Games For Humanity (Part 1)

There are great many games in which the primary activity is to battle men or monsters. That will never change, and there is no reason that it should change: escapism and tales of heroism have been fulfilling, healthy and culturally productive uses of the human imagination since the dawn of this species. However, when the wider world looks at the gaming world, very often it sees only these games. It believes that games are only about killing, and that this makes all games – and the people who play them – dangerous and ugly. That perception is an inaccurate one, and increasingly so. Often it is said that games could do more, but the truth is that they do do more.

There are games that are literary, games that are socially-conscious, games that are political, games that explore the human condition, games that investigate love and loss, games about family, games about history, games about culture, games about art. Games about humanity. Games for humanity.

So many people do not play games, or revile games because they think they are supposed to, or because they believe that games are only one thing. These are the games, both paid and free, to show to those people.

This is very important: to praise the games below is not to criticise anything else, or to argue that games should only be like these things. Games should be about as many different things as possible. These games are not the enemy to other games. These are not the ‘best’ games. These games are in this list purely because they just might be a way into games for people who otherwise would actively resist even trying to play games. For that reason these are, in the majority, games which don’t require significant familiarity with games in order to play them. Games which do require that familiarity have been excluded.

This is not intended to be a definitive list, and further suggestions are welcome. A second and final list of games will follow shortly.

A few common controls to know if you don’t play games:

The W, A, S, D buttons on your keyboard often correlate to moving your character Up, Left, Down and Right respectively. In some cases, you will do this with one hand while moving the mouse to adjust your ‘camera’ with the other. WASD movement is essentially controlling your character’s legs, while the mouse/’camera’ is your character’s head. Performing separate actions with each hand can seem daunting at first, but rapidly becomes easy with a small amount of practice.

The E, F or Spacebar keys are commonly used to interact with items or people in a game.

The Left and Right mouse buttons will often have different effects.

The Escape button will often take you to a menu from where you can change game settings, save or load progress or exit it. Escape often also acts as a pause key.

Papers, Please

(Paid)

The most commonly-cited example of Why Games Matter, to the point that Charlie Brooker even tried to get Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow to play it, but that doesn’t for one minute mean it shouldn’t be a go-to game when attempting to demonstrate that this medium is a powerful way of exploring socio-political and even literary concepts.

Papers, Please is a game in which you play as an immigration officer working on the border gate of an oppressive nation. It asks you fulfill your bureaucratic duty – specifically, checking that citizens’ paperwork has been filled in correctly and truthfully – even when presented with acute and escalating human suffering. It reveals the terrible dilemma of how to be philanthropic when the safety and health of you and those you love is on the line. It shines a light on the pernicious ways in which a regime can have complete control over a people who know full well they’re being mistreated. It will always be relevant to the world in which we live. If only it wasn’t.

Democracy 3

(Paid)


A game about politics, for people who care about politics. While Democracy 3 can be turned to the pursuit of utopia, this is not so much a fantasy government game as it is a tool to experiment with policy, and the repercussions thereof. Relatively simple to control – you spend most of your time clicking clearly-labelled menu options – but requiring a decent grasp of political ideologies to master, perhaps Democracy 3’s key lesson is power means compromise. Making grand promises to the electorate and to your traditional supporters is one thing, but keeping the ship afloat is another thing entirely. In an age of increasingly cartoonish and untrustworthy politics, Democracy 3 goes some way to explaining why our politicians so rarely do what they say they’ll do. A fascinating and enlightening simulation.

(I Fell In Love With) The Majesty Of Colours

(Free)

In an ideal world, many more games would enable the player to see from a perspective different from their own. ‘Giant, many-tentacled sea monster’ is perhaps taking that to an extreme, but at the same time The Majesty Of Colours can go where other mediums fear to tread. With you as the creature exploring the human world and experimenting with its own, potentially devastating abilities, you can adopt and shape its mindset, not simply be told what it is. Be gentle or be lethal to what appears around you (once again, a simple act of clicking), then see how you feel about your actions. You’re a god being presented with beauty, but it may be that you choose to destroy rather than admire that beauty.

Gone Home

(Paid)

Lionised and lambasted to extremes, Gone Home is often cited because of its narrator’s sexuality, or because its story is uncovered more through the act of simple exploration than it is traditional game interactions such as puzzle-solving. I think to focus on either is to miss the point of what it did so well. Gone Home is about the generation gulf between a parent and their teenage child, and about the forming of one’s identity in a culture that even today errs towards homogeneity. It is also about the creation of a mood, an atmosphere, a tone with images and sounds – borrowing from art and cinema, but establishing ways in which a game world, and that key concept that the player is in it rather than simply observing it, can accentuate that. This is a game which a non-gamer need only walk around, and thus not rapidly need to learn confusing new skills, in order to be given a clear and concise sense of what it is games can do that no other medium can.

The Cat and The Coup

(Free)

Art and history, covering the CIA and MI6-orchestrated downfall of Iran’s first democratically-elected Prime Minister. Superficially a beyond-gentle game about controlling Mohammed Mossadegh’s cat, in fact this calmly and with great visual creativity relates the collusion between western powers and the oil industry – perhaps one of the most disastrous foreign policy mistakes of the last century, given the far-reaching and ongoing consequences. Game as documentary, and more powerful because the player is participant rather than mere observer.

Dear Esther

(Paid)

This action-free ghost story (of a sort) belongs to a very new genre which has informally become known as ‘walking simulators’ – the next two games can also be given that label. These games are interested in atmosphere and imagery more than they are in ‘traditional’ gaming interactions, and usually involve no controls other than movement. Simply, their goal is to enable the player to visit a place which does not exist. Some tell tales, some are surrealistic, some strive purely for beauty, but all break down the idea that games are about skill or reflex, action or high scores, as well as confounding the presumption that the only way for games to evolve is to ape cinema. These sorts of games are seen by a vocal subset of players as a pressing threat to the continued existence of first-person shooters et al, but do of course co-exist comfortably in the way the movie industry can support both Michael Bay and Terence Malick.

Dear Esther specifically is set on an abandoned Hebridean island, and allows limited exploration through a series of beautiful and sometimes startling environments, as a narrator shares fragments of his tragic past. It is left to the player to interpret what they hear.

Proteus

(Paid)

This walking simulator eschews any attempt at photo-realism in favour of an impressionistic art style, all swathes of colour and loose shapes, creating a pastel-hued paradise that could not exist beyond a screen. Simply move through it, in whichever direction you choose, seeing what light and sound changes occur as you approach or leave its plants and structures. Proteus plays with the essence of why humans respond to wildlife and trees, to sunsets and to solitude, rather than striving for an inevitably unconvincing simulacrum of what we already have. It’s a retreat, somewhere special to take your senses to without exertion or expense.

Bernband

(Free)

If Proteus is about the essence of the uninhabited world, then Bernband is about the essence of the inhabited world. Nominally a walking simulator set in an alien city, really it’s conjuring the feeling of being in any strange city – the scale and noise and disorientation, the destabilisation and faint menace of familiar sights – architecture, life – in a new and confusing context. Walk through its streets and feel like an alien yourself. It also has giant flappy hands, but that’s another story.

Passage

(Free)

A game about life, love and loss, told wordlessly. Extremely lo-fi, perhaps to a fault, but this is about the power of the moving image when that moving image can be controlled. No gaming experience whatsoever is required here – just move in a direction of your choice and see what happens, then see how you feel about it.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

(Paid)

Of everything on this list, this one might just be the most difficult for a non-gamer to get to grips with. The two titular brothers are controlled via the same gamepad, and puzzles flow from that – how to make each hand manoeuvre a different character? -which frankly creates some head-scratching even for seasoned gamers. Still, give it a shot, perhaps with more experienced help on hand, because this is another wordless game that tells an affecting bittersweet tale through sheer force of visual expression. Given how many games concern the combative, this is a rare example of a relatively mainstream title exploring familial bonds and co-operation.

