Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monthly Game Club: Gravitation Discussion

This week in the Monthly Game Club, we're discussing Gravitation, a very short game about mania, melancholia, and the creative process, made by Jason Rohrer. If you haven't already played it, you can get it here. The game takes eight minutes to play through once and it's a small file that is completely free to download, so give it a couple playthroughs and come on back for the discussion.

Here are some questions to get us started:

1. What were your first thoughts about what to do when you started the game? How quickly did you learn the mechanics and figure out what to do in the game?

2. How did you balance playing ball with the child and exploring the space? What were the results?

3. Did your actions result in any unexpected or compelling results? Tell the story of your playthrough of the game.

4. How accurately do you feel the mechanics represent the creative process, and the balance between work and spending time with friends/family? How accurately did it represent mania and melancholia?

5. Would you pay for independent games like these? What do Gravitation and Passage do well that other game developers should study?
As always, feel free to discuss anything, and don't limit yourself to the questions presented here. Comment away!


  1. The first time I played this game, I was incredibly over-ambitious. I played with the kid a little bit, then started trying to collect the various stars around the level. I collected a lot, so many, in fact, that I had a lot of trouble pushing them into the fire. Some of them disappeared before I could get them in there. (This is one of my favorite metaphors in the game, about the difficulty of fitting a lot of good ideas into one creative project.)

    One time, when I climbed particularly high in the search for new ideas, when I returned, the child was gone. I paused, looking around for evidence of where she had gone, but found none.

    The second play through, I played conservatively, only ever grabbing a few stars at a time. I also played with the child a lot more, and as the clock wound down at the end of the game, I stayed with her to play, and ended the game just playing and enjoying her company. I'd accomplished more, with my modest aspirations, and I felt more of a sense of peace and happiness as the screen faded to black.

    What an amazing game.

  2. At first I was annoyed at how little I could see, but as I explored and began to play with the child that changed, and I enjoyed bouncing the "ball" back and forth. It didn't take me long to figure out the mechanics in terms of interacting with the experience at all.

    My first few times of playing I really wanted to explore the world above. I would play with the child for as long as I needed to before returning upwards to see what I could find. Eventually I spent more time with the child since I found that doing so gave me more "creative fire" with which to explore. When I brought so many stars down to feed into the fire, I had trouble really making them fit and getting them to work since I was balancing fitting them and playing with the child. I didn't want to ignore the child, but I really wanted to up my score and get as many stars into the fireplace as possible.

    In every playthrough I ended up ignoring the child so much that she would be gone, which saddened me, but my score was also really high. It was so interesting how the absence of my pixelated friend and my higher score made me feel, that I would gladly pay for this experience.

  3. One of the things that impresses me the most about Jason Rohrer's games is the narrative that results from a playthrough of each game. After five to eight minutes of play, almost everyone walks away with a unique, personal story of their experience. I'm just consistently impressed by how interesting I find hearing other people's experiences with these games. There are enough options open, even within such a simple framework, that the results are impressively open-ended.

  4. That's definitely true. It's interesting because you have these cemented paradigms about what player choice should be in a video game - GTA, Fallout, Spiderman 2, etc. - but the sort of choices presented in those sort of games don't support any kind of meaningful experience. They're built to ensure the player has a lot of fun, and any aspect of the experience is laid to the side as part of that assurance.

    Rohrer's games work around that same sort of paradigm of player choice, but what makes them artistic is they take those parameters of player choice and fit them into something meaningful where the interaction will reveal something or teach the player about the envrionment; choices made in Gravitation explore an idea and give a player an experience they can't really get anywhere else; choices made in Fallout 3 enable a scripted series of animations and boil down to stat-boosts or yes or no answers, zero sum games.

    Rohrer takes the idea of player choice and does something meaningful with it, which, by itself, deserves applause.

  5. Choices in Jason Rohrer's games are so much more compelling, I think, because the games are actually open-ended. Besides a beginning and ending to the game, so much of what you do and the narrative that results is completely your own.

    In the other games you mentioned, like GTA and Fallout, there are some things that you can go do at any point in the game, but ultimately the main course of the game is scripted for you. If you ever intend to deal with the main plot line, it plays out in pretty much the same way for everyone. A few choices here and there, perhaps, but nothing close to the variety of experience possible in these tight little packages that Jason Rohrer presents.

    Maybe that's only possible in the simple, short format that Jason Rohrer uses, though. It would be pretty tough to provide a proportionately wide set of possibilities in a full-length game.

  6. I agree. I've never finished any of the main quest in Fallout because I don't care. It's just like watching a little movie that I'm only tangentially apart of. I'm more like an actor, not a director. That's not a game. I want to be the director.

    That's why I think I really like Gravitation, because of what you and I are both saying here: the player is the narrator, he or she creates the narrative of the experience. There are certain structures to ensure that experience is meaningful, true, but I'd take it over Fallout anyday.

  7. Also, I don't have the smarts to realize how a "full-length" version of a Jason Rohrer game would look like - perhaps he'll show us with his upcoming DS title - but if nothing else, Braid has shown us it is possible to give a large, encompassing experience with rich artistic worth.

  8. Of course, Jason Rohrer games are the full length that he intends them to be, and that they should be. "Full-length" is a bit of a misnomer. I am very excited to see what comes out of a retail release from Jason Rohrer, regardless.

    Thanks, Parker Scott, for making this an interesting and insightful discussion!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.