By: Derek Yu

On: March 20th, 2008


I’m a fan of Passage and Gravitation, Jason Rohrer‘s self-described “artgames,” but I know a lot of people find them irritating (to downright reprehensible!). Well, however you feel about the games, perhaps Jason’s new project, a monthly article for Escapist Magazine called “Game Design Sketchbook,” might convince you that the man at least has some interesting ideas!

In his inaugural design sketchbook, Jason brings up a concept that has spelled doom for many a promising game developer – perfectionism – and developed a game around it.

The game itself is fun and I think illustrates the concept pretty well – there were quite a few moments where I felt like I was obtaining some further insight into my own tendencies. However, it’s not a game that I would play too many times over. This is, perhaps, indicative of some sort of failure of Perfectionism as a game… I think if the production was not so sparse it would be more suited for repeated playthroughs.

As a design sketch I think it works pretty well, however.

(Thanks, Heather!)

  • djafwe

    I found this to be one of the most accurate pieces of the article: “Perfectionism is intended to be a self-documenting game design.”

    I downloaded the game and ran it right after I finished reading the first page of his design notebook, before I read the instructions or learned how to play, because I’m impatient like that. It took a little bit of fiddling around (I pressed several keys without any luck), but within a minute or so I understood the gist of it. It’s really nice when gameplay mechanics like that are simple enough to grasp without any sort of tutorial :)

    I noticed I only spent about half a second on several of the levels, glancing over the layout briefly before saying ‘fuck that’ and moving onto the next one. I think that was actually one of the stronger points of the game. Overall, entertaining and somewhat thought-provoking, but as Derek pointed out, rough enough that I probably wouldn’t give it another playthrough for a while.

  • nullerator

    “I’m a fan of Passage and Gravitation, Jason Rohrer’s self-described “artgames,” but I know a lot of people find them irritating (to downright reprehensible!).”

    I find those people irritating.

  • Chris

    Was the impossible level with only two solid squares on different rows and two empty squares on the same row making a point about how unattainable perfection is? This was just after they got really complicated. Suddenly, it looks so simple… but you can’t do anything.

    I’ve got to give him credit for evoking emotion, though in this case, it was frustration. Found his other games emotional in more positive ways.

  • Mischief Maker

    You find the emotions from games about loss, mental illness, and death to be more positive than simple puzzle game frustration???

  • PHeMoX

    Pretty cool indeed!

    Sorry for going off topic here, but take a look at this news-worthy piece of info;

  • mio

    “artgames” = pretentiousness + irritatingness

  • Mischief Maker

    I’m going to re-release the 2600 version of “ET” and declare it art. People all over the net will be discussing the philosophical implications of ET falling into the pit and having to stretch his neck to float out, only to fall back in, like the folly of man. Many will break into tears.

  • BigBossSNK

    You guys need to chill out. It’s just a game, and a prototype at that. If you disagree, dislike, or think the game’s art element is “pretentious” or “a mock up”, no one’s forcing you to play.

  • Jorg

    Oh god! I thought I was the only one who felt that way about ET! It’s great to know that I’m not alone.

    ET…is the most perfect representation of life I have ever played.

  • Corpus

    It’s kinda sad that people can’t even try to think about things, preferring to dismiss them outright as “pretentious” as if the world will shield them from everything they find threatening in the world.

    Would you have the same reaction if people were discussing symbolism and metaphor in a book or film?

    If you would, well, you’re a small-minded idiot and need to STFU.

  • Derek

    I was thinking about it, and it’s kind of apropos that FLaiL and Perfectionism are right next to each other. FLaiL has kind of a similar concept – in that each level has a “perfect” score you could try to achieve, but you can move on without achieving that score (or even beating the level). The difference is that it eventually penalizes you if you move on too quickly (by barring you entry from later zones).

    FLaiL is a much more compelling game, but I probably wouldn’t have thought about it in that way without Perfectionism.

  • mio

    2 Corpus:

    Actually, I played most of those silly “artgames” like Passage or 7 Minutes and found them pretty shallow compared with most of “non-art” games.

    For instance, The Longest Journey is an art game and it’s worth a thousand pretencious indie “projects”.

    I’m not saying there are no good indie games at all. There are few masterpieces like Cave Story, of course…

  • Mischief Maker

    “Would you have the same reaction if people were discussing symbolism and metaphor in a book or film?”

    That depends. Is the film The Matrix: Reloaded?

  • King-n

    I don’t expect these tags to work but here it goes.

