The Video Games that Make you Tink about Life

Sunday, 27 January 2013 0 comments

20 games that will make you think about life
Do you ever get that feeling, when playing games, that you really should be doing something more edifying with your life. It is a sad fact that most the computer games I play are about as intellectually stimulating as a fart. But, thankfully, not all. Here, I present five games I've found that force you to think a little - in some cases even get a bit philosophical.

1. Elude
Developed by Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab, Elude is a dark, atmospheric game that aims to shed light on the nature of depression. You play a little guy exploring a beautiful yet forbidding world. The world has three distinct levels, each a metaphor for a different mental state.

The forest that you start the game in represents a normal mood. You can ascend to a higher plane - happiness - by climbing the trees in the forest. From, here you can leap joyously up into the sky by jumping on floating flowers and leaves. The leaves and flowers disappear after you have touched them and eventually none are left to keep you aloft and you plunge down into the third game area: depression.
This is a gloomy underground cavern, with a sticky muddy base that sucks you down. The first time you end up in this dark place, it is quite simple to escape, but as you progress through the game, you will end up here again and again, and each time you will find it more difficult to drag yourself out of. Elude is a mesmerising gaming experience with a serious message. Play it here.

2. Immortall
The game starts with you crash landing on a planet. It soon becomes clear that you are an alien and the planet is Earth. Exactly where and when on Earth is never spelt out. After pulling yourself out of your space craft, you start to explore the planet. Soon you come across a native - a little girl. She seems excited to meet you and calls on you to follow her. She takes you to her brother, who is picking apples from a tree. He throws one to you. You eat it. You seem to like it. And you let the little boy sit on your shoulders. Thus begins one of the most emotionally-charged games I have ever played. You can play Immortall here.

3. Loved
Take a cursory look at Alexander Ocias's Loved, and you could mistake it for a pretty basic platformer. Look a little deeper and you realise that this unusual game is actually a meditation on the nature of authority and obedience. At least, that was my take on it. Like most cool art, Loved can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, and no doubt you will see it in a completely different light to me. What is not open to debate however is that Loved is one of the most innovative and thought-provoking Flash games around. Loved can be played here.

4. I Can Hold My Breath Forever
In this brilliant exploration game by Jake Elliott, you play the part of a little creature who is searching for its friend in an impenetrable network of underwater caves. You can only hold your breath for ten seconds so must find air pockets in the water, before you can dive deeper. As you progress down into the depths, you come across letters dropped by your friend. The letters are beautifully written and imbue your search with an urgency and emotional resonance that are rarely found in gaming. I Can Hold My Breath Forever can be played here.

5. The Company of Myself
Bend time in this sad, philosophical platformer to solve the puzzles. The game play is tricky and challenging but it is the story and introspective ambience that really make this game. Play The Company of Myself here.

6. Coma
Coma is not only one of the best looking Flash games around - Thomas Brush having given it a uniquely mysterious and melancholic ambience - but also one of the cleverest. Your task is to help Pete find his way through his mysterious, subconscious world, along the way solving puzzles and marvelling at the dream-like quality of the game. You can play Coma here.

7. Loondon
Just like most of us, Jonah - the hunch-back hero of this game - is on a quest to find happiness. Your job is to help him in this timeless aim by solving point and click-style puzzles. It is highly unlikely that Loondon sheds any radical new philosophical light on how to achieve happiness but the game's beautiful design, atmospheric music and fun puzzles certainly gave me a feeling that came close to happiness. Play Loondon by clicking here.

8. One Chance
Here's something to think about - every decision we ever make, no matter how seemingly inconsequential it may be at the time, has the potential to fundamentally change our lives forever. A simple 'Should I go down the boozer?' on an idle Tuesday evening could set off a chain of events that leads to you meeting your partner, getting married, having kids, the whole shebang. Or you could end up with liver disease.
Of course, the thing about decisions is you normally only get one chance to make them and, once they're made, you can't go back. This frankly rather depressing little segue brings us to One Chance.