The Sims 3

(Paid)

Perhaps an overly-obvious choice as this series of people simulators has achieved so much crossover success and attendant mainstream coverage already, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating or ambitious a prospect. The goal is loose – take care, or otherwise of a suburban individual or a family, pursuing betterment, romance and creature comforts as you see fit. The doll’s house surface belies that The Sims is an extremely game-y game, all about adjusting meters and acquiring better items, not just about picking wallpaper or luring the neighbours into bed (though that too is essentially a ‘mission’, albeit a player-driven one rather than one mandated by the game). For all its societal theming, for all the lack of violence or bombast, The Sims is built upon the same hooks that keep people playing a World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. The Sims can teach us why humans enjoy games, and that it’s removed the traditional young male-focused surface in favour of personal soap opera allows it to have more universal appeal. Of the many Sims games, 3 is broadly considered to be most accomplished.

Kentucky Route Zero

(Paid)

An unhurried road trip which is perhaps the strongest declaration of recent years that games can be as literate as any other medium. Kentucky Route Zero is easy to play – just click a dialogue option or a destination and see what happens – but rather more difficult to explain. It’s steeped in influences from stage, screen and page but uses them to weave something singular rather than a mess of homages. This is a ghostly otherworld of Americana in which every line and every one of its backdrops drips with allusion and undertone, but it resists direct statement. It prefers to leave that to the player – you choose what your characters say not to solve puzzles or prompt particular reactions, but because you’re making them act in the way you want them to act. Are they kind or are they impatient? Are they running from a murky past or just seeing where the road takes them? Do they regret, or do they yearn? It’s up to you. Kentucky Route Zero is theatre, with you as both director and star.

Conversations With My Mother

(Free)

Text adventures are a particularly fertile ground for exploring beyond games’ traditional stomping grounds. Whether that’s because words are inherently more powerful than a rendered image or because the games industry simply won’t fund titles which explore the human condition beyond simple tales of heroism is a matter for debate. In any case, Conversations With My Mother is a short, simple and effective text game about a parent’s attempts to come to terms with a trans child, based on developer Merrit Kopas’ own experiences with her mother. Very much about the (often unintended) power of language.

Chess

Be it the physical game or a digital adaption, Chess is as essential as it ever was to understanding videogames. Hard rules, counter-intuitive movement which in time becomes received and inarguable wisdom, abstract representation of real-life characters and concepts which leads to them taking on greater association and meaning, acute competition, mastery, the mind’s ability to plan and visualise a strategy, and to treat a scenario which has no existence beyond the confines of its tiny board or screen as, briefly, more important than anything else. Chess, or at least the part of the human mind which has responded so well to chess for centuries, is the reason why so many of today’s videogames exist at all.

More games to come in the second and final part of this article, a little later this week.

Please note: this series of articles, and the resultant comments threads, are intended purely to discuss which games should be shown to people with a disinterest in or negative view of games. It does not exist to fuel arguments about what is or is not a game, or to raise controversies surrounding the people who developed any of these titles. Comments will be heavily moderated with this in mind, and if necessary closed entirely.

111 Comments

  1. Synesthesia says:

    This is fantastic! I wanna recommend some:

    I would add at least one rythm game, those have such pure hearts its not even funny. Bit Trip Beat is a blast, and the music is not half bad either. Everything amanita design. The swapper! Kerbal space program is pure magic. Sim city 4.
    The stanley parable? That could work. The dream machine. Antichamber. SHELTER!

    • cannonballsimp says:

      I completely agree with you about Amanita games. 140 is a rhythm/platform game that I’d recommend to most non-gamers. It’s short, not too difficult (until the very end) and visually and aurally striking. However The Stanley Parable is in my view a complete gamer’s game – you need to be familiar with the assumed limits of modern games to really appreciate its humour.

      • Synesthesia says:

        Yeah, that’s why I was doubtful about it. Yet I would like to see how a non-gamer would read it. Besides some of the obvious gaming endings, most of the times it’s just about choice.

    • evergreennightmare says:

      cook serve delicious would be a great example

      • pepperfez says:

        I’d just like you to know that I read your comment in the sidebar, with the article’s title below it, as “cook serve humanity.”

  2. Faldrath says:

    Great selection, with a few games I didn’t know, so I’ll be sure to check them out. I hope the second part will add some flight/driving simulators as well – they’re usually my “go-to” games for people who really dislike them, and they tend to be successful.

  3. shinkshank says:

    I sort of have to object to Brothers being held in high regard ( lol opinions ), because I just could not appreciate it. The gameplay was, while simple, interesting, and it was visually striking, but throughout the entire thing I just could not be enthralled into the game because it just felt like it was a tearjerker to me. I can get behind an emotional roller coaster, but the dramatic shifts in tone were so constant that I was at risk of getting whiplash.

    Not that I’m saying it was bad, I just feel like it was interesting, but ultimately shallow and unsatisfying. But then again, I’m not a writer for a magazine.

    • Synesthesia says:

      *spoilers ahead!*

      really? The FEELS i got when at the last part of the game, you had to swim without your brother, yet using his controls… come on. That was a stroke of genius.

      • Coldyham says:

        I seem to remember being stuck there for a few minutes and going to the loo. It was understandably less emotional as a consequence.

      • tylo says:

        Yeah, totally. I remember getting to that part and just being overwhelmed with emotion when I realized what they wanted me to do when his control didn’t work. It made me smile in a “You god damn, clever, sons of bitches” kind of way. It felt like the entire game was a build up to that switcheroo mechanic.

    • Xocrates says:

      I’m not entirely getting what you’re objecting to (not disagreeing, just trying to understand) most of the “issues” you point out are largely reasons on why I believe it works so well. It’s a simple story, told in often clever ways. It’s an emotional journey, not a thinking one.

      As for the “whiplash”, I found that the game kept a fairly sombre tone throughout, even when being joyful and happy – though it did get really really dark.

    • girard says:

      I also object to Brothers being on a list of games for people who don’t like games very much. On top of the unintuitive (but very inventive) control scheme cited in the text above, the game also embodies in its brief runtime an almost exhautive catalog of shitty representations of women, which is probably not something you’d want to show to a novice whose only recent exposure to games in the news has probably been the explosion into the mainstream of Gamergate’s toxic misogyny.

      [spoilers ahead] Contrary to the above text, the game does not entirely eschew violence. In fact, the game even has a bona fide boss battle in which the brother team up to kill the game’s only major female character (aprt from the mother who is unceremoniously fridged before the game even begins, of course). They do this after she turns into more or less a literal black widow, a giant spider monster who traps the brothers in a web ball coming out of her vagina. Which happens after she drives a wedge between the brothers by seducing the older brothers. Which happens after she spends some time as a feckless AI companion ushered around by the two boys who the player can actually assume control over (because, presumably, they matter more? Or the player can better ‘relate’ to them because they are male?). Which happens after she is rescued from a state of helpless damselry by the two brothers.

      Yeah, a game whose message essentially boils down to “bros before hos” probably isn’t something you want to use as an ambassador of the medium.

      • KRVeale says:

        I had a similar response, but I still recommend it to people with the issues flagged.

        It’s a microcosm for discussing this stuff, because it amazes me that a game clearly framed around considered nuance in how characters relate to each other is STILL obliviously the All Dude Show that fills in a lot of the bingo cards about how women are treated in games. The mother gets fridged in the opening scene, etc.

