The Proteus Discourse

I was going to write a defense of Proteus today. Having followed the series of posts from Gamasutra blogs to then Ed responding, I was getting ready to write an angry post about how I love Proteus, think it’s one of the most delightful games I’ve played in a long time, and found Ed, when I talked to him myself weeks ago, to be an incredibly interesting designer who is finding ways to challenge the first-person genre.

Then, I slept on it. And I woke up to Corvus’ own response. And I saw the post on Kotaku.

I’ve decided to change my plan. Instead of bringing you what I think in my own words, I am going to select quotes from various sources that I think highlight important parts of the discourse surrounding Proteus.

“Proteus is a game of pure exploration. There are no puzzles, no challenge – excepting any challenges you may set for yourself. In the brief time I’ve played so far, I climbed a mountain and descended through a thick cloud layer into a gentle rain. I saw stars fall and then danced with them upon the ground. I saw the seasons change.”  Corvus Elrod

“I haven’t played this game or even know anything about it really, but if you’re going to sell something, it better include an actual game with gameplay, or at least advertise itself for what it really is. Generally, if you buy something on Steam, you kind of expect it to be an actual game.” MouseMilk (Comment on “Proteus’ Creator Defends His Game—as a Game“)

“Thirty Flights of Loving – more of an art piece than a game, is also on Steam.” amygdala (Comment on “Proteus’ Creator Defends His Game—as a Game“)

“Well, I too think that Proteus is not a game. But I do not mean it as “is not good enough to be a game” or something like that.
Is just something different that doesn’t compare to the game category.
A lot of programs are not a game. Power point allows you to create and visualize slides… it is not a game, it’s value is not decreased by the fact that is not a game.
Of course in a gamer circuit “not a game” sounds derogative. But still, you have a product, you have people interested in that product, you have people who see value in your product… isn’t that what’s important?” Simone Tanzi (Comment on “Is Proteus a game — and if not, who cares?“)

“I asked my class, after they played Proteus, whether they thought it was a game. They all said \’yes\’. Why? \’Because we just played it\’.

So its a game, then.” Chris Bailey (Comment on “WHAT ARE GAME“)

“Proteus sounds like it is primarily a toy. Like most toys, it’s not about what the toy is capable of per se, it’s more about what the user can figure out to do with the toy. If you watch kids play with their toys, the toys are just props facilitating some sort of pretend-play.

The controversy around these products is muddled because of the demand that they be referred to as games. If you approach them expecting an actual game, you’re going to be disappointed. If you approach them without this expectation, you might enjoy them, if you’re into what they’re offering.

The definition of the word “game” has been around far longer than computers. We need to stop trying to force the definition of the term to expand to fit products that have nothing to do with the word.” Matt Robb (Comment on “Opinion: It’s totally OK to not like ‘anti-games’“)

“One of the remarkable things a game can offer is the ability to get lost in a world–to go on journeys, to explore. Few games can truly capture the idyllic, child-like magic of a good saunter–most of the time, traveling is a means to get somewhere, to do something. It’s utilitarian, or unremarkable.” Patricia Hernandez

“Finally, I’m not feeling brought down by this whole argument, though it’s regrettable to me that Proteus is being used as such a prominent example. We’ve had such an amazing wave of nice messages and good write-ups that the number of people who dislike it feels irrelevant. From a practical point of view, it looks like it should make enough in sales to pay for development time on a new project. After a long and uncertain development, and a very stressful January, it feels amazingly freeing.” Ed Key, designer of Proteus.

2 comments

  1. I still believe that Proteus is a game. Like Chris Bailey says, “because you can play it”. From the mouths of babes as they say.

    I think I’d be a little bit more hesitant about calling it a game if you couldn’t follow it through the seasons and finish an island. If it had no beginning, middle, and end, then I’d say it wasn’t a game – I mean if it was just pushing a virtual camera about a pixel landscape, that would be more like an interactive generative 3D model. Games have narrative, and this game definitely has a narrative, albeit subtle.

    Apart from anything, the fact that you CAN play – that they’ve put effort into the environment design, animal inhabitants, and dynamic music and sounds – definitely makes it a game for me. I think there just needs to be a new “exploration” genre or something to define games like these.

    1. I agree with you, but I also thought Dear Esther and The Stanley Parable were games too. Yet, the minds of many other people, none of those, including Proteus, are games though. They associate points and some type of zero-sum win or lose state with what a “game” is.

      It’s more than a little amusing to me to argue this again anyway. Johan Huizinga tried to define what “play” and “game” were in his book Homo Ludens. It came out in 1955. At the time, there were no videogames, nor much of a digital anything. Yet, he was looking at play-elements across cultures and throughout the world.

      Then, of course, there is The Grasshopper written by Bernard Suits in 1978. He too tries, seemingly without having read Huizinga’s work, in trying to define both terms again. His main tact was to use a framestory and to make the very reading experience itself an overall “game” as the readers tries to follow plot and evolving definitions.

      My point, and that which I wish those that took to comment spaces to snipe at Ed and his work would learn, is that this debate is OLD. It pre-dates the so-called digital era and, as is my guess, will be with us for a very long time. As long as we are debating the topic, it leaves room for projects to be questioned, analyzed, and discussed.

      But mostly, yeah, I agree that if is there is a decision-response dynamic to the artifact, then it might be a game. Of course, throwing out terms like cybertext, hypertext, or even textual database complicates all that. In the end though, yeah, games are played.

Comments are closed.