Postmodern Wives’ Tale: Pirouette

Idle chats are my favourite pastime

Walk to the right and talk to dying women. That’s my hastily written but accurate tutorial for Increpare and Starfruit Games’ collaboration, Pirouette. The animation and backgrounds are rather beautiful and the dialogue is chucklesome in its deliberate formality, with a staged quality that seems to laugh in the face of accusations of pretension. These are people, or ideas of people, who speak like exaggerated versions of the expected types. The end seems to have serious intent, or perhaps pretends to, but I was smiling throughout the 10 or 15 minutes it took to play. Pirouette is free and is also available on iPad, which led to Apple categorising it as a book rather than a game. Perhaps that’s a punchline of sorts.


  1. Halkyon says:

    Hipster game?

  2. Quaib says:

    I saw that on indiegames. I didn’t like it at all myself. There is no meaning to it. It is just that, pretentious. It pretends to things which it doesn’t actually achieve, like being a “book” or being art or whatever they intended.

    • AutoCyclist says:

      At the risk of making myself sound pretentious, it’s the sort of thing you need to sit and chew for a while to really get. The “gameplay” is less about interaction and more just a medium for the story to be told. In this case, the story was a relatively confusing metaphor, and quite difficult to digest.
      I got my girlfriend to sit down and play Pirouette with me, and afterwards we had a good chat about it. It was still left open ended to some extent, but we both reached similar conclusions (though we had slightly different takes on it). She’s not a gamer, artsy or otherwise, but she enjoyed it as much as I did.
      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should have enjoyed it yourself. There are a million reasons for disliking this style of thing, many of which I agree with. I just want to advocate Pirouette as something you can find meaning in. Consider this a direct but respectful rebuttal.

    • JFS says:

      Why can’t this be art? Who defines “art” anyway? And why can’t we artsy types have artsy games rather than the umpteenth manshoot?

    • Moni says:

      What is “Game”?

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      @JFS Because you are all terrible people who should find a different medium to stutter about your feelings.

    • zaphos says:

      How do you know it pretends if you don’t know what it’s pretending?

    • Wulf says:

      Some of you are unironically holding up my negative stereotypes of gamers.

      Could you stop that, please?

      If you’re going to do that, at least do it ironically. At least that would be sort of clever, considering.

      Thank you.

    • Gira says:

      Why can’t this be art? Who defines “art” anyway? And why can’t we artsy types have artsy games rather than the umpteenth manshoot?

      I love how all the games you guys seem to want to label as “art” aren’t really games at all. It’s a tiresome, pointless argument that was summed up by Greg Costikyan perfectly: “All games are art. All are bad art.”

      To my mind, if you’re going to wax nauseating about “games as art”, you’d better actually single out games whose defining artistic characteristics – that is, the actual gameplay, rather than assets and window dressing – are actually meritorious. This is all concept and zero execution. Probably would be better as a Flash video.

      Seems like we get one of these on RPS at least once a month. Meanwhile, people don’t play Pathologic because it’s “too clunky”, or The Void because “I didn’t know what to do”.


    • AutoCyclist says:

      @Gira (and many others)
      Just a point to consider: we’re still searching for an alternative title to “art games”.
      Personally I’m fine with the term, but it’s definitely being overused and losing context. It sounds better than “interactive exhibit” or whatever terms have been bandied about, but it still needs to be replaced by something that better defines this type of experience.
      When you’re arguing that we want to call these games art, you should be aware that not everyone’s perception of that term is the same. I mean, you already said that they’re not really games, and this is exactly the case… I wouldn’t really class Pirouette as a game, for example, yet at the same time I’m perfectly comfortable in describing it as an “art game”, for want of a better term. Yeah, they’re often clunky, yeah, they’re often arduous as fuck, and yeah, sometimes (in Pirouette’s case) they’re ridiculously ambiguous. However they’re presented though, they’re something loosely “artistic” using a medium that we closely associate with “games”, so we just call them art games. Maybe they’ll be called “Art Apps” in the near future, I guess time will tell.
      Really I’m just confused as to what the naysayers are complaining about. The post itself makes it pretty clear what sort of “game” this was, and if you’re that adverse to it then you can just steer clear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a post for an artsy game (here or otherwise) that doesn’t let you know what to expect in some way or another. It’s like you’re all finding posts about a genre you don’t like and bitching about how the games within it aren’t tailor-made for you specifically.
      Sorry, I really try not to be abrasive when I comment but I simply don’t get it. You know what to expect, and it’s free entertainment. Why get so up in arms?

    • Gira says:

      I think you missed my point. I’m not saying “art game” is an invalid label – although it’s definitely a redundant one – I’m saying that something like this shouldn’t be classed as such, because its artistic merits have nothing to do with its gameplay. I have no problem with its existence – just how it’s labelled.