        Even the title mentions the existence of Y-Chromosomes as often as possible.

        It’s up there with Bastion for me as “This is a well made and clever game that has even less of an excuse to get away with shitty treatment of gender, because the quality and care indicates they could easily do better.”

      • Gpig says:

        *Brothers Spoilers*

        I don’t think you can really call killing a parent at the start of the quest and making the over one sick “unceremoniously fridged” unless you’re “doing a bad reading” and “disregarding context”. Sorry, I’m not sure how quotes work, but I think you’re just identifying something as a trope in order to dismiss it without considering why it was done. By killing a parent, having the family grieve, and making the other one sick it sets the stage for the coming of age quest. It felt terrible leaving the city together knowing it was just one sick person by themself. I didn’t feel good starting the quest. I thought that the parent would die while gone. I don’t know how you didn’t feel that, but it seems the only fridge in this discussion is you. This happened to me with Gone Home, actually. I thought it was good, but I never felt like there was any danger because I thought for sure the ending would be fine, but a friend of mine felt that something tragic might have happened and was even more engrossed by the story. I suspect something similar happened to you where you missed all the cues.

        The spider thing I’m not sure about. I felt the same way when leading the helpless damsel but that trope was subverted by her being a powerful villain. I think a lot of games are pretty sexist, especially with character design, and can be attacked with a shallow reading, but that’s not the case here.

    • sonofsanta says:

      I disagree with Brothers being on the list but for another reason: because this is a list that begins with a summarised set of controls for games, and is clearly aimed at non-gamers… but Brothers’ control scheme is not an easy one to wrap one’s head around.

      It’s all well and good saying “watch someone else play it”, as Alec does above, but that completely robs the story and its emotional beats of their power. You need to be the person controlling it to feel the story punches, and you need to have played long enough (the 3-4 hour span) to feel comfortable enough with the controls that the sudden change becomes uncomfortable.

      Brothers is an incredible game, but it’s not a beginner’s game, even though it presents minimal challenge to someone comfortable with a pad.

    • plugmonkey says:

      I completely agree. The ending didn’t stay with me at all. It was so completely at odds with the style and tone of the rest of the narrative, it was very easy to shrug off. There’s more to building an effective tragedy than SAD THING HAPPENS AT THE END!

      The dual controls, while innovative, didn’t really create any particularly great puzzles either. I was never stuck and then made to feel clever. The solution was pretty much always completely apparent.

      The world was sumptuous. The gameplay and the story were both so-so.

  4. Monggerel says:

    Hope Hotline Miami gets to be on the list.

    “Why are we having this conversation?” indeed.

    • Melody says:

      Hotline Miami would be A NIGHTMARE for a non-gamer. Can’t remember if there was a difficulty setting, but even on easy… Plus, a murder simulator is not a great way to show that games can be more than, well, murder simulators. Even with all the self-aware plot thing.

      • Monggerel says:

        Hotline Miami is not self-aware. Hotline Miami spits on the grave of self-awareness. It also says far more than anything in the disingenuous self-aggrandizing pseudosubversive intelligentsiya that seems fashionable these days could (think Spec Ops: The Line or Limbo or Braid or good god Machine for Pigs).
        It’s also not a murder simulator. It’s a dance dance dance simulator.

        • cpt_freakout says:

          I would love to read your take on it. I agree with you, but I don’t think I can articulate the idea well, beyond saying that Hotline Miami is a truly modern game where those others you mentioned are still clumsily holding on to non-game paradigms to work, in a very classical manner. It would be great if you could expound on your ideas, if you care enough to do so, of course.

          • Monggerel says:

            It wouldn’t be great. I’m a fucking philosophy undergrad with a minor in petty theft.
            I reckon you might want to watch Errant Signal’s (he’s on Youtube) video on Hotline Miami if you haven’t, though. It’s pretty cool. Places a bit too much importance on the talky bits maybe.

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      Phasma Felis says:

      I think Hotline Miami can only be self-aware and subversive if the player is already a fan of violent games. Aside from the fact that it’s really hard, I feel like a non-gamer even just watching a playthrough would be more inclined to say “ew, how gruesome” than recognize what the game is saying about violent games.

  5. MrFinnishDude says:

    Ah yes, the TMA-0.
    The best keyboard on the market

  6. binkbenc says:

    This is a difficult list to define…so it’s not about ‘first’ games (because, let’s be honest, you’d give someone a phone/tablet for their first game, not a PC), and it’s not about important or inspiring ‘gamers’ games (like Civilization)…this is about games that you can show to people who think games are all manshoots; games you can show to people to justify gaming itself as a diverse, inclusive, and rewarding hobby?

    That’s a tough list to make. You know what, I can’t think of anything else to add here. I am a rubbish comment maker.

    • Mezmorki says:

      Following from the article earlier today about Games and art, or specifically the point about games typically being designed to be “fun” and the genres and forms that result ….

      … I think this is a list of games designed with experiences other than fun as a priority. Some are to model and teach, some are to provide a social context, some are to tell a story. This isn’t to say these games can’t be fun (or shouldn’t be fun) – fun can certainly come out of the experience to, but they are also pointed towards something different.

      This might all be ballocks.

      • binkbenc says:

        It feels like it was a list made with a specific person in mind. So…this isn’t a list to show your partner who thinks games are childish rubbish (because none of these games are going to make her change her mind), but it’s a list of games for your dad, who is open to the idea of games, but doesn’t want to go on a twitch shooting spree?

        Not trying to belabour a point here (and I might just be not getting it), but this feels like a very interesting and noble list that I want to be able to contribute to, but I don’t quite understand who it’s for. Okay, it’s for ‘humanity’, but can we be more specific?

        • Xocrates says:

          I suspect the “specific person” is Alec himself (or the RPS hivemind in general), this being a subjective list of games that the author finds worthwhile or indicative of the potential of gaming.

          For any given person, any of those games can be dismissed as rubbish. I would recommend considering it a baseline, not a definitive list.

    • Rizlar says:

      Funny that you mention Civ. Civ 5 is the first game I would think to put on the list. The presentation makes playing it as simple as clicking on one thing at a time, everything is well labelled and the setting/theme should appeal to everyone.

      Once someone has their first little city growing and the game gets it’s hooks in them they won’t be able to stop playing!

  7. Donjo says:

    Great list…. it’s just sad that most of the intro had to be a justification aimed at the people who play games rather than the people the article is for!

  8. Baboonanza says:

    I actually finished ‘Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ yesterday and I thought it’s story was both excellent and suprising. The gameplay is almost too simple but has just enough to be satisfying and the various environments are all spectacular (the giants battlefield in particular is incredible). I would recommend it to anyone with an ounce of taste.

    Kentucky Route Zero on the other hand didn’t really move me. I think it’s just too slow for me, every moment I spend plodding across the screen felt like wasted time.

  9. Zetetic says:

    A game about politics, for people who care about politics. [Regarding Democracy 3]

    I’m not sure that’s more than half-right, unfortunately.

    Hidden Agenda (1988) is worth a mention, although it’s interface and general presentation could certainly be improved. Certainly for Humanity, about Humanity and open to someone not particularly familiar with any particular language-of-games. (Beyond, perhaps, the basic requirement of needing the user to poke about a bit.)

    I think much of that list does presuppose a familiarity with games – the walking simulators appeal to a knowledge of the FPS and Papers, Please control scheme, deliberately claustrophobic as it is, requires the user to actually be quite good at doing video-gamey things (in order to then frustrate them appropriately). Or so it seems to me, anyway.

