The Art of iPhone Games

Monument Valley by ustwo

The Room 3 by Fireproof Games

Believe it or not, but novels once enjoyed about the same cultural status as iPhone apps do today. Nowadays, novels are considered a form of high art – worthy of study at school and even university. So what will be studied in the universities of the 22nd century? And what art are we missing out on due to our prejudices, our insistence that it is not proper art?

I recently played a game on my iPhone which completely exploded my preconception that an app could not constitute art. It’s called Monument Valley by ustwo, and it’s the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen.

The game is simple, gentle, and non-competitive. Your task is to guide Princess Ida through a dream-like landscape of impossible architecture, inspired by the optical illusions of M.C.Escher.

monument-valley

The gameplay is so seamless, and the soundscapes so soothing, that after finishing the whole game I replayed the individual levels over and over. Ida is aided in her “quest for forgiveness” by Totem, a small tower consisting of four yellow bricks. Yet their relationship is oddly touching, as Totem silently helps his small friend navigate the mesmerising landscape.

img_0754

There are games you play when you want to switch your brain off, but what I noticed about Monument Valley was that playing it made me feel inspired. Surely, that is a mark of good art, when it makes you want to create your own.

I scoured lists of “If you enjoyed Monument Valley, you’ll love…” and after a little trial and error came across The Room. The Room is a much more challenging game, where you have to unlock a series of complicated puzzle boxes sitting on ornate tables.  I wasn’t hugely taken with it at first: it felt like a never-ending succession of finding keys and opening secret compartments which revealed other keys to yet more secret compartments. There was a storyline, loosely played out via mysterious letters and notes, but these had no bearing on the gameplay. I found The Room 2 much more engaging, as each level allowed you to explore a whole (wonderfully creepy) room, rather than just a table. And then I played The Room 3.

The Room 3 creates a world far richer and more engrossing than The Room and The Room 2.  The game begins as you are sitting in the carriage of an old-fashioned train, a picturesque landscape rolling by outside the window. As the train rushes howling into a dark tunnel, you are suddenly transported to the basement of Grey Holm – the old mansion which forms the hub-world of The Room 3. No longer are you confined to a single room: here, you must explore every nook and cranny of the library, greenhouse, clock tower, forge, and observatory in order to solve the puzzles. The storyline, while still not totally clear, is more coherent than in the earlier games, and the puzzles are more intricate and engrossing. But my favourite thing about the game is the creepy, immersive setting, brought to life by the flawless graphics and realistic soundscapes.

the-room-3-library

The mansion feels incredibly old, seemingly abandoned since the Victorian Era, and yet the various puzzles and contraptions have been painstakingly prepared – as though they were set up over a century ago, just for you. This contributes to the creepiness, although we never find out exactly who the mysterious “Craftsman” is.

The ending is jaw-dropping, but you have the option to change your fate, and if you so choose you are whisked back to Grey Holm. And then – surprise! You discover that hidden throughout the rooms are many secrets which you missed the first time, or noticed in passing but promptly forgot. The horrifying first ending seems to be a punishment for failing to observe your surroundings critically, instead blindly allowing the game to lead you.

I am glad that I put aside my preconceptions about iPhone games, and took the time to enjoy these two beautifully crafted pieces of art. I am now on the lookout for a new favourite: any suggestions?

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About A Book and a Half

I'm a teacher based in Melbourne, Australia. I blog about reading, writing, teaching, learning, and exploring.
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