      As I said, contrast with Pathologic and The Void – two games whose gameplay is mechanically complex and interesting, and engineered with artistic merit in mind, but people ignore these because they’re inaccessible or something, which I find preposterous. Same goes for something like STALKER, whose world simulation and ludonarrative potential outclasses pretty much everything out there, but is dismissed by so many as being “clunky” and “unpolished”. (Honestly, I despise the word “pretentious” as much as the next internet commentator, but I’d much sooner fire “clunky” and “unpolished” into the sun.)

    • AutoCyclist says:

      Sorry. I sort of tried to address what you said but it got lost in me venting. The first two paragraphs are still relevant. Let me re-word:
      I think this really does just come under the idea that something like Pirouette isn’t necessarily trying to be a game that is art, as it is trying to explore an interactive medium. As I said I wouldn’t consider it a game at all, I will just call it that for the sake of ease. It really is a matter of drawing the line between what constitutes a game and a passive experience. This is the perfect kind of “game” to help define that, seeing as it really is the latter.
      When we artsy fools wax nauseating it’s not so much a claim that everything in this style is an art game. I mean I completely agree, the only games that have the right to be called “art games” should include gameplay itself that reinforces the overall project. They almost necessitate holistic development. But in the end, I argue that it’s still okay to call them all art games… for now.
      I agree, it’s a tad redundant, but you’ll find that many of the developers of these sorts of games understand that we’re only just starting to open the medium up and discover what we can do with it. Once we get a better understanding of how we can express intellectualism, provoke emotions, etc etc, I imagine we’ll see a huge host of sub-genres appearing which will allow the label “art games” to only apply to those that truly deserve the title. I’m pretty keen on moving past this stage, but it’ll probably be a while yet.
      What I’m really saying is that I share your frustrations, I just think it’s a necessary evil. All we can do for now is sit around and think up new terms to refine our definitions (or make our own “games” with our own definitions.
      In regards to Pathologic, I think it’s entirely reasonable to be turned off the game if it’s not user-friendly enough. It is a shame, but our expectations of intuitive interfaces mean that very few people would give it the chance it deserves. Only those that are willing to go the extra mile for the experience (the connoisseurs, so to speak) will get into it. The issue here is an extension of what I mentioned, that we’re still trying to figure out from a design/implementation perspective, what works and what doesn’t, and to what extent we can actually use games as an artistic medium (more importantly in this case, the question of how the art will be received). I can’t comment on The Void because I haven’t played it yet, but it could well suffer from having a similar nature.
      I find it equally sad that people overlook STALKER for the same reason, but I think that’s why I enjoy being part of the game’s fanbase. Not from an elitist side or anything, just knowing that the people who enjoy the game really enjoy the game. It’s one of those things where if you meet another STALKER fan, you know you must have some important personality trait in common.
      I give you mad respect for hating on those words, by the way. Ever since modern pop culture shifted from “emo scene” to “hipster scene”, the word pretentious has become mind-numbing. It’s at the point where it feels like nobody willing to use it actually knows what it means.

      I am enjoying this discussion by the way. Just saying that bluntly in case I’m coming across the wrong way.

  3. Crane says:

    I, uh…
    What did I just play?

    Was I actually a polygamous necrophiliac lesbian, or was that a metaphor for time?

    • JackShandy says:

      Yes and yes. Man, and then as you’re dying she goes “The best we can hope for is to be thoroughly ravished by one of your proteges”. That’s so great.

  4. S Jay says:

    Might not be a book, but is it a game? Probably not. Still, cool.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      The categories are actually chosen by the developer, not by Apple. Obviously the developers think it is a book, I haven’t the foggiest why.

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      On twitter increpare said that they submitted it as a game, but it was rejected by the App Store with a request to submit it as a book.

  5. JackShandy says:

    Oh man, that was great. Going through the whole thing talking to dead women, then as you die your wife says “You’re becoming a woman” …. Ahahahaha

  6. TomxJ says:

    Played this yesterday, best line in video games yet…

    “I fear I shall never so thoroughly enjoy such vapid intercourse again.”

    The thing was full of lines that made me chuckle. I actually found the whole experience captivating.

  7. jimbobjunior says:

    I’m hoping TotalBiscuit does a WTF is… Pirouette, because it certainly went over my head.

  8. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    Jesus christ enough with those pretentious pseudoartistic games.

    • soldant says:

      Seconded, except they’re less games and more “Press a key to let me ram my poorly written and ambiguous art down your throat.”

    • apocraphyn says:

      Whereas “poorly written and ambiguous art” is evidently a metaphor in of itself, I agree with your point.