    • Arathain says:

      While FPS controls are tough for someone who hasn’t experienced them before, walking sims are where it matters the least. No aiming and no hurry means awkward movement is no issue. I think their inclusion is good, though, since the first person perspective is showing something games can do so, so well.

  10. Kefren says:

    Maybe mention that many people/games use the arrow keys rather than WASD. Easier to find in the dark, and keys in discrete clumps around them for different functions. I’m happy with choice and redefining the keys, let people use the keys they prefer, but arrow keys are maybe just as common? No idea if anyone has researched this though.

  11. BooleanBob says:

    So I had a whole other post about app store games written, when it occurred to me I was seriously in danger of missing the point.

    When you talk about disinterest/negativity, do you mean people who don’t think they would enjoy gaming experiences? Or rather, people who have written off the idea of enjoying of games as being a worthwhle thing entirely, and who rather could benefit from being shown that there are games that can fulfill other objectives than ‘merely’ being enjoyable? Observer on Sunday types, if that’s not putting too fine a point on it. Or: people you respect, and you want to respect you, and so you can never quite dare bring up the subject of gaming with*.

    If I could offer a contribution in that vein, it would be Galatea, although it perhaps wouldn’t clear the ‘ease of accesibility’ hurdle. It’s the first time I ever played a game and realised a) it hadn’t been ‘fun’ and b) I adored it. Thecatamites also does a ton of games which stand (miles) apart from the traditional thingness of a videogame, so it’d be remiss not to include something like Pleasuredromes Of Kubla Khan, bewildering as it is? And Tale of Tales’ stuff, of course, but undoubtedly they’ve already booked a place in your part deux.

    * I remember reading something by Quinns about how nobody should be ashamed to tell other people that they like games. Rather, they should work out for themselves what it is they like about them, because if you can find a way to communicate that genuinely, most of the time the enthusiasm will prove infectious, and you’ll find that instead of changing the way that person thinks about you, they’ll change the way they think about games. But that’s a whole other tangent.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Here’s the other post, the one I think might have been off-topic. Feel free to delete it if so.

      So, the people I work with are all unconscious but enthusiastic gamers. They’d never admit in a million years that they like games, and yet they’re constantly playing whatever’s at the top of the itunes chart.

      When I think about what kind of things these games have in common, some elements include: games that wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen playing in the work cafeteria*, congratulatory (arguably Skinnerian) graphic-and-sound effect feedback loops, simple-input complicated-outcome mechanics (Peggle, Angry Pigs), and the opportunity to better their friends (Words with Friends, anything with a leaderboard).

      I don’t think any of these things are bad at all, by the way. You can easily make good games from these elements. The problem is that there’s no ‘next tier’ of games, containing meatier, more complete experiences, to which these nascent players can advance. Or if there is, I haven’t been able to find it. What there is instead is a quagmire of bright, colorful, wholly cynical shovelware that is back-loaded with consumer-hostile mechanics and has IAPs stuff up the wazoo. So they play those instead, and the opportunity for the big family games to bring new members into the fold is snatched away from the jaws of victory.

      *This can be a surprisingly flexible category. For example, the eldest and seemingly throw-backiest member of my social circle at work is in her sixties, doesn’t know how to get her photos ‘off’ her iphone (when she upgrades she assumes that they’re lost), but was quite happy the other day to provide us with regular and entirely unsolicited updates as to how she was doing “at Sonic”.

      • P.Funk says:

        EDIT. Meant for BoolianBob. Appears to be a reply failure.

        I don’t believe you’re going to find people having a revelation about the nature of games through time sink mobile device gaming. It’d be like expecting someone to suddenly appreciate literature when they’re mostly only reading those free crummy newspapers while they sit on the train.

        • BooleanBob says:

          It depends on the revelation, I suppose. It’s not inconceivable that someone, somewhere, taught themselves to read using discarded newspapers and went onwards and upwards from there.

      • disconnect says:

        Try introducing them to Spaceteam — if they can get over the self-consciousness that comes from frantically yelling instructions at each other and waving their phones around to avoid asteroids, they’ll have a whale of a time.

  12. Wulfram says:

    Chess is about killing stuff.

    Anyway, I’d suggest a good arcadey racing game. Or Assassin’s Creed 2.

  13. Arathain says:

    I would recommend the Grow series of Flash webgames. All you do is select from one of ten options to add to the tiny world you’re presented, and see what happens. Then select one of the remaining nine, and see how the two things interact, and so on, until you’ve picked all ten.

    Seeing your little world unfold and develop is a joy, though. The art and animations are perfectly charming. When you have finished you start over and try a different order, and see a whole new set of delightful things.

    There is a ‘correct’ ideal order that gets you the best possible outcome, but the real joy is in exploring the possible outcomes.

    • tylo says:

      I do love that style of game. I wish it was more about getting interesting endings based on your decisions rather than finding a “correct” combination through trial and error, but I realize how difficult of a task that would be. Permutations are a bitch.

  14. P.Funk says:

    Perhaps its worth noting that the mainstream perception of gaming is driven by mainstream gaming itself which is basically nothing like the list above. There’s one AAA title on that list, ie. games with money behind them, advertising, and large market share.

    I believe the wider public’s respect for gaming as a legitimate medium for art will come when mainstream gaming produces something somewhat literate on a regular basis, and being derivative to the point of satire or emulation of other great works in other accepted mediums, ie. games that are just trying to redo a Scorcese flick or be derivative of every WW2 movie at once, don’t count.

    That isn’t to say that there aren’t some good AAA games but still there is a resounding lack of sophistication to most AAA stuff, to the point that they basically parody themselves doing other things, ala having Kevin Spacey clearly being deliberately cliche. You end up then with things like the most well known aspects of AAA gaming being GTA’s Hot Coffee or CoD’s infamous murder the civis sequence. Not exaclty high art, but the thing most non gamers probably hear about in our sensation driven culture.

    Its not like AAA gaming has its version of the runaway opus film that laboured to make it to release, ala Apocalypse Now or something. Gaming is so corporate and developers are much less in control of their games than a director is of his film or an author of his work.

  15. Sleepymatt says:

    My suggestions – Fract OST, To the Moon, Psychonauts – yes the latter is both technical and a bit ‘shooty’ in places (and let’s not even mention Meat Circus), but there is a lot of stuff there to grab a non-gamer’s attention in a positive way despite that.

  16. MashPotato says:

    I’m not 100% sure of the criteria used for selecting these games, but in terms of showing the breadth of video games beyond shooting things, I think some puzzle games should be here. Engaging the player with solving problems and employing lateral thinking–this is something games can do better than almost any other media.

    I think it’s safe to say that if a person doesn’t enjoy problem solving (not necessarily puzzles, but problem solving in general), they won’t enjoy games.

  17. Jamesworkshop says:

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    what about

    link to amydentata.com

    could be good as a counter to the broad “violence as entertainment” mainstream

  18. DanMan says:

    Nice idea for an article. I was pondering about what game I should introduce my 70+ yo mother to recently, because she wants to learn more about computers. The biggest problem is complexity, both in terms of game concept and controls.

    First I showed her Democracy 3, but that was just too complex even though she’s obviously familiar with the game’s concept – politics. But it was simply too much. The shoddy translation didn’t help either.

    Then I let her play Osmos, but there the controls were still kind of difficult, because she isn’t even all that familiar with a mouse yet. Also pointing the cursor to the opposite of the sphere from where you want to go was confusing.

    So yeah, it’s not that easy to find an engaging, easy to grasp video game that isn’t just a digital version of an already familiar tangible game, like Chess or Solitaire (always a favourite).

    Anyway, watching her play teaches you a lot about usability. Things we take for granted, like pressing ESC to go to the menu to quit the game, become a big problem if it’s not mentioned anywhere.

