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Future of Video Game Design - Jason Rohrer's Programming Online Games - Esquire

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The first person to cry playing Passage was Rohrer himself, as he was programming it. All that summer, he watched one of his neighbors die of cancer. She was a nice old woman with a beautiful garden. "Her whole life, she had said if she ever got cancer, she wouldn't want to go through chemotherapy," Rohrer says. "But once it happened to her, she changed her mind....We watched her go through chemotherapy, and she essentially just rotted away. And she died in six months anyway." It wasn't only sad. It was irrational. So Rohrer, a few months shy of his thirtieth birthday, made a game about the inevitability of death. "Yes, you could spend your five minutes trying to accumulate as many points as possible," he wrote in a twelve-hundred-word creator's statement, "but in the end, death is still coming for you."

Some players didn't know what to make of Passage. The video-game blog Kotaku wrote, "It's a weird little game, but sweet, and worth spending a couple of minutes with. But weird." For others, though, it was a revelation. Games don't have to be bloated and huge and violent. They can be small and quiet and deep. Writers struggled for metaphors; to the tech blog Boing Boing, Passage was "a pregnant, forlorn sentence" of a game, while a reviewer from Wired opted for "a superb and tightly crafted sonnet," gushing, "More than any game I've ever played, it illustrates how a game can be a fantastically expressive, artistic vehicle for exploring the human condition."

Passage was sad, it was sincere, it was personal, it was mysterious, it was existential, and for all these reasons, it was new. The big boys of gaming, a universe away from Potsdam, e-mailed it to one another. Clint Hocking, a designer at Ubisoft best known for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, was so blown away by Passage that he made it a focus of his Game Developers Conference talk earlier this year. In front of an audience full of the industry's most influential game designers, Hocking growled, "Why can't we make a game that fucking means something? A game that matters? You know? We wonder all the time if games are art, if computers can make you cry, and all that. Stop wondering. The answer is yes to both. Here's a game that made me cry. It did. It really did."

A game that matters would be nice.

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