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Game as poetry: The Endless Forest

Deer_2 My friend Chris over at The Artful Gamer has written an extraordinarily insightful essay devoted to The Endless Forest, a "game" described by its creator as:

 ...a multiplayer online game and social screensaver, a virtual place where you can play with your friends. When your computer goes to sleep you appear as a deer in this magical place. There are no goals to achieve or rules to follow. Just run through the forest and see what happens.

Many of us who care about video games frequently clamor for new ideas, new play experiences, something different. The Endless Forest is something truly different. Chris elegantly explains how and, more vitally, why this difference matters so much:

Play is poetic - it requires us not only to negotiate with other human beings on the rules of a game using words or symbolic acts (and in the game’s case, deer-like actions), but come to new formulations of those rules when someone breaks them. In that way, The Endless Forest is the ultimate user-created fantasy world where our spoken languages no longer matter and we can, as human beings, come to define languages and games within the world together.

The “game” is not really a game as we currently understand them (as abstract rules-systems that designers allow us to play) - the game is really a world, a forest (!), or a city park that gives people new opportunities to play with each other freely with as few external rules as possible. That is what sets the game apart from other MMORPGs that rely upon external rules to give players a sense of purpose of duty - in this game the goals are left unspecified and totally to the player’s imagination and social context. That is what makes the game truly artful - it destroys our pre-conceptions of ‘play’ in video games.

The Endless Forest is a free game, so I hesitate to complain, but I do wish its creators would see fit to release a Mac version. I believe the Mac user-base would warmly receive such a graceful and imaginative game.

The Artful Gamer continues to see things and say things about video games that inspire me. You can read the full essay, The Endless Forest: Play & Poesis in Games, here.