    • MashPotato says:

      If you’re open to some suggestions, I’d show her a game that’s point-and-click, and there’s little timing/action involved. Perhaps something like Samarost or Botanicula, which are simple but charming, and there’s visual feedback of you interacting with the world :)

      • DanMan says:

        I’m certainly open for suggestions, as long as it’s available in German. I actually had considered Botanicula but then decided upon Osmos. Maybe I’ll show her that one next though. Osmos works pretty good thus far.

        • equatorian says:

          From my attempts to introduce modern gaming to my 65-year-old mother, I’d recommend Amanita’s games as well. You want things that show you what to do visually, with very simple and intuitive controls and the fewest text instructions as possible, and games that have very little or very lenient ‘lose’ states. Point-and-click are pretty good for this.

    • Niko says:

      What about Hexcells?

  19. Laurentius says:

    Quite an interesting list, simply boundling huge number games that are clearly not for me. And I’ve always played and still playing tons of games that are not about killing: from SimCity, Lotus, Pizza Tycoon, through years wasted on Championship Manager to Portal, Audiosurf, Euro Truck Simulator, Bejeweled, Hexcells and Spacechem. But these games (with an exception of chess,), just no. Kentucky Route Zero, it had great moments and nice atmosphere overall a bit forgettable, Proteus bored me right of the bat and I probably spent more hours just walking through back alleys of LC in GTAIV then most people spent completing missions to beat the game. The rest is just meh…
    “games that explore the human condition, games that investigate love and loss, games about family, games about history, games about culture, games about art. Games about humanity. Games for humanity.” I can’t help this I’m zoning out the moment I hear something like this about video games.

  20. kwyjibo says:

    Weird list.

    I think if you showed a non-gamer Papers, Please, they’d be bored out of their minds.

    But it’s a weird list, because it has a weird criteria. You’re not trying to show a non-gamer that games are good. You’re trying to show a non-gamer that games can be super-important wishy-washy art-wank pieces.

    I’m not sure you can do the latter without doing the former first. The former requires Mario.

    • P.Funk says:

      “super-important wishy-washy art-wank”

      As opposed to the fluffy shallow easily digested purely entertainment wank?

      I believe the criteria the article is going for is that games can be interesting for reasons beyond those which apply to teen boys.

      • kwyjibo says:

        I’m fairly sure Mario appeals to more than just teen boys and is more accessible and enjoyable than pretty much all of the games mentioned.

        Multiplayer Mario Kart is much more likely to win someone over than Dear Esther. The humanity is captured in the interactions between you and your couch-mates as they inevitably lean from side to side. That humanity is more authentic and spontaneous than any authored experience.

        This list is about impressing game shaming hipster pals, so the next time they discuss cinema or some other medium you have a deep inferiority complex about, you can become games defense force. But if I really wanted to show someone why games are great, I’d show them something engineered for joy.

        • klops says:

          “Multiplayer Mario Kart is much more likely to win someone over than Dear Esther.”

          This is The Truth. In my mind. Personally. Like.

        • BooleanBob says:

          It’s not that I disagree with you, it’s that I don’t think you’re being particularly – generous?

          I agree on the point of game shaming coming from an essentially close-minded space. I think the issue of shame is very much the unspoken elephant in the room, here. But I can also conceive that there are people in the world who could be sceptical of the value of the games beyond just hipsters. My dad isn’t a hipster. Hipster is an inherently negative term. It assumes a specific and inherently negative set of perspectives and motivations on the part of the person to whom it’s applied.

          Of those sceptics, some could, under the right circumstances, be convinced to sit down and give Mario Kart a go. Just as they could Wii Sports and so on. And that might, provided they haven’t had a fun lobotomy, turn the bulb on over their heads with regard to games. Getting them to that point with the controller in their hands, though? You might never manage it. And not automatically because they’re a hipster, or a bad person, or deficient in any way – their conception of the universe just hasn’t expanded to include Games as a thing which has value to them. Yet.

          Some people won’t buy the Mario Kart sell. You can lead a horse to a controller, but you can’t make him press A to ready up. However, if you were to hand them a copy of Dear Esther or some other walking simulator, were to tell them about this game which is basically like a short story you can inhabit – that person might just be intrigued enough to give it a shot. Dear Esther wouldn’t show them the same things that Mario Kart would show them, but it might do the achieve the same thing in a different way – turning on that light bulb marked games.

          Or break the ice, get through the pain barrier – whatever not particularly well-fitting metaphor you want to use. What I’m driving at is that these can be the games that just give a particular set of people – people who we all know are missing out – the sense that interactivity as medium, as a concept, is something they can do, can get on with, can access; that isn’t just for this group or that group, but can be for them too.

          And who knows? Maybe a few years down the line, some of those people will be happily blasting cops away in GTA 7. So if this is the vector by which Alec sees fit to proselytise, I say – with a few caveats regarding not hand-waving a whole heap of games into the cultural dustbin of only offering escapism and heroics – let him get on with it.

        • P.Funk says:

          Yes, I can see it now. Fifty year olds who read books and watch masterpiece mystery are going to come to appreciate gaming not because of an accomplished story with raw characters or a title that interweaves social allegory and complex themes amongst gameplay features but instead from bobbing side to side on a couch, desperately trying not to lose the next race because last place has to go to the store to get more mountain dew.

          I look at the Wii Sports end of gaming as a pretty shallow representation of what its capable of. Its just entertainment, lacking any depth to justify it as a deeper medium other than lacking conspicuous violence. Shallow btw needn’t be a slur, merely a description of depth. Indeed it may be engaging to many of us, but I don’t believe I’m going to get my medievalist liberal arts cranky pants father to come around by showing him Super Smash Brothers (which I loved when I was younger).

        • Kala says:

          Joy is one emotion.
          But there are other, equally valid, ones.

          I think people largely already know games can make them have fun (it’s sorta implied by the term).

          I think the point might be to show them games that can make them think, and make them feel, in ways they hadn’t expected games would be able to.

        • Lamb Chop says:

          This past year I led a three-hour conversation with my non-gaming friends about friends class series, and they were precisely the audience of folks that this article is trying to speak to: people who have never really cared to think about games because they don’t see how they’re culturally relevant to someone who doesn’t use them for escapism. I think the goal here is not to create more people who play games by introducing them to games they might like (which is another great goal), but to give people an appreciation of the breadth of emotion and value games create. Some games are good to be played, some are best shown. Things like Depression Quest, Kentucky Route Zero, Botanicula, The Walking Dead…these are games to be played. But you can also show people games and explain why they matter…DotA, Starcraft and how games have fueled competition and created an entire industry (show them the Valve documentary…my non gaming friends watched this and were amazed). The role of sandbox playground games like minecraft and garry’s mod and what people have made in these…games as tools for the imagination. If you have someone willing to listen, those conversations are great way to show people why they might care and might like it and then you can introduce them to the narrative or walking games that tell a story or show an experience and are not mechanically challenging.

    • Ditocoaf says:

      Everyone knows that games can be Fun. Games can also be other things that some people might want. This article is designed to show people that games can give them other experiences than just pure Fun. Because, again, everyone already knows that games can be fun, but it’s less-known that they can do other things as well.

  21. Kala says:

    It might be coming up, but I’d like to recommend Shelter.

    Which I guess is kind of ironic when you’re talking about “Games about humanity. Games for humanity.” as this is a game about badgers. (but hey, if you’re gonna include sea monsters…) But also it isn’t (and particularly isn’t if you wanted verisimilitude re: the ecology of badgers) – it’s a game about the general themes of bonding, nurturing, self-sacrifice and loss.

