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Jordan Magnuson's picture

A couple of weeks ago I brought my Gametrekking project to completion with the release of a downloadable collection of all the travel-inspired sketches I’ve created to date. I thought I’d go ahead and copy my retrospective blog post over here. 

What about my writing? Will I start reviewing games again, now that the Gametrekking project is over? I’m thinking about it. Meanwhile, here’s my retrospective:

Today I am releasing the Gametrekking Omnibus, a downloadable collection of all of my Gametrekking creations to date. It is my tenth release of the Gametrekking project, and it will also be my final "official" release.

Gametrekking Omnibus splash screen

The omnibus includes an interface that lets you browse through all of my creations by country, some built-in slideshows to provide context, links to my written reflections, and new fullscreen versions of all my games and notgames.

To download the Gametrekking Omnibus For Windows:

  • Download and run the native exe installer. Note that you need to be connected to the internet during installation, and it may take a while if you do not already have Adobe Air installed.

To download the Gametrekking Omnibus For Mac OS:

  1. Download and install Adobe Air from http://get.adobe.com/air.
  2. Download and run the Gametrekking Omnibus air file.

Gametrekking Omnibus screenshot

This is going to be the final official release of the Gametrekking project, because it’s been two years since the project launched, I’ve clearly finished "the journey proper," and a downloadable collection of the work I’ve managed to produce so far seems like as good a place to wrap things up as any. I say this is the "official" end of Gametrekking, because I see the project continuing on indefinitely in some sense… It seems certain that I will keep traveling into the future in some capacity or another, and that I will continue to experiment with interactive sketches and notgames about the things that impact me. But still, I think the Kickstarter project deserves some kind of closure, and that’s what I’ve tried to create with this downloadable collection.

When I launched this project two years ago on Kickstarter I didn’t know if I was going to be able to successfully fund it, but was soon amazed by the support and generosity of the family members, friends, internet acquaintances, and complete strangers who pledged their support, and made this thing a reality.

Once the project was funded, I still didn’t know if it was going to be a success or not—or even how to judge it as such. All I had was a backpack, a half-formed itinerary of shoestring travel through a few countries in Asia, and a vague plan to make interactive sketches about the things that impacted me along the way—to try and use experimental computer games as a kind of "travel writing," whatever that would mean.

The journey turned out to be incredibly challenging—but also incredibly rewarding. I struggled to fulfill my naïve promise of making computer games from the road while attempting to balance the day-to-day requirements of independent travel (where I seldom knew where I would be spending the night from one day to the next, much less whether I would have access to the internet), but the experiences I had along the way, and the people I met, more than made up for the difficulties. Hitching a ride with some fishermen on Taiwan’s east coast; seeing the Killing Fields of Cambodia with my own eyes; discussing the merits of Facebook with a college student in the Mekong Delta… these are experiences that I would not trade for anything.

Hitchhiking in Taiwan

Hitchhiking on Taiwan’s East Coast.

But still I am left with the question, as the project draws to a close, of whether Gametrekking was a "success." On a personal level I can look back and see that my life has been irreversibly enriched by my travels and my coding; I tried to capture some of the ways in my travel writing. Which is fine and well, but I don’t want to conflate the project with the journey (however hard it is to separate the two in my mind): the journey was personal, but the project was funded, and of a corporate nature. The question is complicated by the fact that I never defined what "success" for Gametrekking would look like, as such. Partly this was, perhaps, an oversight, but partly it was the nature of the beast: the entire venture has always existed as a kind of "leap of faith," both for myself, and for my backers—a project of possibility, of seeing what would come of a crazy, uncertain idea.

Does one consider success quantitatively, or qualitatively? When I think in terms of quantity, I cannot help but be disappointed: I wish I had a hundred creations to show for my efforts, rather than ten small offerings. I think of all the failed prototypes, and consider mounting them for display, to create a bigger catalog: I wanted to make something for every country that I traveled through, after all, and if I published my failed experiments, I could get there, and then some. But I cannot do it, because I cannot see this thing as an attempt to make a flash game for every country in Asia, like some kind of bizarre interactive Lonely Planet collection. Rather, the games have always been about expressing something personal, for me, even though they are merely sketches and doodles. And so I struggle more than I should with each one, and throw too many prototypes away, and come back too often empty-handed.

Prototype screenshot

An early prototype for "The Great Moped Balancing Act", one of many creations I never published.

