Proteus and Audio-Visual Beauty

Proteus does something to me, on an emotional level, that I can’t quite explain.  I wish I could reverse engineer its beauty, breaking it down into a list of ingredients that I could then use in my own games.  But it’s not that simple.

Proteus, by Ed Key and David Kanaga, is a game about walking and looking around.  Those are its only mechanics, and the only way in which you interact with the world.  The “goal” in Proteus is to explore an island from the first person view, looking and listening to it, taking in all its beauty.  Even though it is never stated, it’s pretty clear that you are expected to look for new things in the world.  A large part of the excitement is finding a new animal or a new plant, or reaching a new peak.  This Electron Dance video of Joel Goodwin playing Proteus with his young son is probably the best example of the sense of wonder the game creates.

After exploring for a while, though, you will find yourself watching the sunrise, contemplating nature, and then remembering that it’s not quite nature that you are looking at.  Proteus is a game about nature and about the ways in which humans interact with nature.  It is the most immersive and meaningful digital representation of nature I’ve ever experienced.

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Proteus changed my view on digital games.  When I started studying games within an academic setting, in college, I learned a very formal, mechanics-driven approach to game design.  The idea behind this method is that, in order to create good digital games, students need to learn the core aspects that differentiate games from other media.  This often leads to students first learning how to dissect and create board games, since they are often considered a more distilled form of game design.    I am not here to argue against this teaching method – I think it’s valid and quite valuable.  On the other hand, it can cause developers to focus too deeply on mechanics and gameplay while ignoring other aesthetic considerations that make a videogame complete.

Maybe I’m giving Proteus too much credit.  It didn’t completely change my view on digital games.  I’ve been thinking about this issue for a long time.  I’ve been questioning my allegiance to a mechanics-centered game design perspective for as long as I’ve held on to this “philosophy.”  Proteus helps, though, because to me it feels like a pinnacle of audio-visual-centric design.  When I first heard about Proteus, I thought I wouldn’t care for it.  I thought that it would bore me.  But it does something, on a deep emotional level, that just works.

 * * *

Proteus, in the end, helps me move further into a design philosophy that avoids blacks and whites, finding a comfortable home in the much less solid greys.  Videogames aren’t about mechanics.  They aren’t about visual or audio either.  They aren’t about the ideas of the author or about the experience of the player.  They aren’t about story or actions or strategy.  They aren’t about controllers or processors or screens.  They aren’t about technology or culture or ritual.

Videogames are a combination of all these factors, or a combination of some of these factors.  Videogames are whatever we want them to be.  For Ed Key and David Kanaga, while making Proteus, videogames are about the beauty of walking, looking, and listening.

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  • Infovore » Links for February 26th :

    […] Proteus and Audio-Visual Beauty | Games @ Parsons "Proteus, in the end, helps me move further into a design philosophy that avoids blacks and whites, finding a comfortable home in the much less solid greys.  Videogames aren’t about mechanics.  They aren’t about visual or audio either.  They aren’t about the ideas of the author or about the experience of the player.  They aren’t about story or actions or strategy.  They aren’t about controllers or processors or screens.  They aren’t about technology or culture or ritual. […]

    6 years ago
  • A Theoretical War, Part 2 « Electron Dance :

    […] and Narbacular Drop. But Hokra developer Ramiro Corbetta recently discussed how Proteus helped confirm his doubts about this focus on rules: Maybe I’m giving Proteus too much credit. It didn’t completely change my view on digital […]

    6 years ago