Proteus, which went on sale on Steam on Wednesday, is the latest art piece to kick up a fuss over whether something deserves to call itself a game. Twitter's self-appointed video game cop has weighed in on the discussion, as have thousands of his deputies in message boards and comments. Now one of Proteus' creators has his say.
"I find this rather burdensome to write," begins Ed Key, who made the game with David Kanaga, and I feel his pain, even though I don't have much interest in his game. Key is responding to this piece on Gamasutra, which said, "It's currently not cool at all to say that you didn't enjoy Proteus, or to even hint at the idea that this isn't one of the most important video game releases of the here and now."
Speaking as a member of the games-writing cabal, I didn't get that memo. But if we're going straw-man here, then I'm going to say this is a basically stupid slapfight perpetuated by the idea that everything in video gaming is a zero-sum proposition, and that the existence of a game one doesn't approve of deprives more meritorious games of praise, attention, money or whatever.
Back to Key. "I don't call Proteus an antigame or a notgame," he said, "I call it a game, but obviously I am at pains to make it clear that it doesn't have explicit challenge or "winning." Key points out that SimCity or The Sims also have been said, by some, to be "not games."
"Proteus doesn't have or even aspire to the same systemic complexity as SimCity, but it does have systems," Key says. "It's just 95 per cent optional whether you engage with them and it generally doesn't give you any confirmation when you do. There's a design reason for this."
There seems to be a larger reason that it's worth standing up to this navel-gazing game/notgame argument. "Outside of academic discussions, encouraging a strict definition of 'game' does nothing but foster conservatism and defensiveness in a culture already notorious for both," Key says. Amen. But this is video gaming, where everyone feels the instant and constant need to express their disappointment in something they never had any intention of playing.
What Are Game [Ed Key, Proteus]