    To a good art game needs to incorporate most of the folowing:

    • art style: Retro, Cell shading, Art Deco, Greek Painting, what have you.
    • Interesting story: Deep, Short tale, Implied understanding. Something that gives the game a purpose and grabs the players attention.
    • Original music choices: It has to add to the feel of the game, grant it an emotion that connects the player to the game.
    • Symbolism: Not entirely necessary, but I do like to see it.
    • GOOD GAMEPLAY: Above all the absolute most important part of games of any form; if you don’t incorporate good gameplay you might as well make a movie.

    all IMO.

  • Fishy Boy

    PHeMoX: I was delighted when I read that.

  • Deceth

    Hey, let not start dissing ET! His neck stretching abilities are definitely art-like.

  • mio

    2 King-n:

    According to Concise Oxford English Dictionary, art is “the expression or application of creative skill and imagination, especially through a visual medium”.

    Hence, games are art.

    But the so-called “art games” (usually made in 2-3 weeks by people without imagination) are not.

  • Mischief Maker

    No, no, no. “Imagination” is what art games are all about. You just slap together a game, amd release it with the message:

    “This is a game I wrote as an artistic expression. It kind of has something to do with bowel cancer and tourettes syndrome and something else that I’m not going to tell you. But I’m really not going to explain how the game relates to these things because it’s better that the player comes up with their own interpretation.”

    So then players worldwide play the crappy game trying to connect the dots and puzzle out the hidden “meaning.” And since the meaning is their idea, they love it! Art!

  • ChevyRay

    Awesome conversation..

  • King-n

    Whoops, I meant to say:
    To me a good art game…
    To a good art game…

  • Jason Rohrer


    Because of your reference to it, I just downloaded the demo for “The Longest Journey.”

    What makes you call it an “art game”?

  • mio

    2 Jason Rohrer:

    As I said before, every game is art since every game is a product of skill and imagination.

    My opinion is that The Longest Journey, as a product of skill and imagination, is much better than any indie game ever created.

  • Tim

    You mean Halo 3 is better than any indie game ever created.

  • mio

    2 Tim:

    Halo is a Rip Story cave-off.

  • konjak

    I just want to know why it has become so important that games become art full of hidden expression, and that these games are automatically better in a field named after the act of having just “fun”.

  • DoctorAnus

    I think that dissing projects like Jason’s for the sake of being ”underwhelming” or ”unpolished” (none of these terms used here) is completely missing the point. I prefer to think of these experiments as parts of a coherent whole in construction, bouncing off each other, rather than judging the individual product and moving on. And I definitely think of Perfectionism, in its own modest way, as another right step in an intriguing overall direction.

  • Jason Rohrer

    2 mio:

    Okay, but you’re just going by the dictionary definition. Here’s another dictionary definition that is similar to the one that you presented (this one from Webster):

    “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects”

    But these definitions don’t match another, common use of the word “art,” perhaps closer to what Ebert calls “high art.” The people who claim “games cannot be art” are not saying “games don’t meet the Oxford or Webster definition of art,” because of course games do. What they’re saying is that, “Games don’t satisfy this other definition of art.”

    So what is this other definition? Here is where it gets murky, and no one seems to agree. The best I can come up with is a weak definition that probably encompasses stuff that most people would call art. I.e., this definition is not strong enough to reasonably exclude the other stuff, but perhaps we can all agree that the stuff it includes can reasonably be called art. Here goes:

    Art is the use of a medium to:

    1. successfully explore complex and subtle aspects of the human condition,

    2. give viewers valuable and lasting insights about themselves or the world around them, and/or

    3. leave viewers thinking about a work long after they are done experiencing the work.

    So, if a work does one or more of these things, then it is art. If it does none of these things, it might still be art (because this definition is intentionally weak). I will also admit that this definition is not as tight as it could be, since the points overlap a bit (“giving insights” and “making you think” are similar), but I wanted to include three explicit “paths to art” in the definition to give it a bit of breadth.

    Also, even if we agree on the definition, there will still be disagreement on what works satisfy the definition. I might find that a work made me think about myself in a new way, whereas you may find that the work made you think about nothing. Thus, we’d still have the problem of “art for me” vs. “art for you,” but at least we’d both be using the same definition.

    I’m sure The Longest Journey does some of these things. I suspect, however, that it does them primarily through its linear story line. Thus, The Longest Journey: The Movie, though perhaps less engaging and less “fun,” would have a similar art-effect on you (still make you think in new ways, etc.).