Still, I can try and point to other numbers in an attempt at vindication: I can say that my Gametrekking creations, while few, have together been played nearly half a million times, that they have appeared on the front page of Newgrounds, been featured in Wired and EGMi, been used for psychology research…

But such claims ring hollow. If the goal of Gametrekking were big numbers, then making sketchy notgames about the kindness of strangers, or visiting your grandmother’s tomb, becomes a laughable waste of time.

Slightly more to the point, perhaps, is the "why" behind the figures: the fact that Newgrounds creator Tom Fulp found two of my sketches interesting enough to feature on his front page despite the fact that they are light-years away from the fare his audience is typically expecting, to expose them to something different. Or the fact that the folks at Extra Credits considered my small notgame "Loneliness" worthy of spearheading two episodes of their show, as a glimpse of something interactive creations should strive for. Or the fact that Patrick Klepek wrote up "The Killer" for Giant Bomb, because he found it a breath of fresh air in a world of "power fantasy" video games. This kind of qualitative assessment is a measure of success that I am vaguely interested in.

But we’re largely still in the land of vainglory. I enjoy a little spotlight as much as the next person, but I hope it’s not why I do what I do, and as such, I’m not willing to accept it as a measure of success.

What’s left?

Just the regular people who play my games, and the notes I get from them. A lot of these are negative. A lot of them tell me to go do something hateful to myself, because I’ve wasted somebody’s time. But every once in a while I get a message like this one regarding "Freedom Bridge":

I just registered on this forum to tell you that this was one of the most intense interactive experiences I’ve ever had. I went on and watched some short documentaries about Korea afterwards in order to process the tension it had left me with.

Or this one in response to "The Killer":

I have seldom experienced such raw emotion from a video game. I have traveled to a few of the places featured in your games and learnt a small proportion of their history in the process. however, after playing each game I had to research more and more and more. Thank you for making such simplistic and emotionally provoking games!

Or this one, about "Grandmother":

Unforgettable. Simple and stunning. Kinda reminds you not to forget about the one’s you’ve lost.

Or this one, posted on the Newgrounds page for "The Heart Attack":

Something I’d like to say… Jordan, your ‘notgames’ have done something. They hack and slash at the curtains we put up to shield ourselves from the ugly truth. That in reality, evil is decided by the individual. Among other messages. This, and your other games have a simple brutality, depressing and dark. But it’s also deeply informative and touching. They’ve given true insight on the human range of emotions, I’d say. I know that these short notgames you create bring out the best in my character. Make me sad, make me happy and many times, severely upset. I know I’ve learned from you, as many others could say they have. So please, keep on trekking. I want to learn more.

Or this one, about "Loneliness":

Thank you for that gaming experience… I had to get an account JUST so I can thank you for it… somewhere when the dots were slowing down, I said to myself, "I don’t want to go near them… I don’t want them to leave too" and I honestly Cried. I have never had to set the metaphysical controller down, and take in that level of emotion. I then realized that the game was called "Loneliness", and I started to reach back into my own memories of not being able to fit in at school, and then I realized that I needed to try ONE least time. The same thing happened in Life, and I am currently married to the only Girl that wouldn’t reject me, in the end of all that loneliness. I, again, thank you for that wonderful experience. Thank you… SO MUCH for this moment of self-reflection.

Or this one on, "Status Quo’s" Newgrounds page:

Taiwan… That is my home…!! Thank you for making such a project about our precious little island. I really appreciate it.^^

Or this one, in response to "The Kindness of Strangers":

Wonderful story, it’s almost surreal. Being born and raised in the more impoverish parts of the states, the only thing I’ve ever known from people is deception, greed, and hatred.

I don’t post these here for a whoop-dee-doo congratulations, or a pat on the back. I post them to share with you honestly why I consider the Gametrekking project to have been a success. I post them for those of you who backed my project, and wanted it to come to something.

Ultimately, regardless of how many games I make, I have to ask myself why I’m making them; if there’s not a good reason, I don’t care if I’ve made ten or a hundred. I find the numbers, whether of games, or of plays, to be abstract and meaningless in and of themselves. Likewise, the front-page mentions and five minutes of fame quickly fade. It’s comments like the ones above that keep me going. At the end of the day I don’t care about the ratio of negative comments to positive ones: only that the positive ones exist. In my mind, if my Gametrekking creations got one person to look up the conflict between North and South Korea, got one person to remember their grandmother, got one person to believe that Taiwan’s a real place, or got one person to reflect on the nature of isolation, then the project was a success. So I have to consider it a success. I can’t force my definition on anyone else, but I do hope that my backers will agree with me.

