Gaming's quiet revolution

The games pushing the boundaries of how we play aren't violent or explicit. They're mellow, meditative and curiously creative. Jack Riley reports on a chilled-out cultural shift

From alien invasions to deadly viruses, rampaging armies to illegal street races, the world of video games can be a pretty stressful place. But of late, the screams, crashes and explosions have taken a back set and a strange calmness is beginning to descend, all thanks to a few pioneering titles taking the industry – very quietly – by storm.

Spurred on by the phenomenal success of the Nintendo Wii, the last few years have seen a significant market develop for games which reject everything they were raised on. The birth pangs of the gaming industry were stressful enough; now many argue we're seeing the tumultuous upheaval of what some would call a burgeoning art-form in its adolescence.

However, it's hard to imagine a more prosaic rebellion. The games which are pushing hardest at the boundaries are those which seem to abandon conventional gaming traditions altogether. Flower, a recent downloadable PlayStation 3 title in which the player controls a gust of wind pushing petals around a dreamlike landscape using the controller's accelerometer,has caught an industry brought up on the violence and testosterone of titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Gears of War off guard.

To play Flower is to enter a world unlike any most gamers have experienced before. While there is a roughly mission-based structure to the gameplay, its dazzling visuals and the simplicity of the controls encourage you to explore and experiment with the various landmarks dotted around the engrossing landscape. To push your petals up and over the green crest of a hill and watch the individual blades of grass flow around them is to experience a transcendental calmness the Dalai Lama himself would be proud of.

Its co-creator has described it as an "interactive poem regarding the tension between urban life and nature", putting it about as far away from recent hits such as the zombie-filled Resident Evil 5 and sweat-stained Fifa 09 as you can get. While Sony refuses to release exact download figures, with more than 2 million users of the PlayStation Network (the online store from which the game can be downloaded), and a price-tag of just £10, the internet is buzzing with Flower fever.

"I think we are starting to see the birth of a new genre," says Gavin Ogden, editor of CVG magaine. "One which, while light on traditional gaming mechanics, offers a relaxing escape where there are no lives to be lost, time limits to run out or end of level bosses to defeat." With its eerily soothing soundscape and disarmingly simplistic graphic charm, playing Flower can feel more like meditating than playing a game – which is its whole point, according to co-creator Kellee Santiago. She says her aim is to "make video games that communicate different emotional experiences which the current video game market is not offering". Santiago is also behind the critically acclaimed titles Flow and Cloud. Nature is a running theme throughout their games. "Flower began as an attempt to capture the feeling of being in a gigantic flower field," she says. Santiago is passionate about creating new kinds of games. "There is an untapped market for games that are unlike what's been made in the past," she says. "We can't predict the future, but hopefully by showing developers, publishers, and players that games could offer something different, it will encourage more of them to create games that are unique."

Gaming's short history has been dominated by the kind of competition its own creations have encouraged, with developers trying to outdo each other with the fastest or most controversial releases available for years. Now though, with the depths of controversy well and truly plumbed, some argue an industry larger than Hollywood is just beginning to recognise its powers of expression are much greater than it ever realised. Santiago, like many others, is wary of comparisons with other artistic mediums.

"We say that video games are now a mass media, that it's bigger than the film industry," she claims, "but when you compare the sales figures of GTA IV to Monopoly, there's no competition. Monopoly far outsells it. And it's not a technology barrier. It's an emotional one."

This urge to change the way games affect players emotionally has manifested itself from both ends of the development cycle, from consumers who are responding to new, unconventional releases with enthusiasm and high sales to some of the most mainstream of games developers. Peter Molyneux, who having been responsible for hits like Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper is about as close as the gaming industry comes to a celebrity, perhaps describes this shift in attitudes best. "The psychology of making a video game has been in the past," he says. "What's gonna make you sweat, what's gonna keep you on the edge of your seat? That's a fundamental problem for me as a designer. We're now trying to make you feel something, anything, other than just sweating and sitting on the edge of your seat."

This fresh attention to gaming's effect on the individual represents a recognition of the moral and creative shortcomings of the medium's mainstream. Titles such as Gears of War 2 will always be highly profitable for developers and publishers, because the excitement generated by completing complicated and often violent missions is more than equal to the comparative thrills offered by films, television, books or sport.

The huge cash generated by these titles has funded the entire growth of an industry now worth more than £4bn in Britain alone, but with consoles now ubiquitous, it's understandable that a wider audience is wondering what all the fuss is about with the little box in the corner of their living room. Gaming's new, more diverse audience of the last few years means that the conditions are perfect for a shift in gaming's position in society. As it stands, the boundaries are shifting with every new release. But with independent titles such as Cloud and Flower leading the charge, not only is the sky the limit; the answer is blowing in the wind.

Cool and unusual: Unlikely titles

'De Blob' – Wii

Propelling a blob around a virtual city, painting surfaces different colours and rolling over your enemies is just as much fun as it sounds. Described by gaming website IGN as "one of the best third-party efforts to come over to Wii in a long time", it's easy to lose hours to the smooth cartoon-like graphics and addictive gameplay.



'Nintendogs' – DS

Following in the paw prints of the Petz series, and a distant cousin of the Tamagotchi, 'Nintendogs' is every stressed-out parent's best friend, allowing children to be easily pacified by raising a virtual canine without the annoyance of costly vets' bills, toilet-training and the ruining of furniture.



'Seek '*Spell' – iPhone

'Seek '*Spell' is part of a growing trend of "augmented reality" games designed to be played by a group of friends with their iPhones. Players are shown a map of their current location on their phone screen, overlayed with random letters. The aim of the game is to build words out of the letters by moving to their location on the map in order. Currently awaiting approval from Apple to appear in the App store, it seems a sure-fire hit for iPhone users this summer.



'Cooking Guide' – DS

Featuring 245 recipes in painstaking detail, the DS's personal cookery guide employs the spoonful-of-sugar approach to teaching you how to cook; with the novelty of learning from a handheld console, you almost don't realise you're finally weaning yourself off the Domino's pizzas.



'PixelJunk Eden' – PS3

The third title in the 'PixelJunk' series is a mind-expanding affair, in which you control a "grimp" (a combination of "grip" and "jump") whose job it is to swing around the game's psychedelic gardens while all around plants unfurl their foliage to aid your progress.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Ashdown Group: Linux Administrator - London - £50,000

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator ...

    Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Analyst - London - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Server Reporting Analyst (Busine...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?