    And how many games are there where the key objective is to protect and guide something that’s vulnerable and helpless? Compared to games where the objective is to destroy, conquer or demonstrate superiority over others in some way? We have plenty of games (I play a lot of rpgs) that have elements, such as ‘escorting’ an NPC and being tasked to keep them safe – but generally, you do not emotionally invest in them; they are a means to an end and (more often than not) a hindrance and an annoyance. It is also (in general) by no means the key gameplay element in these games.

    I don’t know if it’s because I was already down, have a soft spot for animals or having a maternal moment, or what, but Shelter emotionally resonated with me in a way that I can’t remember any other game doing. Right from the get go where you have to feed one a baby dying of starvation, (literally) fading away and not moving, in order to nurse it back to health (and in order to teach you how the game works). I don’t know how it’s worked given it’s abstract; but that’s it, I’ve bonded with my badger cub. Impression has occurred.

    And keeping them safe is difficult. As well as trying to navigate keeping them fed equally (as they are realistically eager for food and will happily attempt to out compete their rival siblings) to prevent any individual starving, there are an array of external threats – predators, the natural environment, getting left too far behind, etc. You feel the urgency there; the threat, quite keenly. Hiding while a giant bird (I can’t imagine what bird is big enough to carry off a badger – a kind of eagle maybe?) lets out a piercing cry and the enormous shadow of it’s wingspan falls over you is genuinely filled with tension.

    From the end of the first level I knew I was going to be upset, when a hollow log bridging a chasm gave way and I audibly exclaimed “no!” as, alarmed, I was concerned harm would befall my babies (rather than it being a level transition).

    and, inevitably, harm did befall my babies. despite my best intentions, I was a bad mother – I failed them. and there is no image or concept in gaming that has upset me quite as much as wandering aimlessly around the last level, holding food in my mouth with nobody to feed it to. It’s like there was no point to anything any more. This badger’s sole reason for living has been taken away. (This badger is very depressed)

    And that did for me, tbh. I guess I’m trying to make amends here, because my review on steam simply read “I don’t think I can play this game again :(” which, while a genuine reaction, is not doing the game justice for just what a significant thing it’s accomplished here.

    I kind of had an argument with my partner over it. We like different types of games and look for different things in what we play; which is fine. (He can’t bear Final Fantasy, and I am a fan – especially 7). I insisted he play Shelter, bought it for him with the tag “this is important.” I didn’t want him to be upset, but I had no other way to properly share what I had felt. Just describing it wasn’t going to do it. And I wanted to share what I’d experienced.

    And… he didn’t like it, especially. Various things irritated him. He wasn’t keen on the art style. He agreed that it was a great concept, and also agreed that very few games come from the kind of ethos that Shelter has, but didn’t feel it was executed well – or as well as it could’ve been.

    I had to draw a line under that and tell him I just wasn’t able to debate the technical merits, to clinically analyse it’s features, when the emotional impact it had on me was so strong and personal. It was jarring. Felt inappropriate somehow, as if it was being diminished. I was disappointed I couldn’t share it with him.

    • Melody says:

      That’s how I feel in conversation with other gamers 99% of the time. You’re not alone.

    • cthulhie says:

      I played until one of them got away from me in the night, and that was it. I just couldn’t.

      I have nothing but good things to say about that goddamned game.

  22. Melody says:

    I greatly appreciate the intent behind this article, it’s a trend I’m seeing more and more, especially for those that live “at the edges of gaming”. Just last week I remember reading a tumblr post from a queer game dev (can’t remember the name unfortunately) who decided to make a list of the player objectives in the games she had made over the past 2 years, to evaluate herself on the diversity of goals, and purge her games of violence and murder as much as possible. I’m very happy that Alec took it upon himself to write something in the same trend.

    I’m trying to think of other games, and one I’d definitely recommend is Glitchhikers. I haven’t played KRZ yet, but from my understanding it has a similar surreal mood, short, free, easy to control.
    I’d also add Depression Quest, for a different take on what twine can do. And Cis Gaze, for another different take on the possibilities of Twine. ( link to philome.la )
    Perhaps Actual Sunlight, or The Longest Journey or To The Moon, or Dominique Pamplemousse, or Thomas Was Alone, if you don’t think it’s too hard. I’d like to say The Stantley Parable, or Save The Date, but them being a critique of trends and assumption in gaming, they require a certain familiarity with gaming. Although I showed TSP to a non-gamer friend and she loved how smart and funny it is anyway.

    What about a visual novel? Perhaps a Christine Love game. Or a Jonas Kyratzes game from the land of dreams. Lovely aesthetic, easy to control, very politically-involved storyline, no mind-breaking puzzles.
    Also, Mountain. Mini-Metro.
    I almost forgot Dis4ria.
    SO MANY GAMES.

    Then link them to Forest Ambassador, which expressly selects games that are accessible to people who don’t have much experience with games.

  23. braincruser says:

    You forgot the most important one> link to otherworlds.co.uk

  24. Modifier says:

    My recommendation for this list, although it is quite old but still very relevant at least design wise would be Shadow Of The Colossus. I understand that the controls might be a little complex so perhaps this would be a game that typically non-game sorts, could progressively move to from previous experience with other examples. In any case, its quite a beautiful piece of work. Wandering the open and lonely environments, with the only company being your trusted friend and majestic steed, gives a lot of time and opportunity to think and to ponder, as well as to create memories based on those experiences.

    Traversing these usually barren landscapes with your focal purpose appearing to be to find, climb and slaughter these distinctively unique and captivating creatures, whose scale induces a sense of wonder, intrigue and maybe even fear, perhaps a fear of the unknown, fills you with even if not intently design wise, remorse, regret and profound guilt. The game appears to encourages you to question why you had to murder these beautiful creatures.

    Another recommendation would be The Walking Dead, the controls are relatively simple as the game is near enough exclusively point and click. It allows for interaction in events that happen, were one has to make difficult decisions. Another important factor is being given the choice of what to say to other characters, if anything at all, and living with those consequences. These are things that only a interactive medium can deliver, and I think that The Walking Dead portrays these differences well, and gives a glimpse into the power that this medium contains, which is it’s choice, and interaction.

    • Melody says:

      I suspect the list is limited to PC games. As for console games, there are other easier games than SotC to initiate a non-gamer. Things like Flowers, and Journey share a similar approach (although not a similar atmosphere).

      • Modifier says:

        It is possibly to emulate relatively easily on PC, but given that these people would not have any experience in this, its probably an inadequate answer to expect that of someone lacking in experience of this. With my recommendation for Shadow Of The Colossus, it was not for it’s immediate ease of use for controls, which they are not, it was more so that it could, or has the possibility to be respected by people who usually do not delve into this medium.

  25. mactenchi says:

    The PopCap games (Peggle, Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies) seem like a major omission.

  26. BPLlama says:

    I used to introduce non-gamers to the old LucasArts adventures. Day of the Tentacle for light fun, Grim Fandango for those who can appreciate some drama. :)

  27. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    The Fate of the World is the most humanist game I’ve ever played. At least in terms of soberly confronting humanity’s most pressing and real existential threat.

    • alms says:

      Had the same thought (probably because of Democracy 3) but there’s no going around that game is hard as nail.

  28. jonahcutter says:

    Good article theme. In the face of all the recent negativity generated by several different quarters from within gaming, this is a great, all-encompassing, mature theme to push.

    So glad to see Kentucky Route Zero. It’s not for everyone, but neither is David Lynch. And while it has some similar qualities with that widely recognized film auteur, it lacks the malevolence often found in his works.