    • Wulf says:

      Ironically! I said ironically! You’re still being unironic. D:

      Look, people are free to make whatever they want. It might mean something to them, and it might mean nothing to you, and none of that is relevant. They can make whatever they want, and you can say that you don’t like it, but don’t imply that this sort of thing shouldn’t exist.

  9. db1331 says:

    They just made this so they can say, “I made a game. You’ve probably never heard of it.”

  10. FKD says:

    Like some others I felt that the creator thought it was saying alot more then it actually did. Or perhaps it just went over my head, or both. Either way I really did not care for it and how casual it was with the idea of people dieing. Anyway, the best part was when it said “The End” and I am quite surprised I even made it that far.

    • Wulf says:

      The entire world and all the people in it are casual with people dying. Anyone dying who you didn’t personally know is either a statistic or an event. If a game helps people to realise that, then all the better.

  11. Unaco says:

    I’ve just this minute finished playing Pirouette. It leaves a very bitter taste at its climax. But perhaps not the same bitter taste that flavours it throughout. It is an enormously pretentious, ‘interactive’ fiction, on a scale that would have seemed insulting to gamers even in the ’80s. And it’s a bloodthirsty, bombastic and clumsy un-game, with a core of nastiness.

    Clearly I’m getting dumb. I feel like a Coal Miner who’s wandered in on a French arthouse movie, and can’t understand why anyone would want to sit through so much pretentious toss, and wordplay that would make an 18 year old giddy, but his English Professor wonder why he still f*cking bothers. But clearly people do. An enormous number of people. It is clearly the thing that a lot of people most want from their games, if the message boards and comments on websites are to be understood.

    • Wulf says:

      And now you’re getting angry over something that exists. I can relate if we’re talking about the 33rd faceless manshoot, but I suppose this is where we’d be at opposite ends of the spectrum. There are things that exist that might infuriate us, or more commonly, exhaust us. But they exist nonetheless, and someone is going to enjoy them.

      However, this is rare, and it’s not like you’re being swamped with this sort of thing. So I feel that your exhaustion and ire may not be justified quite yet. Give it a few thousand more art games.

      Though personally they don’t bother me one bit.

    • phlebas says:

      it’s a bloodthirsty, bombastic and clumsy un-game, with a core of nastiness.
      Absolutely. It’s hilarious.

    • Unaco says:

      Dear Wulf,

      Indeed, I don’t think we’ve talked, but I’m sure you’re super-lovely. High five! Also, I agree that I’m endlessly awesome! But let’s not get distracted. To the matter in hand. I’m not sure you really noticed what I wrote in my comment, and thus have missed why I am criticising Pirouette. Let me explain again exactly what is wrong with the un-game.

      The core of your response is to explain that I was wrong to criticise a low quality, barely interactive book, that I condemned art, refused to cooperate with it, and that I therefore played and viewed the game wrong(ly). The problem is, I’m taking the piss, using criticism of another, recent un-Game to show why I don’t believe this deserves that label, as well as excoriating this meaningless load of drunken art school twaddle.

      The nub of the core of my problems with Pirouette have nothing to do with the existence of the thing, hence my actual engagement with it, rather than just ranting about it before I played it (something you seem to do a lot, especially with something like SkyRim). They have to do with that it’s barely a game. It is, as you suggest, an art game. Except I would qualify this and say it is more like one of those embarrassing performance art exhibitions where some naked, delusional, middle aged man gyrates naked on a stage while quoting Sappho in the original Greek. Or a shit in a jar that wins the Turner Prize. No actual art. Apart from when you want to sound arty and make up nonsense.

      It is not a game… It’s press Right til a conversation starts, press X repeatedly. Repeat. I don’t even know why it allows you to move Left because you can never go back. It is not art… It’s pretentious nonsense.

    • DebitMemo says:

      It’s a parody people…

  12. Inglourious Badger says:

    Hmm, a lot of hatred from the commenters today! For what it’s worth I thought the dialogue was pretty damn funny, and I’m glad I played it, though also glad it wasn’t any longer than it was. It is FINE

    • Wulf says:

      My opinion, too.

      I’m neither a supporter or a detractor, I’m just amused at the absolute hatred it’s getting. Especially when the hatred sounds like it’s accompanied by “UNGA BUNGA!” and clubs. I mean, really. If you’re going to hate something like this then at least try to articulate why you hate it, which is the least you can do for it.

      All I see, however, is a hell of a lot of buzz words. Therefore it seems like the hatred of it is irrational. It’s different, it’s weird, it takes a person outside their comfort zone, therefore they must post angrily about it.

      It’s fine. It’s not meant to be anything special, it’s just a bit clever.

