17 Games that Showcase Gaming
(or, interactive art & entertainment: a short tour)
OK, dear readers, it’s time for some BuzzFeed-style content here on the Social Media Collective.
You want to understand digital media, right? You occasionally like to play a game, right?
I’m pleased to revisit and refresh my list of games that quickly demonstrate what is possible in digital gaming. Sort of: “digital games, a short tour.” With this list, you can inexpensively, briefly play one game every day and at the end of it all you’ve had a broad experience of what digital games can do.
To keep your attention, this blog post is illustrated with a few choice screen shots from games on the list. Like this one:
The ground rules. Games on the list must be:
- a computer game
- easy-to-learn-to-play (Not necessarily “easy.”)
- free, cheap ($10 or less), or have a meaningful playable demo
- quick, or at least quick to get into the substance (They need not be “casual” but casual is OK. If there’s a long tutorial before you get to the good stuff, forget it.)
- more likely to be from obscure, independent producers
- representing some aspect of gaming so that the complete list captures much of what is possible (The goal is breadth, within the limits of cheap, quick, and easy-to-learn.)
- the kind of thing that does not require unusual hardware or software (Games that can be played in a browser are ideal. Multi-platform games are great. Games that can be played with an downloaded emulator are OK. Games only playable on the Vectrex will not work.)
Note that the games don’t have to be new — in fact classic or influential games are a big plus. Technically I shouldn’t even care if the games are fun; they are supposed to broaden your perspective about what is possible. But don’t worry, these are fun.
Keep in mind that with the above requirements (free! obscure!) you won’t find AAA graphics and celebrity voices. Although some of these games are quite beautiful, there’s definitely less polish than average. Indeed, you could say these contenders tend toward the bizarre. But that’s OK. In the words of Mettaton, “Who needs arms with legs like these?”
But taking this tour is a great way to expand your perspective about digital game genres if you haven’t spent a lot of time with indies. And who doesn’t like a quick browser game? Vin Diesel understands.
(ASMR) Vin Diesel DMing a Game of D&D Just For You 
I’ll mark games on the list with [*] if they are super-duper quick, so you can jump right in if you want to.
Okay, without further ado, here is the list.
The 17 (Quick, Cheap, Easy-to-Learn) Games that Showcase (the Breadth of Potential in Digital) Gaming:
- Undertale.  ($10. This is the RPG where each monster does their best. At first it looks like straight nostalgia, until you realize what is actually going on. Would you kiss a ghost? HECK YEAH.)
- TIS-100  ($7. The puzzler’s puzzler. Motto: “It’s the assembly language programming game you never asked for!” This counts as easy-to-learn because its goal is to be “almost inscrutable,” and it succeeds immediately.)
- (ASMR) Vin Diesel DMing a Game of D&D Just For You  (Free. Yes that entire thing is the name. That title really describes it quite well, except that there is no ASMR. It’s a text adventure.) [*]
- Passage  (cost: free, format: side-scroller, crying: possibly, difficult to explain: yes) [*]
- Thirty Flights of Loving  ($5. Demolitions! Mechanic! Sharpshooter! Confectioner! Anita does it all. Time for a blast of narrative.) [*]
- Diner Dash  (Free. The game that took StarCraft casual. Heck it’s the game that took casual casual. It’s real-time resource management. Hurry up, it’s closing time.) [*]
- dys4ia  (Free. A game about identity that is also an autobiographical journal.) [*]
- Flow [2006/2013] (Free to download or $6 on PSN. Action/arcade, with a twist or two. Play the rebooted version on your biggest available screen.) [*]
- Façade  (Free. This game pioneered a new direction in conversational AI. It’s an uncanny cross between an RPG and a chat session. The New York Times said it was “the future of games” in 2004, but Trip told me “you know what? I think you should leave.”)
SissyFight 2000 [2000/2014] (Free. Take the trash-talk out of the CoD lobby and put it where it belongs… in the schoolyard. SissyFight is multiplayer game theory, people. And by “game theory” I mean the John Nash kind.)Oops, it looks like the 2014 Kickstarter reboot doesn’t work. I see a lot of bug reports and no players. 😦
- A Series of Gunshots.  (Free. Quite a different take on the shooter.) [*]
- Papers, Please  ($10. A morality puzzler/RPG crossover you might actually be able to finish, unlike the other puzzler on this list.)
- QWOP  (Free. A paragon of simulation. You’ll scorn those games with a simple “run” button after you get the chance to individually operate each of your hips and knees.) [*]
- Candy Box 2  (Free. It’s time-based click-farming that forges a new relationship to time, and to clicks. Or at least a new relationship to the game developer.)
- FTL [2012/2014] ($10 with a great iPad interface. Roguelike. “Please accept these small cakes made from stiff dough.” This is space exploration with character, and a great way to practice dying over and over.)
- Habbo Hotel. [2000-present] (Free. It’s a MOO! Sort of. Motto: “A strange place with awesome people. Get noticed!”)
- EnviroBear [2000/2010] (Free for PC, $1 for Android/iPhone. No list of games is complete without a driving game. Here’s a driving game where the premise is that you are a one-armed bear trying to drive a car. You may also get to wear a hat.) [*]
But there are so many great games I’ve left off the list! It makes me so mad I almost want to give the “throw baby” command.
Peasant’s Quest 
So here are some Honorable Mentions:
- Ultra Business Tycoon III.  (Free. A text adventure that feels like André Breton may have been involved somehow — but I have too many text adventures on the list already.)
- Peasant’s Quest.  (Free. This is a fantastic game but it only works if you are already very familiar with the “Quest” series of split-screen adventure games it is parodying.)
- Journey.  ($15 Wonderful but just too expensive for our rules. Also too long.)
A Series of Gunshots (2015)
An acknowledgement: Great suggestions above came from Mia Consalvo, Adrienne Massanari, Alex Pieschel, and Leigh Alexander.
17 is kind of a weird number, and this list is always in revision. What am I missing?
I worry that I’ve given short shrift to arcade games, as only Flow and EnviroBear represent that experience, and they’re far from representative. Likewise, my “shooter” isn’t a real shooter. My “driving game” isn’t a real driving game, etc. To cover the range of what people actually do when they play games, it seems like I should have a game more obviously about chance or gambling.
I’ve got games about confectioners covered though.
Thirty Flights of Loving (2013)
Let’s fix this tour. Please post your suggestions, people.