Five Delicate and Mood-Melting Videogames. Maybe Relaxing, Too.

To anyone not residing within the videogame industry bubble, the interactivity comprising this medium might appear violent, immature, and singly playful. In truth, most of it is. The industry’s own roots lie buried deep under miles of competitive high score soil, and Hollywood schlock like Call of Duty and the perennially limp Guitar Hero, two of the biggest profit-leading franchises in the industry, annually resist change. They deliver basic, but polished, rudimentary genre entries.

Elsewhere, designers of all kinds strive to explore the medium’s infinite possibilities – melding, molding, and folding a multitude of genres and ideas in and on top of each other. Now we can play dancing-themed MMOs, fight for loot in World of Warcraft using the Plinko-esque Peggle, and massage our cerebral cortexes with a steady stream of “brain training” software. If you want it, you can probably get it in some form, as long as you’re willing to look.

But can we find videogames possessing the power to melt away our moods and offer peace? Up until the fall of 2005, I’d say “maybe,” without offering any examples. I had faith in industry developers and the possibility that they could also be yearning for something undiscovered. Little did I know Jenova Chen was ten steps ahead of me. That fall, as a student at the University of Southern California, the revolutionary designer, along with a team of students and faculty, released Cloud. Shortly after, my perception of what a videogame can offer changed forever.

As I played Cloud, the youthful innocence of just being returned to me. Stress? It was gone. Sadness? That too. I didn’t even feel happy; just at ease, and peaceful.

Care to see what I mean? Here are five other titles providing users with similar experiences.

Disclaimer:

Since these are videogames, the intended experience hinges, variably so, on an individual player’s skill and ability to adapt. If you start feeling lost or incapable, it’s important you fight off frustration and seek help and better instructions. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Flower

“Life in balance.”

The latest title from Jenova Chen’s studio, That Game Company, continues the airy aesthetics and sparse audio presented in Cloud, but significantly increases their quality and involvement in the narrative. As a flower petal, players utilize the wind in a journey to gather other petals from flowers. As each is plucked, a predefined note triggers and, sometimes, the aesthetics are variably altered.

In his review, Russ Fischer, of the Onion’s A.V. Club, said “Visually potent and occasionally beautiful, Flower fulfills its premise with enviable grace.” I’m inclined to agree.

Osmos

The food chain, microscopically represented, with Loscil, Gas/High Skies, Julien Neto, and Biosphere providing the soundtrack.

Osmos can be frustrating, if you’re not gentle with your tiny and gelatinous blue blob. Movement comes with a cost – part of your creature (or vessel?) returns to the environment. So just chill and you’ll be fine.

For added fun, put a hyperactive child in the driver’s seat.

Electroplankton

Few have heard of Toshio Iwai‘s interactive music and visual art masterpiece. Fewer have probably played it, thanks to Nintendo limiting sales to online retailers and the Nintendo World store.

It’s a shame. Electroplankton’s built on the premise of using visual art and design to make music. Move a plant leaf in one event, and the reflection sound of creatures bouncing off changes.  Alter the movement path of triangular amoeba-like fish and the effects change accordingly.

Click here for a video of DJ David Hollands creating a song live on stage using only the software.

Eufloria

Skip Eufloria, formerly known as Dyson, unless you consider yourself skilled at RTS titles. The beautiful interaction between the reserved light beige backdrop and colorful needle-thin spores isn’t powerful enough to combat any sort of frustrations you might derive from continually failing one or all of the title’s levels.

Eufloria’s not an “art” game in the same respect as the others in this list, but it’s an alternative way of tackling the RTS genre. If you’re good, you might find peace in the title. If not, I’m sorry.

the Graveyard

If creativity hatin’ Activision ever had an antithesis, it would be the Graveyard developer Tale of Tales. Calling the company’s titles “games” isn’t entirely accurate. They’re interactive, sure, but you don’t always “win” in the traditional sense.

In the Graveyard, players control an old woman who can barely walk. The “goal” is to move her to the center of the yard so she can sit down. After that, a song plays and the player can either leave her sitting or move her out of the yard. That’s it. The entire experience lasts under ten minutes and costs nothing. Pay $5 and the old gal might die at some point.

Some people call it the worst game ever. I call it a soothing art piece that maturely addresses the eventuality of death and the beauty of life.

Did I not include your favorite? Feel free to make a recommendation or two, or twenty, in the comments section below.

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