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Games for people who don't play games

A list of games that even non-gamers will want to play.

Hannah Nicklin runs through ten games that might tempt non-gamers to have a go – why not have a play and tell us what you enjoyed?

Games can be scary – they can feel impenetrable, and like they’re all about shooting things and using controllers that look incomprehensible. It’s OK to feel that, but also, there are people making games that don’t feel like that. There’s a difference between CATS and a small piece of contemporary theatre, or independent film and Hollywood, and in the same way there’s a part of the medium ‘games’ that are producing beautiful, artistic experiences.

This is a list of ten games for people in the arts who wouldn’t put their hand up when asked "do you play games?" All of them are under £20, many are free or pay by donation; they feature work from various different genres and movements in games (Twine, point and click, table-top, walking simulators, political, queer); and are made by women as well as men, LGBT*Q folk, people of colour.

It is art, and it’s shifting the aesthetics of our world. Why not pick a couple you like the look of and have a go?

Mountain from David OReilly on Vimeo.
Available for Mac PC Linux + iOS
David O'Reilly
$1 or more

You don’t really ‘play’ Mountain, it’s more like the equivalent of a beautiful digital desk toy. You open Mountain and it sits with you throughout the day, just doing its thing; changing seasons, commenting on the weather, absorbing space junk. Beautiful, low impact.

Kentucky Route Zero
Available for PC, Mac and Linux
Cardboard Computer
$25 or £19 for all five acts (two are yet to be released)

Kentucky Route Zero is a point and click game – click on where you want to walk, on characters and objects to interact with them, choose your responses. An exquisite game, visually; every single screen is pixel perfect. With the way it allows you to subtly shape your character, and the magical realism and Americana that make up the action, this is a heady mix.

Artwork for The Quiet Year. Symbols for heart, spade, diamond and club on a parchment style background next to a sketch of 4 figures in a boat next to a lighthouse on an island

The Quiet Year
Print and play PDF or a specially printed game set with booklet
Buried Without Ceremony
$8 for PDFs, $25 +p&p for PDFs and printed rulebook, $40 +p&p for a full card/rule set in a little hessian bag

Not all of the new movements in games are digital. The Quiet Year is a tabletop game for 3-4 people with paper and a pack of cards, print off the pdf of the instructions and they show you how to play. It’s a game about playing with and, as a community, rebuilding after an upheaval. It includes details like contempt tokens, for unspoken disagreement, a map that is drawn steadily between you, and a story that emerges as you tell it together. Read the instructions carefully, they’re perfect.

Proteus
Available for PC, Mac and Linux
Ed Key
$10

Proteus is a beautiful island you can walk around, see the day move to night, seasons change, walk where you like, and each step you make shifts the music that soundtracks the experience. An island and an instrument that you play together.

Artwork for Papers Please: A military style emblem of a red bird in front of 3 dark green stripes over the 3D text Papers Please

Papers Please
Available for PC, Mac, Linux and iPad
Lucas Pope
$9.99

Using a soviet aesthetic and driving soundtrack, this game places you as a border guard at a crossing. You have no money, and an ill, hungry family to care for. You need the money, so when you risk a fine by letting a mother in without the right papers to see her sick son, yours will suffer. Each day there are new regulations, complications, you make more mistakes, it gets harder, you harden.

A grey man stands in a long grey room

Every Day The Same Dream
Molleindustria
Free

From the browser game end of the political games spectrum, Molleindustria is a well known games-activist. His games tackle subjects like drones, capitalist production imperitives, sex, and here, the grind of everyday capitalism’s dream for our lives. Maybe today you’ll just go outside in your underpants. Maybe today is the day you wake up.

Artwork for The First draft of the Revolution

First Draft of the Revolution
Browser game
Liza Daly and Emily Short
Free

This is a beautiful example of how games play with storytelling traditions. In this browser-based game you are redrafting letters to send to your high-ranking husband, who has cast you aside for a misdemeanor you don’t immediately understand. Meanwhile, through the choices you’re given in the letters, you discover that you’re in contact with seditious characters. A game of trying to work out – in several ways – whose side you’re on.

The word Begin with a full stop on a black background

Queers in Love at the End of the World
Browser Game
Ana Anthropy
Free

Beautiful, perfect, 10 seconds long. A game made in Twine by legendary queer game maker Ana Anthropy – you play as someone with your lover at the end of the world, you click the first choice, read it, and suddenly the world has ended. Play again, and again, and again. Construct short, perfect endings.

A top down view taken from the game. A woman in a small 3 room house

Mainichi
Windows and Mac
Mattie Brice
Free

Mainichi is the Japanese word for ‘everyday’, and it’s also a free, simple yet affecting game that riffs off the role-playing game tradition from Mattie Brice. You play as a a transgender person who is going to meet a friend for coffee. An act that feels everyday to some people is a huge challenge for others. Play and replay.

Bang Bang Bang!
Sophie Houlden
Available for PC, Mac and Linux - requires game pads.
Local multiplayer
$10

This is the one game you’ll need game controllers for – if you’re unsure, ask a friend who has a console to help you. This game is great fun, and the tip of the iceberg of great independent local multiplayer games (games you play with friends together in the same place). Fast paced shoot-em up action, but also with satisfying strategic choices.

That’s just a sample of some of what’s out there. If you like this, I also recommend reading poet and theatre maker Harry Giles’s mix tape of 25 games for people who don’t play games, and the Forest Amassador blog, dedicated to accessible games. And also see my article Everyone Wants To Play, for some interviews with people on the places games are infusing with art. This work has been happening for over 30 years now, it’s time the arts world caught up.

For more on how technology can be used as a storytelling tool read how 59 Productions used a virtual reality experience to extend their stage production or for some insight on 'real world games' read how Ben Murray got on at ZU-UK's Economies of Experience conference.

Hannah Nicklin is a game designer, theatre maker, producer and occasional academic working in the area of new forms of community theatre, interaction in the arts, and performativity in games and game-like things. You can find her @hannahnicklin and at hannahnicklin.comThis article was first published in February 2015.