    I’ll throw in Spintires. It’s fairly unique amongst driving games as it’s not timed nor a race, and requires no twitchy, fast-driving skills. Plus it’s a situation easily recognizable to the non-gamer folk: getting your vehicle stuck in the mud.

    Beware though, as it can be sneakily difficult. A route can look simple and easily passable, but the game can ruthlessly punish hubris, impatience and misjudgment (a real-life lesson anyone can appreciate). It’s the Dark Souls of the driving genre. But then you also get the satisfaction of winching out.

  29. DrManhatten says:

    Not to want to discredit the Author but although what he writes is correct but frankly no one can’t deny that these games are more a minority.than the norm as for every one of these are about 50 others that are just about blowing up and killing things. Who claims otherwise is pretty much a hypocrite.

    • toastmodernist says:

      This is p. much true for any form of media though right?

      Like no-one stops people making a list of contemplative slow cinema classics because for everyone of those there are about 50 others that… etc.

      • DrManhatten says:

        I am just saying it is easy to understand why from an outside point of view you could come to this conclusion and the game industry hasn’t really done much to improve that imagine itself as it relies and heavily advertise these type of blockbuster games like CoTD , GTA, Battlefield series. We all know sex & violence sells and as you pointed out the game media isn’t better in this respect than any other form of modern entertainment. At least the movie industry has something called film festivals and film awards where most often this more “artistic” side of the media form is shown to the public. Maybe the game industry has to take a lesson from that example if it wants to be taken more serious! Large parts of the gaming fanbase however aren’t really helping either

        • Melody says:

          Even though they aren’t as popular or as advertised, those games and those festivals already do exist.

          • DrManhatten says:

            I know but that’s the problem they are not popular and not advertised and writing articles on RPS about this is great but will not achieve anything because no one outside the “hardcore pc game fanbase” is going to read it or even know about this article.

            But then I wouldn’t really worry about it too much as things are slowly changing and maybe it is just a generation more until this perception is going away as large chunk of the population is likely to have come in contact with (video) games at some stage in their lifetime if not have grown up with them.

  30. captain nemo says:

    “Kentucky Route Zero is theatre, with you as both director and star.” Very well put, Mr Meer.

    Also; ‘The Shivah’ should get a mention

  31. JeCa says:

    It’s been mentioned slightly above me, but I feel it deserves another callout:

    Fate of The World.
    It has an incredibly important theme that surprisingly little popular media is concerned with. It’s a great example of the unique possibilities games provide for getting people involved in a given subject matter. It’s mechanically simple enough that a new player won’t be completely overwhelmed, but still really deep and devilishly difficult as you start realising what it’ll take to actually save the world (as fits the subject matter). It is possibly slightly too complex, but having mentioned it to multiple non-gamers I know its premise is unique enough to get people interested who otherwise had never cared about games.

  32. ffordesoon says:

    Great piece!

    Fallen London and the rest of the Failbetter oeuvre strikes me as a good game for non-gamers, as it’s well-written and dead simple to control, but uses interactivity as only a game can. I’m tempted to recommend King Of Dragon Pass for the same reason, but it could be overwhelming.

  33. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    No. These are not games for not gamers, but games for niche gamers. And no, Gone Home, Proteus and Dear Esther are not good games, good experiments or good art, and I see that there is such a gap between what they claim to be and what they are that they are for me laughable and pedantic. A bit like Myst back in the day, which was the game for the illuminated ones with patience that could enjoy the scenery or something.

    Papers Please and Democracy 3 read as extremely cynical pieces of work (as sandbox games usually are), but I still have to try them. To The Moon is the “Love Story” of videogames and its use of melodrama is as childish and shameful as in that movie. I am curious about Shelter and Brothers.

    But, as explained, the games for non gamers are not these ones, but simple games. Even when you cannot notice it, Gone Home depends on a familiarity of tropes and controls learnt by FPS. It is a bit like recommending Watchmen as the first comic book for someone, when one actually needs to put a context of many comic books of the era (among other things) to understand completely what it is telling.

    • ffordesoon says:

      You sound fun.

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      I mostly disagree, but saying Gone Home is to games what Watchmen is to comics sounds pretty spot-on to me. Both are excellent works that require a high level of medium literacy to fully understand, and the people more likely to sing their praise are also the ones more likely to be so highly literate in their medium they are literally unable to see how complicated they’d be to a newbie. (But both are also approachable enough for said newbies that they’d get something out of the experience – it’s just as likely though that they’d be confused, frustrated or underwhelmed.)

    • thedosbox says:

      No. These are not games for not gamers, but games for niche gamers.

      So you’re implying that there are “real” gamers and “niche” gamers?

      If I were to extend that ridiculous logic, people who only play FPS games are “niche” right? So are people who only play strategy games? Or those who think anything labelled “indie” is not worth their time?

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        . And no, Gone Home, Proteus and Dear Esther are not good games, good experiments or good art

        Phew! Good thing you were here to set us straight

  34. mejoff says:

    A good read, and some good recommendations.

    Some of the above comments, and the fact that ‘This is very important: to praise the games below is not to criticise anything else, or to argue that games should only be like these things’ was necessary are fucking tragic though.

    • Laurentius says:

      But author framed that discussion himself. When you start by dividing games into two categories: games about escapism and “There are games that are literary, games that are socially-conscious, games that are political, games that explore the human condition, games that investigate love and loss, games about family, games about history, games about culture, games about art. Games about humanity. Games for humanity.”. This is not very neutral stance, and no disclaimer can fix that, when such loaded with posotivness descritpion is put on one group of them.
      “escapism and tales of heroism” vs. “There are games that are literary, games that are socially-conscious, games that are political, games that explore the human condition, games that investigate love and loss, games about family, games about history, games about culture, games about art. Games about humanity. Games for humanity.” but both types are equally fine, yeah right…

      • BooleanBob says:

        Good catch, Laurentius. I definitely agree that it’s a pretty polarising way to frame the discussion (do games have to be either/or? does the presence of one somehow cancel out the other?). The fact that Alec felt the need to pre-empt any fallout from it suggests he was probably aware of that too.

  35. Unknown says:

    I think a point-and-click adventure game would be perfect to show someone disinterested in games but interested in good stories and interesting worlds. Maybe something without any “combine the rubber chicken with the waffle iron” moon logic or Sierra’s “you didn’t get the lemon at the very beginning? haha you’re SCREWED”. Something like Broken Age would be perfect, because it’s pretty easy and the artwork is beautiful.

    Honestly I probably wouldn’t show something like Kentucky Route Zero or Proteus to my mom or my girlfriend because they’re a bit too esoteric. Part of the reason those games are so effective is they take something familiar to gamers and tweak it. I think they’d be too confusing for someone unfamiliar with games. A gamer understands that “all you do is walk around and explore” is the POINT of Proteus, but a non-gamer would just be like “Wait, what am I supposed to be doing?”

    • klops says:

      I think KRZ would work quite well with a person who hasn’t tried gaming before. It is very easy to play and the athmpsphere is pretty… overwhelming? I don’t know the word for it. It sucks you in easily, I mean.

      Then again, in order to enjoy the game the person should enjoy One Hundreds Of Solitude more than Battleship The Movie.

  36. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    Why is The Sims 3 the only Sims game on the list, as opposed to its predecessors and newly released sucessor? Honest question – I only played 1 and 2, but felt that some of the stuff 3 did to try to create a seamless neighborhood backfired and wasn’t even interested.

  37. Premium User Badge

    Overload-J says:

    Kerbal Space Program. Build rockets like Legos… have fun…. learn some of the basics of spaceflight!
    I’ve commonly had to ward off objections about violence and complaints about games as mindless brain-rot. KSP has spectacular explosions, but the suggested goals aren’t killing; and it’s pretty easy to demonstrate how it teaches lessons about real spaceflight.