You are the super-smart scientist whose discovery appears to have conquered one of the most devastating diseases known to humankind. Unfortunately - oh hubris, thy name is scientist guy! - your discovery has also gone ape and will kill every living cell on Earth within the week. What you might call a mixed day at the office. Over the next few days, the decisions you make will determine the fate of, well, everything, everywhere. A good time, perhaps, to invest in a bigger executive stress ball.

Even with the cartoony retro graphics, developer AwkwardSilenceGames has delivered a game that, like a good thriller, builds a creeping sense of unease into its early stages that gradually accelerates to blind panic as the clock ticks down to doomsday. Will you find a cure? Will you top yourself? Will you retire to the boozer and hope for the best from the bottom of a bottle? The clever thing is, you really will only get One Chance to find out. Play One Chance here.

9. A Mother in Festerwood
Kids, eh? It seems like one minute, they're little pixels wandering around your woodland home, the next they're on their way into the big, wide world, where they must find their own treasure and kill their own trolls. At least, that's how life is like in Festerwood.
As a mother, it's your job to keep your little tyke in the safety of the homestead until they have enough experience to survive the monster-infested woods. Don't expect any gratitude, though. The brat will continually try to give you the slip and escape into the wild. After a while, like many a parent, you may well be tempted to say sod it and let the know-it-alls find out the hard way what the world's really like. Let them just see!

Oh, they'll be back when they want feeding. Well, they better bring some treasure. We aren't made of money, you know. And will there be a word of thanks? And look at the state of your room? This isn't a hotel. And another thing... Ahem. Play A Mother in Festerwood here.

10. American Dream
Crude, materialistic, morally bankrupt, downright've got to love the wonderful world of the free market. And it's captured in all it's terrible, rapacious glory in American Dream, a frankly bizarre celebration of consumerism and greed that pitches itself somewhere in between American Psycho and Fight Club.
The aim of the game is to make a million buckaroos by trading the "stock" of a eclectic collection of long-forgotten celebs (Max Headroom, Rick and Blondie (everyone loves Blondie, right?). Yes, really.

Buy low, sell high and kit out your pad with all the latest furniture and gadgets to hide the emptiness inside. Once you have, of course, it'll all be out of fashion and you must start all over again. Oh and then there's the parties...which you can find out about yourself. Perhaps best not to play this one with your gran. Play American Dream here.

11. As I Lay Dying
Of course, a big part of life is sharing it with another person. Unless you subscribe to the view that hell is other people, I suppose. But anyway, let's say you don't. You like at least one person enough to share your life with them. Right.
As I Lay Dying makes you think about how far you'd go to get that person back home - even if they're dead. The dialogue might sound like it's been recorded in a phone box, but this retro-style platform adventure offers plenty of little puzzles and pesky enemies to test your initiative and throwing arm. Leave no man behind. Play As I Lay Dying here.

12. Prior
Another thing about life is that you can sometimes wake up in a strange place without a clue about what's going on. This isn't always a bad thing; there was that time in San Francisco when I came to and there was this girl...erm...I digress. In the case of Prior, however, waking up in a strange place without a clue about what's going on is most definitely not a good thing. It's up to you to find out just what the flippin' 'eck is going on and where your family have gone.
Prior is a classic platform that, like 1980s classics like Treasure Island Dizzy, put the emphasis on you picking up clues and solving little puzzles to crack the maze and save the day. Cool music, too. Play Prior here.

13.The End of Us
Life can, of course, bring very sad moments. People come and go. Friends drift away. Sometimes they crash into planets. Erm, well in this case they do. This strangely touching little game sets you up as a purple comet whizzing through the cosmos, who is joined by a spirited orange comet. You spin and swirl through the vastness of space, chasing stars for no particular reason and slowly fading as you grow older.
All things must pass, though, and you eventually come upon a asteroid belt that knocks the wind out of you. In the end, all that's left is to decide who's going to take the big fall and who's going to carry on alone? Although this game is set to a music track, I'd suggest playing it while listening to Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips. Pass the hanky. Sniff. You can play The End of Us here.

