacity of computer technology offers such a medium. There is no need however to limit what we create with this technology to the format of games. The possibilities are endless.

There’s a lot of work to do.

Videogames have taken computer technology hostage. It is time to liberate the medium and start feeding our starving hearts and minds. We need to stop making games and look further, go farther, step into a new world. Create interactive entertainment for all instead of squeezing people into oppressive sets of rules and goals. We have the technology. We have the desire. So let’s get to work!


Frictional: “How gameplay and narrative kill meaning”

We’re not alone! :)

Frictional Games is one of the most ambitious and at the same time under-appreciated independent developers. They are one of very few forward looking companies in the independent scene and don’t nearly get enough credit for it (this year’s IGF proved no exception with its jury ignorantly rejecting Frictional’s new project “Amnesia“).

Anyway, Frictional’s Thomas Grip has written a very clear analysis of how the “focus on narrative and gameplay is holding back interactive media’s potential”. The little essay echoes our own thoughts on the subject but Mr Grip suggests a certain terminology that is very helpful (if not entirely intuitive), opposing meaning to narrative and interaction to gameplay. With us, he is “quite convinced (…) that there is a vast new world to explore if the interaction is in focus, instead of gameplay and narrative”.

While gameplay at the core of game making, it comes with a lot of baggage and makes certain meanings harder to realize in the medium. The most striking issue is the entire failure mechanism that is used in just about any game. You try a certain task, you fail and then have to repeat it. As described in other posts, this can be especially damaging in horror games, where repeating scenes seriously lessens the experience. This mechanism also imposes limits on the player’s rate of progress and effectively tells the player: “Either you complete this or you will not proceed!”. Other baggage include the notion that gameplay must be fun and the need to constantly pose challenges. What I mean with the last point is that players assume that a game will always keep them occupied with some kind of obstacle to overcome. This leads to very little interactive content that is added for its intrinsic sake alone. Instead a game’s interactive content almost always have some connection to the goals of the gameplay.

Read the entire post here.

My New Year’s Resolutions

1. More Independence
2. Less games

The start of a new decade feels like an appropriate time to get ambitious. Out with the old, in with the new! Not that there’s going to be any extreme changes around here. My resolutions mostly concern a change in attitude, in philosophy. But, with any luck, they will take us further. And in the right direction.

While these resolutions have been bubbling up for a while, two things were direct triggers: Auriea’s realisation that her favourite games of the decade are all over 5 years old and our recent visit to the Belgian incarnation of the historical Game On exhibition where it became very clear how much more fun the old arcade games are than the new pseudo-narrative shiny next gen titles upon which I had based a lot of my hopes.


We don’t want to make obscure art. This is a big part of the reason why we choose to work with digital media. We don’t even want to make art per se. We just want to share beautiful moments and elegant thoughts with people who are open to them. And perhaps, in our most audacious daydreams, we’d hope to make a small contribution to a more harmonious world.

Accessibility is one of the reasons why we don’t shy away from commerce. Commerce is an efficient way to distribute things in a capitalist system. And thanks to the abundance of the digital, we can sell our work very cheaply. But commerce also has a way of confusing an artist, of holding you back. Commerce forces you to think about seduction -even when it’s not appropriate- and to favour projects with commercial potential over others that might be more relevant artistically. We like our work to be accessible. But we want that to be an artistic choice and not an economic requirement.

We’re not very good at commerce anyway. We don’t have clever business minds. And our work is just a bit too far away from the ordinary to appeal to people who do. But above all, thinking about commerce -however exciting it may sometimes be- always ends in bogging us down, to slowing us down, to depressing us.

I want us to become less dependent. Less dependent on money, less dependent on success, less dependent on quantity. And focus exclusively on quality. This includes improving the accessibility of our work! While commercial pressure may motivate one to lower the threshold of their productions, it only does so towards a specific target audience, effectively locking everyone else out. It would be possible to optimize our work to be very accessible for hardcore gamers. But at the expensive of other people we might also want to communicate with. We want our work to be more widely accessible. We don’t want to depend on any specific niche.

None of this leads to any radical decisions. This is just a resolution that can guide us when making future decisions. As of now, I want to focus on self-sufficiency. And favour non-profit or break-even operations over commercial ones. Or even figure out ways to make losing money bearable. It’s ok if that means working on smaller projects. As long as they are “big on the inside”.

Games over

This year, I’m going to care less about games. And as a result, I will probably enjoy them more.

I give up.
I give up on my hopes for videogames to become a valid cultural medium.
I’ve been fighting very hard. I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is. For several years already. Almost a decade.

But the games industry is merrily traveling in the opposite direction. Videogames are not changing anymore. They seem to have lost that capacity. Sure, the technology still evolves, so everything gets more shiny. But this is not leading to any sort of evolution, let alone the required revolution. The desire is simply not there.

Because videogames are happy just as they are. The videogame culture is extremely pleased with itself. A few years ago, people were still complaining about “sequelitis”. No everybody merrily plays Hip Shootgame #13 and Cool Jumpgame #26, with no objections. On the contrary! Everybody gets very solemn and deep when yet another war simulator hits the shelves. Only to forget it within the first week of release.

Gamers, publishers, journalists are all very happy! Who am I to spoil their fun? If they feel comfortable in a juvenile ghetto that is irrelevant to culture, good for them. I’m out of here.

Maybe this is another incarnation of my desire for independence: I want to be independent from the games industry. And from the games format.

Games are fun. Let them be fun. And let’s do something else, when we want to be serious. Let’s focus on interactive entertainment that is not games (let’s call them “notgames” for now :) ). With a technology that is so versatile and powerful, why should we limit our productions and enjoyment to the single format of games, a format that has been around for centuries and doesn’t even need computers to exist?

I realize that it has always been our mission at Tale of Tales to explore the potential of the interactive medium. But so far, this has happened in some form of conflict with videogames, based on our misguided belief that videogames had potential to grow, to grow into a medium (which, believe it our not, still seemed possible only 5 years ago). Simply letting go of the connection, will make our job a lot easier as it will help us explore with far less constraints. Leaving behind the idea that we’re making a game, opens up a world of creative possibilities!


But more than that, I want to stimulate research and development of notgames. Instead of continuously having senseless arguments with game fans, developers and theorists, I want to gather together the brightest ideas concerning non-game interactive entertainment. Without the noise and the distractions. Maybe we’ll start a blog about the subject, with news, essays, opinion pieces, debates. A place where ideas can be explored and shared and discussed. I would also like to commission designers and artists to make new non-game interactive projects. Maybe there can be a competition like those ubiquitous game making competitions, but about making interactive entertainment that is not games -far more exciting and certainly a much larger area to explore. And finally, I’m looking into the possibility of starting a sort of label -like a record label- to publish and distribute notgames.

If you would like to contribute to any of this, please post a comment or send email.

Happy New Year! :)