But I’m Not Even Married: My Divorce

By John Walker on September 7th, 2010 at 12:00 am.

Take that, Gears Of War 3.

EA’s Rod Humble, as we well know, likes to turn his hand to artistic expression through games. The first of these was The Marriage, which attempted to express something of the nature of a relationship through simple abstract shape and movement. Brett Douville has responded, some years later, with My Divorce.

Douville explains,

I chose to represent my thoughts in as close a manner to Humble’s as I could; I have a lot of interests in games, and one of them is the way in which games specifically speak to the games that preceded them. Here, I adapted many bits from “The Marriage” — most obviously, the visual representation, which I reproduced more or less whole-cloth, but also some of the gestural control. The background colors change in much the same way, though the meanings of the colors chosen are different. The game has similar endings, and those endings have similar meanings.

So have a look, and either be intrigued, or angry that it exists. In the game’s notes is an interesting comment I’m going to repeat here:

Exploring and sharing your own divorce, or what might occur in the case of divorce, is both welcome and encouraged. While not all scenarios can be represented, many can.

“If you are interested in exploring your own divorce, or other settings, many of the settings of the game can be exported to an XML file by pressing Ctrl+W. You may read in the same file by pressing Ctrl+R. Either of these will stop any current playing game and return it to the title. At any time you can return the game to its original settings by quitting the application and restarting. The application sets some limits which are described in the XML file.

“You may also share settings with others by using standard copy and paste functions. Ctrl+C will take your current settings and put them in a condensed text format in the Windows Clipboard. You may then paste this text into other applications (email, web browsers) via those applications’ paste keys, if available. Ctrl+V will paste the same snippets of text into “my divorce” and return the game to the title screen.”

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34 Comments »

  1. negativedge says:

    The Marriage is the worst video game I have ever played.

    • Brumisator says:

      Way to earn your name.

      It’s a game that has to be played directly at the 2nd or 3rd degree. It sucks if you jsut see the coloured blobs moving around.

    • negativedge says:

      no, it sucks any way you slice it. is this “second or third degree” some mode I am unaware of?

      It is a game that plays like shit, offers no anything, and is so “artistic” that its creator felt the need to explain his stumbling missive in the readme he desperately wanted everyone to read. it’s not well designed, it has nothing to say, it conveys no sense of anything.

      and it’s ugly.

      but you can keep thinking it gave you some transcended understanding of the nature of human relationships

    • Frodo says:

      For a game that has so disappointed you, it’s surprising you would care enough to spell out your criticisms of it. Is it really “the worst videogame” you’ve ever played? Have you really played so few games in your lifetime that this obscure one is suddenly the worst?

    • negativedge says:

      On the contrary, my lazy friend, it seems to me the worst games have quite a bit to teach us! The idea that one should be chastised for enunciating the reasons behind his opinions and evaluations is so thick I can’t help but chuckle. Surely, I’d reproached even more harshly for sticking my view out into the wild without any qualification whatsoever, yes?

      I suppose you advocate we remain in silence. Certainly a sound bit of advice for one so hopeless as yourself.

    • positivend says:

      You know the way that teenagers use superfluously complex vocabulary in response to any criticism of their written opinion? Particularly with regards to contention in an academic forum?

      It’s called the negative edge

    • John Walker says:

      “but you can keep thinking it gave you some transcended understanding of the nature of human relationships”

      Negative – it’s peculiar that you’re being this wrong. Surely you can’t be so close-minded and ignorant as to think that your response to something is the valid response? If someone does take something away from it (and unlike others of Rod’s games, The Marriage never worked for me) then surely that’s meaningful?

      It surprises me that you’re conflating your finding this to be the game you’ve liked the least, with its being wrong for someone to take something from it. You can, and I’m sure you might, argue why it falls short of what you believe it should have achieved. I might do the same. But to hear you say that someone else’s positive experience with it is invalid is just plain weird.

      I may think that Melissa & Joey is one of the worst, most lazy, and frighteningly acted sitcoms of all time. I may be right about all those things. But if someone else gains pleasure from it, I may think them a simpleton, but it doesn’t make their pleasure invalid, and the programme therefore isn’t worthless.

      (Please let me add that I’m not comparing The Marriage to Melissa & Joey. I have just never managed to properly understand or relate to The Marriage, while Melissa & Joey is like seeing close family members murdered by a shovel, with sentimental music.)

    • panther says:

      Ergo, Vis a Vis, Concordently

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      While art requires an emotional response emotional response != Good Art, at least to my mind good art requires a uniqueness that the lazy effort of the marriage is incapable of providing.

    • Sulkdodds says:

      What, it wasn’t a ‘unique’ experience among other videogames? Its gentle mouse-wafting, limited agency and Shklovskian difficulty curve were too conventional? I think the game gets a pretty mean rap. As far as art goes, so many of its definitions have had to give ground: talk about representation and along come the modernists and then proper abstract art; talk about inspiring emotion or empathising with human experience and Bertold Brecht or Harold Pinter will want a word with you. The only definition that’s ever going to hold fast is a methodological one: art situates its elements in meaningful relation to each other, even if that relation is actually a meaningful opposition (e.g. deliberate dissonance). The Marriage is very clearly both using its game rules to make a statement about a ‘real’ subject, and using its aesthetics to make a statement about other games. Indeed the aesthetics probably contribute to the subject too, by deliberately eschewing all particulars. It’s art.