      Or maybe it’s supposed to make people react this way? And perhaps the developer in question is having a good chuckle about it. I don’t know. I just think that for something as rare as this, the reaction is a bit unfounded. I mean, “Well, that was a bit odd, wasn’t it?” would be expected, but some of these reactions would make one think that they’d been exposed to decades of this.

      I just find the reactions bizarre.

  13. Moni says:

    I liked it. I don’t think there’s really a point to it, it just seems to be for japes.

    I’m also in awe of Mr. Increpare’s work rate. He’s released three iOS apps in three weeks. I didn’t know the app store approval process could work that fast.

  14. Super Oxymoron Girl says:

    I’m going to try it. Judging from the screencap though, it seems curiously clumsily written for a prolix art game; when I saw the screencap I immediately imagined my Eng Comp professor scribbling notes on it.

  15. Shazbut says:

    It’s like that Simpsons episode where Martin Prince plays the arcade game version of My Dinner With Andre.

    Enjoyed it! However, does ANYONE know what was going on?

    • Wulf says:

      Whole slew of metaphors but no idea which is correct! I’m about as clued in as you.

      Amusing, though.

  16. Lugg says:

    I simply don’t get it. Can anyone help and explain what I just played?

    • AutoCyclist says:

      This also goes to the others who are confused, but if you find it interesting enough you should give it another play (and have a good think afterwards). My immediate reaction after finishing was “What the fuck” but I got a message from it that I found really interesting, so don’t be perturbed.
      My take on it moved around a bit, but what I walked away with was the general theme. The idea of past relationships being symbolically dead and how your character grows and changes, from their understanding and personal experience of each of the relationships. I’m not 100% sure on the ending, but knowing increpare’s other works I think it’s a safe guess that the specific scene can be largely taken at face value. Anyway, overall I think it’s all about how the protagonist’s life culminates from a series of events within it, and what changes and realisations these events cause.
      I’m not really willing to go into further detail, seeing as it’s all very subjective (and I like the idea that people reach their own conclusions before they learn others). Of course, my take on it might be completely different from yours, let alone the intended message of the creators. I think that’s fine, so long as you find something meaningful or enjoyable within it.
      Anyway, hope this helped :]

  17. PleasingFungus says:

    I honestly think that a filter that automatically blocks any post with the word “pretentious” in it would improve the quality of conversation dramatically.

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      Censorship in any form is a horrible crime, and you should know that, what’s with you liking pretentious games

      Unless your name is Mao

    • mechabuddha says:

      I think the problem is that people are using the word “pretentious” when they really mean “I didn’t understand this and I feel insulted”.

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      if you feel so

  18. DebitMemo says:

    successful troll is successful

  19. Sinomatic says:

    I’m sad that ‘ungame’ is not one of the tags.

    Also, this is one of the first of these arty interactive experiences I’ve played that I haven’t really got to grips with. Which either means I’m really out of sorts today, it’s too clever for me, or it’s a mess of metaphors and weird humour that really don’t engage me. I’m not even sure which.

  20. fgjfgj says:

    Happy 2012 new year,Merry Christmas ,Christmas top gift
    link to

  21. Sif says:

    That was delightful. The dialogue was clever and cheeky. I’m positive the gripers take this game much more seriously than its creators do.

    • Talon says:

      Actually, I wager that the creators take the game at least a little bit seriously, but probably not in the same way that you’re thinking — I think, for example, stephen would take link to more seriously than he takes Pirouette game in terms of the direct message through gameplay; the ending on that one is superb (and is a real game).

  22. JohnnyMaverik says:

    “which led to Apple categorising it as a book rather than a game. Perhaps that’s a punchline of sorts.”

    I laughed…

  23. Talon says:

    I think part of the goal of indie gaming is to push the boundaries of what games can be; I consider this to be along the same lines as Gravity Bone and The Graveyard. While creating a work like this and expressing a meaning through it may not be for everyone, I think it’s hardly deserving of some of the vicious comments that it’s been getting.

    It may not be everyone’s cup of tea — it’s barely mine — but much like has some weird experimentation that may not be a ‘movie’, I think people should be conscious of and acknowledge such independent works which attempt to expand the medium, whether they are doing it in terms of unique gameplay (Braid, Osmos, At A Distance), promoting narrative (But That Was [Yesterday], The Majesty of Colours), or otherwise (much of what Cactus and Stephen (increpare) do).

    I am, also, tickled that Apple categorized it as a book, but I don’t particularly think they were wrong. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing either; it means that this idea that is expressed can be done so with some text, some images, and some player control. Mediums blending together, I think, are likely to be a Thing in the future, and I can think of no better start than books and games to start.