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Weekly Time Waster: Love & Loneliness

The emotional responses typically associated with video games are fairly limited: excitement, fear, frustration...aggression? A player is rarely driven to jump over fireballs because of a true empathetic love for "the princess" (or maybe we're just the heartless exception). The whole "video games as art" argument has placed some emphasis on this lack, and developers have been trying to expand their emotional palettes, either through evocation or exploration.

Months ago, Loneliness came out as a simple browser "art game" ("art game" has become a label used both pridefully and derogatorily for games that don't fit the standard expectations of a game).

There's no one to smash to bits, no treasures to be won; instead you move your block ever upward and watch the interactions it causes with the groups of other blocks along the way. They scatter, they stop moving, they turn whatever cold shoulder a block is capable of -- you're never allowed to join in their fun. It's a simple but effective experience, aided by the fact that the focus on these kinds of interactions are novel compared to most other games.

The more recent Love meets more of the expectations of a game (points, high scores, etc...), though again it's a meditation of emotional experience told through interacting blocks. You move your block closer to the others spinning around the screen. Instead of being shunned, you immediately see a bond stretch out to tether you to them. The more "relationships" you have at a time, the more points. But get too close to another block, and you'll be burned: game over. The longer you keep the relationship going, the more ardently the other block will try to inch in on you. And then of course you still have to keep an eye out for the stray encounter that could ruin you. Again a simple premise, easy to control, but in the given context, thought-provoking.

These kinds of explorations of what human emotion can bring to bear on game mechanics have become more and more common and applauded in the development community. Non-browser-based shoot-em-up Solace took home many awards and garnered a lot of press and praise this past year for manipulating the tropes of its genre in an effort to lead the player through the five stages of depression. As the year winds to a close, we are interested to see what 2011 will bring on the emotional-gaming front. We're glad "Don't Shit Your Pants!" is one such emotion that's already behind us.

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