14. Pipedreamz
Meat can change your life, apparently. I honestly couldn't tell you. I also honestly couldn't tell you what you could learn about life from Pipedreamz, but then perhaps it's a bit too intellectual for me. It's a series of weird mini-games in which you have to flip burgers, surf and trough meat without others seeing. I just don't know. I really don't. Maybe you can work it out. Let me know if you crack it. Play Pipedreamz here.

15. Flight
The beautifully animated Flight is all about hope. The hope of a little girl to see her mum at Christmas. Aww. Little Sandy has written down her only wish on a paper aeroplane and it's up to you to make sure that the message gets all the way to London, 1,000 miles away.
This highly addictive little physics game is all about picking up and chucking said plane as far as you possibly can. Getting altitude and distance will help you pick up money to buy some pretty nifty extras - I wish my paper planes at school had an afterburner. Ooh and you can personalise your plane too! And what kind of monster wouldn't want to help a little girl at Christmas? Even when it's April? Play Flight here.

16. Passage
It is very rare - nay, impossible - for a game to reduce me to tears. And this one didn't. But, I can tell you, it was damn close. A more poignant and profound game you are unlikely to find. On the surface, the point of Passage is to open as many treasure chests within the allotted time. But that's not what Jason Rohrer's award winning game is really about. What it is really about is love, the passing of time, saying goodbye to youth and freedom, grief - ultimately life itself.
Passage can be played on Mac OSX, Windows and Linux and can be downloaded here. Make sure you have some tissues handy before you start playing.

17. The Majesty of Colors
"Last night I had a dream". So begins The Majesty of Colors - a sparklingly innovative Flash game by Gregory Weir. But this is no ordinary dream, And "I" - you - is no ordinary person. You are a terrifyingly ugly sea monster - basically a giant squid with one enormous spiked tentacle with which you interact with the world. Despite your fearsome appearance, you start the game as an innocent creature, curious about the world. But your interactions with humanity threaten to corrupt you. Feeling rejected and persecuted, do you turn bad and use your considerable powers for evil purposes, or do you strive to do good? The choice is yours.
The Majesty of Colors is a game that can be played multiple times - the decisions you make during the game determine between the many different endings. Play it here. Read an interview with the game's creator here.

18. The Game
The Game starts by telling us that there are no rules, just play. But what does it mean by that. Is it lavishing praise on anarchy or is it saying that life's just a game. The truth is nothing so trite. The Game takes you on a voyage of philosophical exploration like none you will have experienced before. You will find yourself committing suicide beneath clouds bearing Einstein's legendary equation, suffering under the totalitarianism of communisim, getting your heart shot to bits by a lover - all the time accompanied by the wittiest commentary I've seen in a game. And the more you progress into The Game, the deeper - and funnier - it gets.
Trust me, The Game will change your perception of what games are about. Play it here but not for too long because it might blow your mind.

19. Gray
Gray is a riot - quite literally. In this cerebral, experimental game, you play the part of a lone dissenter, trying desperately to win a seemingly never ending horde of rioters over to your cause. It seems like a helpless task but one by one you manage to woo the rioters until eventually you have the majority following you. But what does any self-respecting rebel do when they are a member of the majority, well in this game, they switch to the other side of course, and repeat the whole process again but from the opposite direction.
Gray raises some interesting questions about the individual and the possibility of one person changing the course of history. It is also great fun to play. Play it here

20. Super Karoshi
This supreme reinvention of the platform genre forces you to dwell on the nature of life, the utter futility and pointlessness of it, that is. But rather than getting depressed about this fact, Super Karoshi wants us to celebrate the worthlessness of existence, by splattering ourselves into oblivion in a variety of highly imaginative and blood spurting ways. Ironically, given that the point is to die, I feel more alive playing this game than virtually any other platformer. The brilliant music (by Jake Almond) and devilishly clever puzzles probably have something to do with that.

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