Works that feature traditional narratives often enjoy the distinction of being the most popular, critically acclaimed, and carefully analyzed form of video games. Blockbusters like Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption center around plots reminiscent to those found in film or literature. Popular independent games like Limbo or The Path also adhere to themes that have been explored in other forms. Obviously, video games differ from these traditional media, as players actively collaborate in the story and have at least some control over crafting the character behavior. Thus, game criticism often focuses on the dialectic between the themes a game’s plot conveys and those advanced by its rule systems. The BioShocks of the world elicit a preponderance of essays that parse the ways in which their stories and rules interact, but comparatively little is ever said about about what Gran Turismo tells us about the cultural role of automobiles or whether Madden NFL makes implicit arguments about football’s social value.
I recognize the bulk of my work has (and will probably remain) focused on games with plots, but I thought I would try and mix things up a bit. What kinds of values do games without stories impart? What do they say about the medium and about culture in general? In search of answers, I turned to Picross 3D.