    Moire broadly, though, if the goal is recruiting, you have to find a game on a topic the person is interested in. Without that hook, they are going to be bored, period. (I can hook my non-gamer but puzzle-loving mother on most puzzle games with a reasonable tutorial or accessible interface; but my attempt to show her SimCity was met with total disinterest.)

  38. thedosbox says:

    Great idea. Here’s hoping Analogue: A Hate Story makes the final list:

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

  39. Gpig says:

    I gave up for a long time trying to get other people to play games after trying to get my mom to play Rez on the PS2 and realizing that she couldn’t move the sticks correctly. I didn’t really think about trying again until Proteus came out, but it’s just hard to get people to sit down and actually try it. I’ve made recommendations for Proteus, Blues For Mittavinda (though that’s mostly to get them to try meditation. That game was the first time I had tried meditation and it changed my life, so I’m grateful for it and try to spread it.), Thomas Was Alone, and Bernband but not many try them.
    I think it’s a problem in all mediums. It’s hard to know when someone is recommending something because it’s pretty good or because it made them feel euphoric in a way that only happens a few times a year if you’re lucky. It’s easier to tell with books, because people almost never recommend them so when they do it’s because it was hugely influential in their life. Even if it was incredible for them, there’s a large chance that it won’t have much of an effect on you. The Zelda game that came out on the 3DS last year had people raving about it, but I haven’t played it because I feel like I’m burned out on Zelda games. I might love it, but I’m skeptical in the way people are skeptical when something is recommended that they don’t think they’ll like.

  40. Frank says:

    You know the easiest way to get into games? Try those that are embedded in the browser:
    Everything by Molleindustria

    For installables, I’d suggest:
    And Yet It Moves
    Everything by Nifflas
    Shelter
    Snapshot Adventures

    You need more multiplayer games, but I only know Mario Kart and Bomberman.

  41. Geebs says:

    This is kinda like saying that we should try to explain to somebody who is completely new to movies how great films are by starting them off with 6 hours of Tarkovsy and Terrence Malick.

    Human beings are by nature competitive and violent. People who don’t game are expressing distaste at the violence because people like disparaging things and that’s all they are aware of. Same with the Mass Effect alien boobs “scandal”. I don’t really thing that emphasising how boring games are will necessarily help.

    Also, when did Portal cease to be a thing? That’s literally the only game my SO has ever shown any interest in.

  42. psepho says:

    Great article but a slight bias towards the 3D walking sim which while a great genre can be tricky from a control point of view.

    Some extra suggestions (one if which was already mentioned above):

    Fate of the World — Very easy control scheme and very compelling real world ideas

    Crusader Kings 2 — providing a player is encouraged not to worry too much about the depth of menus, it engages a lot of the same interests as historical literature and dramas from a different more systemic perspective.

    Howling Dogs and/or Their Angelic Understanding — all of Porpentine’s games are great but these two are the most accessible and are likely to appeal to many lovers of literary science fiction. I would also say that to my mind Porpentine’s work is the closest that the gamosphere has got to great literature.

  43. valrus says:

    First off, I’m all in favor of this series; I’ve really been wanting a regular series on non-violent games. But I think there might be two or three competing columns duking it out here, though: the “convince people to game” games, the “games can be more than just time-wasting fun” games, and the “non-violent games” have some overlap, but trying to do all three at once results in an odd set of games, not necessarily suitable for any particular purpose. Almost none of these would “convert” the actual people I know who don’t play video games; for a lot of them, appreciating them would require “game literacy” that these friends wouldn’t have. It’d be like trying to get someone into modern literature by giving them some Samuel Beckett.

    I’d rather have columns that went hard in a specific direction, be that “Here are games for new gamers”, or “Here are games that push the artistic or literary boundaries of the medium”, or “Here are games that have interesting themes and mechanics that aren’t just combat.” OR, think of a specific, actual human non-gamer of your acquaintance, and make the exact mixtape of games that would convert them. I know a few such humans and each of them would be converted by an entirely different set of games.

  44. Olero says:

    Nice list, though definitely not for everyone. More a list to recommend to ex-gamers (yeah, that is a weird word) that are not aware there is more than “childish games” that they used to play in their childhood before moving on because games are for kids, or other, similar reasons. I can’t see myself recommend most of these to for example my parents.

    What I would add to the list (though I realize most at least seem “kiddy” :

    – World of goo
    – Thomas was alone
    – Tiny truck
    – Spacechem
    – Botanicula
    – Scribblenauts unlimited
    – Machinarium
    – The secret of Monkey Island Special Edition
    – The wolf among us
    – Audiosurf?
    – Minecraft?
    – Game dev tycoon?

  45. Wowbagger says:

    Herdy Gerdy maybe? A little obscure to be sure but I loved the weird colour palate and Warner Bro’s style characters, and it had a very simple mechanic.

  46. Ross Angus says:

    Thank you so much for this list. You’ve articulated something I’ve had on the tip of my brain for a long time.

  47. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    I dunno. I mean, I see where you’re coming from but, the problem I’d have with a lot of these games is I’m not sure they’re actually that fun. Take (the admittedly hugely acclaimed) Papers Please, it was an interesting experience but I’m not sure I was actually enjoying myself at any point while I was playing it. If the intent is to show people who don’t play games what games can bring I personally feel that maybe including games that are just fun, that put a big silly smile on your face, would be more valuable than these interesting experiences.

    Maybe that’s for part 2. Like I said, I dunno.

  48. alms says:

    Judging from the suggestions the multi-headed approach of this post has generated some confusion – but I also think many haven’t had anything to do with a non-gaming person unit recently, because the titles suggested are way too hard for someone who doesn’t play games and some are hard even for those who do!

  49. nemryn says:

    Possible correction: W and S are ‘Forward’ and ‘Back Up’ more often then they are ‘Up’ and ‘Down’, in my experience.

    • gmillar says:

      I think it’s fair to assume he was comparing them to the arrow keys, which pretty much everyone is familiar with.

  50. ebyronnelson says:

    Great post … but this list somehow seems to be aimed at the demographic of me (even though I also play the big murder games and consult RPS and other gaming sites regularly). The reason is that I have already played to completion (or thereabouts) and loved every single game on this list, with the exception of the two I became exhausted with and subsequently analyzed my exhaustion with (The Sims series and the Democracy series), and the one I continue to play daily, as I have for decades (chess).

    Of course, the stated intention is to provide this list as a sort of primer for non-gamers, but in that capacity isn’t its purpose also to demonstrate what is best or what is most promising in contemporary games, from the point of view of someone who is a bit sick of but nevertheless obsessed with games? What I mean to say is that, although my list would have been quite different, these particular games resonated with me as all being included in the set of games I have fixated on as a result of having become sick of most games. Although I get sucked into playing the big murder games, I hate the big murder games. This hate has nothing to do with “violence in the media”: the more sex and violence, of the most extreme sort, in the media, the better, I say. In fact, I think there is not enough truly intimate, realistic violence in games. Rather, what I hate is the reptilian fantasy of power through highly artificial, constructed combat that is the core experience of the majority of games. What I also hate is the endless iterations and variations of the same tried and true mechanics, with their host of weird, unexamined assumptions, which each of the above games strive to reach beyond in their own ways.

    Although I take Alec’s statements about the worthiness of epic heroism and his general enthusiasm for the medium at face value, and I infer nothing about his deeper feelings or attitude toward gaming, I still think this list functions best as a partial canon for people who are obsessed with games and yet deeply disappointed by them, who are always searching for something more in them, or at least something entirely outside of what makes them terrible.