Games, Gamers & Gaming: Experimental Games, September 15, 2012

We’ve spent the past several months covering the core titles in all the major genres that should be in your collections or used to create collections. By now your shelves should be full (or bare for all the right reasons!), and your public access gaming PCs (if you have them—and you should) are no doubt some of the most demanded resources in your library.

How do we make this great collection of gaming goodness even better? How can we possibly top it? There are games that don’t fit comfortably into one genre, or they take an established genre and turn it on its head. I call these experimental games.


Among the most popular experimental games of late are the Portal titles by Valve. They use the first-person perspective—usually associated with high-octane shooting action—and marry it to the much-loved puzzle genre, with a healthy dose of quantum physics, and wrap it in a smart, tight, sf plot.

The series’ second installment hasn’t been as widely embraced, but it expands on the story, which makes it well worth the experience. While often pigeonholed as another action-adventure outing, it’s hard to view it seriously as anything but a brilliant, standout work.

Also loved by gamers is the solid ­LittleBigPlanet series, developed by Media Molecule and available exclusively for the Playstation 3. While the game at its core is a platformer in the spirit of Super Mario Bros. , the real draw is the robust level-editor options that let players design their own set of challenges and share them with others.

Level editing is nothing new—PC gamers have been doing it for years—but there’s something about the depth and complexity of LittleBigPlanet that makes it more about understanding what makes a game great. This isn’t just building a custom map to use in multiplayer mode but about creating one’s own world with a unique personality and story. If libraries are meant to inspire creativity and intellectual curiosity, you can’t do much better than LittleBigPlanet.

Minecraft by Mojang shares many of the same traits of LittleBigPlanet—giving gamers a playground in which to let their creativity run wild—and adds an extra layer of challenge by packaging it in a survival game. Stranded on a deserted isle, gamers must scavenge natural resources to build shelter and tools, hunt animals for food and raw materials, and combat deadly monsters.

While it’s only available as a downloadable title for PC and Xbox 360, it’s begging to be turned into an online multiplayer library program: multiple gamers occupy the same map, allowing for some amazing collaborative efforts when it comes to building structures and working together to survive.

The indie scene

With Kickstarter (a website designed for developers to solicit venture capital) being the go-to source for funding independent projects and digital distribution, allowing anyone with some server space to make their work available, more and more independently developed (indie) games are seeing the light of day. Free from the marketing departments of major publishers, indie developers can experiment with new game play mechanics and narrative techniques that publishers funding the next triple-A blockbuster demand.

Most indie developers are releasing their games as downloadable titles, but a few are boxed titles that you can easily circulate. I’m personally looking forward to the Journey Collector’s Edition by ­thatgamecompany for the Playstation 3—a collection of all three of its previous games available in one package.

Elegant simplicity

One game that I can’t recommend enough is Gravitation by Jason Rohrer, a game designer who works out of his home. This game is elegant simplicity at its finest. It tells a heartbreaking story about life, growing up, and missed opportunities.

Equally gripping and thought-provoking is Passage, a game about commitment and sacrifice that demands multiple play-throughs. Rohrer excels at turning video games into mirrors, forcing us to examine ourselves—something the best art does.

Rohrer’s games are available as free downloads, except for his newest project, Diamond Trust of London, which will be a boxed release for the Nintendo DS. Look into it for your game nights; you only need one copy as long as each gamer has their own DS.

Now that we have a solid collection of core titles, it’s time to start looking at the best video games and board games for your collection and programming.

Next month, we’ll take a look at the excellent card game Ascension. Until then, keep telling yourself just one more level.

M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins ( is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.


  1. Greg Bem says:

    Hey M. Brandon Robbins!

    Great article–I’m glad to see analytical thought investigating games from a library perspective. It’s important to realize the potential for “games” and virtual world interfaces in general, particularly since so many people from every spectrum have access to gaming from the home to the school to the library. I’m hoping that there will be more articles on experimental gaming in particular, as it explores the potential for games, rather than merely staying in flux with the mainstream gaming industry (genre v. genre-less argument being quite amazing a la indie games).

    I also felt like it was relevant to post a link to one of my blog sites where I critique games philosophically/socially in a rather practical way (and from a non-librarian perspective): While the games discussed thus far via myself and guest blogger Tim Holland are mainstream and genre-bound, I’m in the process of writing an article on minimalism’s relationship with the abstract idea of “adventuring” via Superbrothers EP: Sword and Sworcery.