      Whether it’s GOOD art is another matter. It’s certainly quite simple and its potential meaning is quickly exhausted. On the other hand it took a few weeks to make and was intended as an example to other designers. And there is something to it. Given the crude prompt of the title, it makes a coherent if simple statement about what a marriage is ‘like’ and how it ‘feels’ (in terms of understanding rather than emotion) even before one reads the explanation. In fact the statement may not be as simple as some say due to subtler mechanics which Hubmel doesn’t explain – like the fact that acts which are neutral in other games (merely waving your cursor over something) have an effect on the game, so that giving something attention (or not paying enough attention to what you are doing) are meaningful acts. Moreover its abstractness is part of that statement. Its rules are initially opaque and alien, and learning them is an investment of time. In doing so you go through a stage of detached confusion, then pessimism (you see how it works but not how to keep it going), and then, hopefully, ability and willingness to try your hand (but quite possibly disappointment at the hands of a chance mistake or circumstance).

      All these things form a whole, a working machine, as all art is. It may not be a very complicated machine or one whose secrets are (as in the best cases) inexhaustible. but when coherent artistic intention is still rare, I do think it’s worth quite a lot. I certainly can’t empathise with complaints that it doesn’t PLAY well. Shit is fun.

    • pipman3000 says:

      the marriage is horrible game everyone keeps telling me i should play it because they played it when i haven’t been playing it for years and i’m still fine while they’re constantly fighting and are probably going to play the divorce soon.

    • negativedge says:

      You’re not saying anything, Walker. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be drawn into some pointless debate on subjectivity and art. Sure, fine–enjoy whatever you’d like, I don’t particularly care. But please don’t offer a defense as lame as “well I liked it :D” one behalf of the other people in this thread. All I said was the game sucks, which is most assuredly does. If someone is so shallow and unimpressed (lit., “not previously been impressed upon”) that it offered them something profound, I will have learned one thing: there is not much for me to gain in a conversation with said person.

  2. Metalfish says:

    But can I talk to the monster? (with the aid of a lawyer?)

    • drewski says:

      No. But you can talk to your lawyer, who will talk to the monster’s lawyer, who will talk to the monster.

      OR

      No. But you can talk to your monster, who will talk to your soon-to-be-ex-partner’s monster, who will talk to your soon-to-be-ex-partner.

      Get it? The lawyers are the monsters.

      I can say that because I’m a lawyer.

  3. Sulkdodds says:

    Funnily enough, I played The Marriage for the first time yesterday. Maybe having done so has left me with unrealistic expectations of being able to get to grips with My Divorce immediately (now there’s a metaphor). But the rules here seem far more confused, more difficult to operate. After a few tries I can’t imagine actually ‘playing it’ and understanding it as one does with Humble’s game. This may also be because it’s so much faster, or, at least, one fails faster.

    Plus, the Marriage was quite fun to play. This? Not so much…

  4. Gpig says:

    My problem with The Marriage is that he named it. Humble says, “This is also the reason there is no sound to the game, any element I could remove that got in the way of the game itself I did. Sound and music is a very powerful medium in and of itself, I feared its inclusion would overwhelm the subtle message of the game.” Then he goes ahead and names it? Not enough confidence in the rule-set to go with an untitled exe? Might as well include the text from the readme slowly scrolling across the screen before you play the game if you’re going to cheat like that. Cut the exposition.

    • Noyb says:

      I agree wholeheartedly, Gpig. You might be interested to know that a few years ago I made a half-assed parody of The Marriage called Apophenia based on that critique where the player would provide a title, and then the game would randomly generate an abstract art game with simplistic rules based on growth and decay purportedly representing that title.

      As far as The Divorce, it’s an interesting concept, but the circling mechanic is really unintuitive without having read the explanation beforehand.

    • Rod Humble says:

      That is a fair criticism. I have been back and forth over that decision as time has passed.

      But you are in good company fwiw, back then Jon Blow advised me in advance he thought it was a mistake to put in the explanation and I should leave it open.

      In my defence it was really out there back then to say “the rules are the main expression here” without giving context to what the subject was or explaining it.

      I didnt want people to think they were being fooled.

      Anyways fyi The Divorce is not mine, but I enjoyed it a lot and I am honoured Brett gave me a shout out in his credits.

  5. Matt says:

    This so-called “art game” is sorely lacking in the art and gameplay departments.

  6. zipdrive says:

    Played both games for a few minutes, but apparently I’m too thick to “get it”.
    They weren’t interesting enough to dedicate brain power to discern the metaphorical meanings of the various bits.

