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Fun + Games at Indie Essentials

A couple of weeks ago my partner, kid, kid’s pal, and I piled into the car and drove to Queens to see the Indie Essentials exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s a fantastic exhibit of playable games: 25 videogames + 1 tabletop game in a huge gallery space.

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While my kid and his pal gravitated towards (and stayed stuck to) the fun frantic team-based game Killer Queen Arcade, I wandered through the exhibit in what was (predictably) a vain attempt to play everything I’d never played before. Some games I stuck with for only a few minutes: I was frustrated by the many inputs for QWOP (is everyone? seems likely), and while I enjoyed the aesthetic of SlashDash the gameplay involves too many buttons pushed too quickly for my middle-aged reaction time. It was amazing to see Minecraft projected onto an enormous screen — I spent some time just watching kids of various ages playing in the pixelated snow. And there were a couple of other multiplayer games that I had to pass up, either because they were too crowded or because I couldn’t drag my kid away from Killer Queen Arcade to play with me.

Reflecting on the visit later, I realized that the games I spent the most time with all had a strong narrative component. I started with a couple of quick plays through Passage, which was both fun as projected onto the wall, and frustrating because I pretty much never ever want to play a game as a white male. For an interesting take on teaching with Passage I recommend reading Zach Whalen of the University of Mary Washington’s post Using “Passage” to Think about Cultural Privilege.

I spent a fair amount of time playing Gone Home, The Path, Porpentine’s Twine Compilation, and Kentucky Route Zero. What I found attractive in each of these are the elements of exploration, discovery, and research — not too surprising for an academic librarian, for sure. These elements combine to create a narrative as you play through the game. Though in the context of the exhibit it was also interesting that you’re forced to play in a very non-linear way: dropped into the game at the point at which the last visitor stopped playing, figuring things out as you go.

Because my visit came so soon after the CUNY Games Festival I spent much of my time at the exhibit thinking about how the games (or the mechanics they feature) could be used for teaching. Some of the games could be used as texts — students could be asked to play through and discuss or reflect on the game’s content and play. Others are good models for games students could make, in Twine, for example. And I wonder whether even the games that are just games, without any obvious educational content or application, might be useful. Could Spaceteam be a fun and low-risk way to encourage a sense of teamwork in student groups in a course?

More than anything it was awesome to have the opportunity to see and play lots of different games. The exhibit closes on March 2, and if you’re in the NYC region and haven’t taken it in yet, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Image by IndieCade.