A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Sunday, October 9, 2011

PAX, the Omegathon, and novelty in video games

I love books and documentaries that examine quirky subcultures. The book Word Freak provides a fascinating look inside the world of tournament Scrabble. Murderball was a great film about the players of wheelchair rugby. My favorite quirky documentary though is The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters which dramatizes the competition between two players for the high score in the classic arcade game Donkey Kong.

I've just found an amazing article online called PAX Primer which is the perfect introduction to the quirky subculture that is the Penny Arcade Expo. It covers the origins of the Expo (in case you ever wanted to know how a web comic can spawn a convention dedicated to video games and board games), the growth of video games, and their transition from fringe to mainstream culture.

Earlier this year, I posted about PAX because Bananagrams was an event in the PAX East Omegathon. It turns out that the Omegathon organizers decided to feature Bananagrams in the west coast PAX Omegathon as well. The article says that in the convention program, Bananagrams is described as "like Scrabble, only not boring and for old people".

It later goes on to discuss a few computer games which I might opine are "like video games, only not boring and for old people". The new wave of computer games does not suck you into endless repetition.

Portal is a game where you solve puzzles by shooting two holes on different walls, ceilings, or other surfaces in your environment. These "portals" are connected (as if by a wormhole), so whatever goes in one, comes out the other, with the same momentum. I recently started playing this game and can not get enough of it.

Braid is an even stranger game in which the player gets to control the flow of time. The selling points of the game are listed on the game's web site:
  • Every puzzle in Braid is unique. There is no filler.
  • Braid treats your time and attention as precious.
  • Braid does everything it can to give you a mind-expanding experience.
Braid's programmer, Jonathan Blow, self-financed the game as he coded it over three years as a statement about how video games could and should be different.

Braid does not look like any other computer game. The artwork is great. It was done by the artist behind the surreal web comic A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible. Braid also does not sound like any other computer game. Its atmospheric music helped to win me over.

With the success of these games, even more ambitious games are in the works, on topics such as non-Euclidean geometry (Antichamber) and four-dimensional space (Miegakure).

In a world where video games have become mainstream, it makes sense for a niche to develop for games that emphasize originality. I am glad that quirky subcultures exist to sustain this kind of bold experimentation.