  7. Sagan says:

    I like it. I got the mechanics after a couple of tries, though I didn’t get them completely. I figured out that you have to make the circles bounce against the squares, and that the squares have to collect the green thingies, but after I kept dying over and over again I gave up and just read the description.

    After reading the description I liked the game. Playing the game yourself you realize the inevitability of the divorce. By focusing on the kids you can delay the divorce, but not by very long. Also I like how this is a personal game about the authors experience with his divorce: The two sons, who are on the mother’s side of the playing field. And I have not figured out how to use the man for anything at all. It seems that only the woman delays the divorce further, while the man only interacts with other stuff.
    The author must be frustrated not only that he got divorced, but with his role in the divorce.

    So yeah, I like the game a lot. But it does need an explanation. Ideally incorporated into the game somehow, so that your initial experience is as it is now, but then you also learn more while playing the game.

  8. pipman3000 says:

    i need help guys i can’t think up a joke about how dudes always become bitter after their divorce.

    uhh… the ending really sucks because why does blue square end up being racist towards pink sqaure??? oh okay it’ll be a joke about racists instead that’ll be a twist. yeah she divorced him because him and his friends kept calling her a pinker then she asked dr laura for advice and dr laura called her a pinker 12 times and told her not to marry out of her colour.

  9. Navagon says:

    Well if nothing else it brings back memories of that free version of CorelDraw 3 I had years and years ago. Doesn’t work now, of course.

  10. Suddenly, Tentacles says:

    The Marriage struck me as being pretty damn sexist actually. Basically, ‘women are not compatible with/shouldn’t work or do shit outside of the marriage, but men have to so they can fulfill the wife.’ That is some shit straight out of the 1950′s family model, which is pretty fucked up considering what said model did to women psychologically during that period.

    This is probably why he ended up making “My Divorce.”

  11. Brett Douville says:

    Thanks Rod, obviously I was emulating your game here quite a bit and I appreciate you going first. I played The Marriage dozens of times before I started feeling like I “got it” at a more visceral level, setting aside the written explanation of the rules and absorbing them instead through repeated play. I suspect that five years ago you wouldn’t have gotten a fair hearing without an explanation of the rules.

    I’m prototyping a second game now, getting the mechanics right, and I intend eventually to release it without explanation or a revealing title for a lot of these reasons. It also puts me on the defensive to present something that players can play first at a surface level and dig deeper for interpretations later.

    Thanks for the write-up, John.

  12. Keep says:

    My two cents: I liked The Marriage for trying to genuinely marry (ahem) the medium and the message. I don’t think there are many games that try to ‘say’ something just by the nature being a game (Too often any meaning is an epiphenomenon alongside the genuine game elements involved, dialogue spoken or images shown).

    But I didn’t like it because well…the message wasn’t very engaging to me. And maybe that’s because it’s just an exploratory first few steps, we’ve yet to really develop an artistic language for games so there isn’t much of a vocabulary available for involved ideas.

    So The Divorce, a comment on The Marriage? Eh I’ll pass. Sorry. Different type of message sure, I’d be interested. But I doubt the content is going to feel worth my time (although the theory might be, but theory without content no I’ll pass.)

  13. Ace-High says:

    Rod! I will pay you $2,000 cash if you find a way to save Subspace. That game is your true legacy! Best game ever made.

  14. Cärbä says:

    Good one, Ace. Somehow I don’t think 2k will get Ron to do much anything now :(

    Maybe his love for the game would, we could even remove his username from the obscene.txt and let him use it. Unless it was also denied by PriitK specifically.

  15. Rod Humble says:

    Ace, thank you! Working with the team on Subspace was great. Sadly I do not own the rights to Subspace, I wish I did. I was an employee of Virgin at the time and they (or whoever they may have sold the right to) own everything.

  16. Arctos says:

    Wow Rod, they got you working on The Sims now ..I’m so sorry for you.

    Take care :)

  17. Ace-High says:

    The Sims isn’t a bad gig for a developer. But it’s clearly the small poetic art games like this that armor the heart against the soul-eating emptiness between the stars. Keep up the indy stuff, you never know where it may lead.

    But if you get bored and happen to make a Subspace clone on an off-weekend and get it published on steam I will be the first not to complain. Cheers to one of the few games that was truly far greater than the sum of its parts.

  18. Y-Rep says:

    “But if you get bored and happen to make a Subspace clone on an off-weekend and get it published on steam I will be the first not to complain. ”

    I shall be second not to complain. I look forward to SnipeSpace, or SubSnipe. or SpaceSub(Wheat) …

    Please don’t reduce me to spending time with my wife.

    Seriously, its the best game ever and any further conceptualisation of its reimpermenance would be greatly welcomed.

  19. Spy says:

    Rod, there’s still a large amount of people playing religiously and even using your original settings. To this day I haven’t found a more competitive game on the internet with a more challenging learning curve.
    We’ve tried everything to keep it afloat but dwindling numbers threaten your legacy.
    Any ideas on how we can find a free/lowcost way to get more people playing would be appreciated. Stop by the forums on http://www.svszone.com.

    Thank you.

    p.s. SnipeSpace for the win.

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