    Perhaps I’m missing something about TLJ… perhaps one of the interactive puzzles triggers 1, 2, or 3 in the players. If so, please give an example so that we can discuss it.

    Anyway, using games to ape movies is not all that interesting to me. I’m more interested in using features that are unique to games to do 1, 2, and 3. And what’s unique to games? Game mechanics and gameplay. Thus, you’ll find no linear story lines at all in my games. The mechanics themselves, and the choices you make as you play, are supposed to invoke 1, 2, and 3. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t. I’m just explaining what I’m trying to do.

    And about games necessarily being “fun.” It seems that this requirement would seriously limit the subjects that games can tackle. We might want to make a game about a painful divorce, but then think “Okay, but how are we going to make it fun?” If it was indeed fun, it wouldn’t feel right—it wouldn’t capture the feeling of a painful divorce. A painful divorce still involves lots of interesting choices, so it could make a very compelling game (a game that you want to keep playing, a game that hooks you for hours, etc.), but the hook would not be the fun-factor.

    And of course, we allow (and expect) books and films to tackle topics like this.

    You might not be interested in a game about a painful divorce. Okay, fair enough. Would you also avoid a movie about the same topic (Kramer vs. Kramer, for example)? Even if you avoid such movies, I suspect that you wouldn’t necessarily say that they somehow fail as movies.

    Saying all games must be “fun” is equivalent to demanding that all movies must be “funny.” In other words, you’re limiting the medium to only one of its possible genres (your preferred genre).

  • konjak

    There should be a website that only says “Shut up about art/not art and think whatever you want” and everyone has to visit it once every day.

  • konjak

    Before there’s an uproar, that was a joke.

  • mio

    Good point.

    The initial purpose of architecture is to provide people with habitation. But that doesn’t make architecture inferior to the “high art” which serves no practical purpose.

    In the same way, games can satisfy our gaming “appetite” but they still can have artistical value.

    Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know.

  • Eponymouse

    *There should be a website that only says “Shut up about art/not art and think whatever you want” and everyone has to visit it once every day.*


    *I just want to know why it has become so important that games become art full of hidden expression, and that these games are automatically better in a field named after the act of having just “fun”.*

    I reply to your comment with a bulleted list!

    1. It isn’t about hiding expression, really. It’s not like Rohrer’s games, for example, are very obfuscated. They have a very direct symbol -> meaning relationship, AND descriptions of what they mean.

    2. I don’t think anyone is pushing this point. People talking about ‘art games’ doesn’t mean they’re saying art games are better than gamey-game-games it’s different goals which is why I think we see friction about this in the community. However, can you see how a game which is *also* an expression about life, the universe, or whatever might be somewhat more enriching for the player?

    3. Does it matter what the field is named for fun? Would you let that determine what you want to do with the medium? The fact is we call pretty much anything on a computer that’s interactive and has graphics a game no matter what the creator’s intent is. The vocabulary isn’t really advanced enough to now to accommodate diverse goals.

    Sorry for the disproportionate response konjak, but your comment held some really common sentiments that I wanted to reply to.

  • Prio

    My take on this subject will forever be as follows:

    “art”: a word which people throw around as if it has a great deal of definite meaning and importance. Has little-to-no real definition besides that which each individual person pulls out of their ass.

    “great gameplay”: a phrase which people throw around as if it has a great deal of definite meaning and importance. Has little-to-no real definition besides that which each individual person pulls out of their ass.

    hugs and kisses <3

  • King-n

    How arrogant of you Prio.

    Gameplay: The controll of the game and how it plays out.

    Great Gameplay: The FUN control of the game and how it plays out.

    I believe that’s somewhere around the correct definition. However, I would like to see other definitions and see how they compare.

  • BigBossSNK

    It’s interesting how closed-minded you are.

    Were someone to provide you with a definition for both terms that you can’t find fault with, your “forever constant” stance would change.

  • mio

    I’m bisexual.

  • BigBossSNK

    King, I’ve already given my definition of gameplay as direct or indirect control over the game world state.

    I don’t include “how the game plays out”, cause that’s the story that the gameplay creates, an element of design.

    Without getting technical, to the extend that you don’t control the story, the story is a (literary / visual / audio etc.) component beyond your influence, a part of design.

  • konjak

    Eponymouse, I was just saying these fights seem more about convincing people than accepting their tastes.

    And, of course, I am more a fan of traditional games. :)

  • Prio

    Let me know when you come up with The Correct Definitions

    And have some interesting xoxoxs