It’s been a wonderful journey, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

-Jordan

Why are we playing computer games, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the interactive artist isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the programmer-creator renew our hope for the interactive medium? Why are we playing computer games if not in hope that the creator will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?

What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.

(Adapted from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life

Beyond Korea: Kickstart me on a new journey screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

It looks like my time in Korea will be coming to a close soon. I’ve had an amazing time here, teaching English, meeting people, having experiences, writing about and making computer games… and I’ll be sad to leave. I’m also excited, though, for what the future might hold. My current plan, for when I leave Korea is to do some extended traveling throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. 

That’s exciting in and of itself, but what really has me stoked is the idea of attempting to communicate my experiences while traveling through computer games: of using computer games as a form of travel writing, if you will. You may have noticed that I’ve already been pursuing this idea to some extent with Freedom Bridge, Being There, and Loneliness: my recent notgames about Korea.

To my surprise these creations have gotten a fairly warm welcome (especially Freedom Bridge, which made its way around Twitter and the blogosphere), and now I’m looking at pursuing “travel games” in a more extensive fashion.

This is where you come in. I know that I’m going to travel when I leave Korea, because I know that I can fund the travel by doing web design while on the road. But that won’t give me much time for making games. So I’ve started a Kickstarter project to see if I can’t raise enough funding to allow me to focus on game creation while traveling, instead of web design. 

So I’m asking you to watch my intro video, check out my project website, GameTrekking.com, and consider making a contribution if you think it’s worth it. I don’t know that I’ll make anything great, or memorable, but I’m going to give it my sweat and blood—I’m excited to try and use the interactive medium in a way that it hasn’t been used before, and see what happens. 

Thank you always for taking an interest in this website, and my work.

Where Things Stand screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

A quick update to let everyone know what’s going on with this site, and with me

You may have noticed that there haven’t been a lot of articles/reviews lately, and that I’ve been posting more of my own games. The reason for this, unsurprisingly, is that I’ve been more focused on game creation the last few months than I have on playing and reviewing. A while back I said that I was hoping to get into a more consistent writing schedule, but as I’ve reassessed my priorities and my available time, it has become clear that that isn’t going to happen—at least not right now. 

This doesn’t mean that I’m through writing: I plan to keep writing game reviews and articles for the foreseeable future—I just can’t promise you a consistent or frequent schedule. I’m busy with a large web development project, and all of my “free time” is currently being spent on my own game design projects. Speaking of which… Read more »

Apologies, etc. screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

To my dear NG readers: just wanted to apologize for the lack of content of late. I’ve been fairly busy recently, and have let my writing slip. I’ve been working on a number of small games, among other things, and have two mostly-finished projects that just need to be polished up a bit before I release them. I also have two web design jobs that are needing attention at the moment, and am in the process of teaching myself Python and C++ in order to complete yet another game for a rather tight deadline at the end of March. Once that’s out of the way I’ll be able to turn my attention to finishing a couple of games I’ve been playing, and writing the articles I’ve been eager to write for a while.

Come April, I’m also going to focus on creating a more consistent update schedule for this website… perhaps a consistent by-weekly article to start, and maybe even weekly down the road. 

So thank you for your patience. If you’ve been visiting NG by browser to check for new updates, I’d suggest you subscribe to get email or RSS updates instead (or Twitter, or Facebook), so that you can be notified automatically when a new article is available. 

Finally, just for fun and kicks, I’ve uploaded a couple of my old games to the “My Games” page (hence the header you see above), so knock yourself out with those.

Calamity Anna's Shootin' Starcade: Six Glorious Trainwrecks screenshot

Calamity Anna's Shootin' Starcade

Game released: 2009

Developer: Anna Anthropy

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I’d like to share with you today a few games that were made in two hours each. You read that right. Two Hours each. But why on earth would I do such a thing? Can a game that’s made in two hours possibly be worth playing, much less writing about and encouraging others to play? My short answer is of course yes, and the reason is this: some games can only be made in two hours.

