Tea Talk: Experimental Games

I brewed some tea

I saw this game called An Aspie Life on Steam, which is stated to be “an experimental adventure game that deals with the topic of Asperger’s Syndrome”. Naturally, I want to try it. It’s an extremely unusual pitch and it’s for a rather good cause, since it raises awareness for Asperger’s and let people understand it more.

And I got stuck about five minutes in. I have no idea what I did wrong. Since it is in Early Access, I would normally assume that it’s a bug, or just a mistake by the creator. However, the line “as every element of this game recreates how some people with autism perceive the world, therefore all forms of sound, graphics and interactions are intentional” on the Steam store page gave me pause. What if this is intended? What if I got something wrong?

I have vague memories of playing experimental games on Gamejolt and Newgrounds years ago. In those games, gameplay is always slightly edged out as the author is trying to test out some new concept. There is something rather refreshing and almost seductive about such games as you step into the bizarre world the author created.

However, the feeling of not getting it is a rather common thing for me when they don’t grab me. Unless I have a strong feeling that the author is grossly incompetent or just taking the piss, that specter of doubt prevents me from even saying something negative about it. I am so worried about getting something subjective wrong that I literally can’t criticize them.

And no, it’s just not because I’m worried of getting shamed for being wrong. I am extremely worried about wrongly criticizing the author for my own faults and misunderstanding. It feels unfair to doubt someone when I am at fault.

I have heard the sentiment that games should be gameplay first, and that anything that detracts from that is immediately wrong and the author should be ashamed for sacrificing gameplay for any reason. I personally think that is far too extreme an approach. If cutting back on gameplay has a significant purpose, than that should be justified, and maybe even applauded as it is an interesting thing to try.

Of course, if this is done for its own sake, it rightfully deserves all the ire the players can muster. There is being experimental, and there is being pretentious and delusional. And a two-page write-up to justify something only works if that justification itself is sound. otherwise, it’s just going to draw more derision and ridicule.

And here lies the root of my problem. Where should I draw the line? How am I supposed to determine whether a justification is sound or not? After all, there is a degree of subjectivity in this. My standards are going to be different from almost everyone in the world. I mean, I consider Superflight a pretty good game when others might’ve scoffed at its lack of features. Throw in experimentation and all bets are off. Is this deliberate, or was it genuinely a mistake? Is this a sound decision or does the author deserve a slap for such a dumb idea?

I suppose the best I can do is to just try.


By the way, while I absolutely can’t get into it, I do think An Aspie Life is worth a look at. Maybe you can get something out of it.

I finished my tea

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