Since I first began writing seriously about digital art and experimental games, back in 2013, I have strung together — in my mind — those designers and games which I continually refer to in my work. I don’t maintain anything like a hierarchy of them, but the reason I write about these games in the first place is because I feel they are worthy of our attention and that they don’t get the kind of traction, hype, or focus they deserve. For this reason, I’ve wanted — for a little while — to put together a non-exhaustive list of just some of the games I think might be worthy of your time, even if you don’t really play games. Perhaps only one of them actually involves some kind of fighting. All of them reject conventional game tropes and mechanics. All of them are consciously artistic, experimental. They’re short and, with one exception, free.
Below are just ten games that I think sum up something of the strange, beautiful avant-garde games production you’re increasingly seeing online, even at conferences and in museums, like MOMA. All of them except No. 10 (Kentucky Route Zero) are by independent developers (meaning, unfunded — non-commercial labours of practice, toil and imagination).
- Luxury $imulator — by Arrian
- Sanctuary — by Connor Sherlock
- Middens — by John Clowder
- Electric Highways — by Zykov Eddy
- Error City Tourist — by Strangethink
- CHYRZA— by Kitty Horrorshow
- SALT — by Squidly Games
- Dream.Sim — by OXAM
- Glitchhikers — by ceMelusine and team
- Kentucky Route Zero — by Cardboard Computer
This is just a partial snapshot of those games I feel are right now doing something exciting both artistically and formally. What do they look like together? A concern with architectural form, monumental built environments, dreams, Surrealism, and dissonance. A lot of them are first person exploration games where you wander around mysterious, dark, oneiric environments, piecing together what ‘happened’. None of these games, I realise, are necessarily “nice” or easy to play. They are often disquieting, dark, and — as Eve Golden Woods has suggested — offer up a kind of “horror without fear”. Regardless, all of them represent the capacity that games have to drive the very cutting edge of digital art. Games like CHYRZA have stayed with me for weeks after first playing them, while Kentucky Route Zero — perhaps the most self-consciously poetic and intellectual of them — has constantly confounded any attempt to write meaningfully about it. I love that difficulty. It’s also perhaps the most obviously beautiful. All of them are — however — worthy of attention, a little time and consideration.