What do I mean? I mean that some games, if they are to be good games, require weeks, or months, or years of effort and dedication to produce (granted, I haven’t actually played many games that have taken years to produce that I would actually consider very good, but you know, it’s a theory: we can perhaps imagine an inspiring triple-A title). Other games require not to have that time, because there is nothing for them to do with it. I’ve used the novel/haiku/sentence analogy before, and I’ll use it again: some games are analogous to novels in their scope and their ambition, while other games are more akin to short poems, sentences, or even singular words. We need these shorter games, just as we need the longer ones because, as Ian Bogost expressed two years ago in an article he wrote for Gamasutra, we need games of every shape and every form, expressing every kind of thing. Read more »

Jordan Magnuson's picture

Just a quick announcement to let you know that I’ve implemented a new comment system on the site. Avatars are here, and you can now optionally log in to leave comments using your OpenID, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. Also, when you get email notifications to threads, you can now reply to the thread directly through email without even visiting the site! Pretty cool huh? All courtesy of Disqus. The old comments will remain up for now, and as soon as the functionality is available (currently in development) I will import them into the new system.

Secondly, I’ve set up a guestbook, for all you people nostalgic for the 1990’s . I know that some people like to read but don’t leave comments, so here’s your chance to let me know who you are, so we can start to develop a little sense of community. No more reviews until you sign. Cheers.

Academic Paper Revisited, Episode 1: Attack of That Darned Question! screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

A paper I wrote in 2005 for an undergraduate Aesthetics class, in which I examine that clichéd question: can video games be art? The question is addressed here specifically in the context of art history and art theory. To that end I briefly analyze video games from the perspectives of mimetic theory, formalism, art as play, deconstructionism, art as political platform, the Artworld theory, and the theory of aesthetic experience. The style is necessarily academic, and I hope that my reader will not hold that against me.

It is perhaps obvious, but should be noted that my views have changed somewhat in the four years that have passed since I wrote this. I still think it serves as a decent launching point from which to think about games and art, however, especially in the broader context of art theory. And that is why I have bothered to transpose it.

The paper begins thusly:

It’s 2:00 A.M. Saturday morning, January 29th, 2005. Artist/Entrepreneur/Game Designer Derek Yu sits on the floor of his San Francisco apartment with a paintbrush in one hand and a joystick in the other; I’m halfway across the country conducting an interview via Microsoft Messenger. “Why make games?” echoes Derek, “Because to make a game is to create a world. More so than a book, a painting, or a movie, a game is something where the creator has complete control over the rules. And for a creative person, you can’t ask for a better opportunity.”

It’s 2:00 A.M. and my senses are starting to fade—did someone just compare making video games to painting and writing? I have to go to bed.

Ten hours of blissful sleep later and the interview feels like a dream: video games are video games, art is art, and that is that—all is right with the world. For two weeks. At which time an innocent friend tells me about Sanitarium, a “serious” computer adventure game that I just have to play. The game engages me, frightens me, and leaves me in emotional tatters—at which point I recall Derek’s words. Could this game be art? Surely not, but perhaps I should look into the possibility—just in case.

And now my world comes crashing down. Upon “looking into it” I find that far from being alone, Derek is only one of many people who seem to be on a veritable crusade to validate video games as art objects. I find websites dedicated to game art, museums featuring “art games,” and academic papers discussing video game aesthetics… what in the world is going on? Read more »

Life in a Bottle screenshot

Passage

Game released: 2007

Developer: Jason Rohrer

Production: Independent

Platforms: Linux, Mac OS X, Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: TIGdb
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Passage is a very short art game about life and death and the passage of time. It is intended to be played before you read anything about it, so I would highly recommend that you download and play the game if you have not yet done so. It will take you about five minutes, and is very much worth the time.

Since Rohrer summarizes the game well, I won’t waste time rephrasing:

Passage represents life’s challenges with a maze. The screen geometry only allows you to view a narrow slice of this maze at any given moment. You can see quite a distance out in front of you (and, later in life, behind you), but you can’t see anything to the north or south. You may see a reward up ahead but not be able to see a clear path to it. In fact, after a bit of exploration, you may discover that a seemingly nearby reward is in fact unreachable.

Approaching the Game

Like most art games, Passage has met with a variety of reactions. Because it has become particularly famous, those reactions have been especially strong. Many people have found the game to be quite profound, while many others have turned up their noses at Rohrer and this effort, claiming it is pretentious at best, and a piece of dog poo at worst (well, actually, that’s not the worst). Read more »

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