What is Play?


Flower the game

Flower the game



Eat the pips and dodge the ghosts. Jump the barrels and save the princess. Fight the Helghast hordes and take the planet. Finish him. Avoid missing ball for high score.

I’m guessing that pretty much every game you’ve ever played has had an objective. It might be utterly straightforward: score more goals than the other team. Or it might be vague and nebulous: find out how and why Lucas Kane has brutally murdered someone. It might be deliberately misleading: what am I doing here in Rapture? It might be whimsical and weird: collect pollen and spectra and grow a garden.

It’s not very often that your goal is simply to play.

Katamari DamacyKatamari Damacy and its successor, We Love Katamari had just one one objective: get bigger. It was gleefully odd and, although not everyone’s cup of java, rather compelling. Keita Takahashi is the man who created Katamari and followed it up with something that’s arguably even more freeform: Noby Noby Boy.

There’s some debate about the precise meaning of the Japanese word “nobi”. I’m told it can mean “stretch”, with “nobinobi” also translating loosely as “taking it easy”. Apologies to Japanophones if I’m savaging your language here. Anyway, the idea is that your Boy stretches his way around a stylised, brightly-coloured world with, er, stuff in it. Do what you like: there are no rules. There are a few (secret) PS Trophies available. At the time of writing, I have no idea what any of them are.



Obviously there’s more to this game than just moving around and stretching, but the online components – contributing to a user-generated Noby Girl to open new levels – strike me as less important than the precept. Just play. Don’t let us tell you what to do, or how to do it, or even why you should be doing it. If it feels good, play. If it doesn’t, stop. That’s all.

NNB, then, is an extreme example. But what about Flower? Created by superbly-named developer thatgamecompany, it’s a whimsical PSN title that casts you as the wind blowing a delicate string of petals around a rural landscape. Breeze past a flower and it will bloom, adding more petals to your tail. What’s the point? Well, some might say it’s just pretty. Others – and I’m inclined to agree – would suggest that it tries to reshape what we as gamers perceive to be “progress” or “achievement”.

For someone who spends much of their gaming life racking up a body count of which even the most psychotic of dictators could be proud, I find this more than just a welcome change of pace. It carries a carefree, open spirit which even the most flexible sandbox games can’t hope to match. It’s not that it’s not linear – there are objectives to complete, after all – but it plays into a different part of the brain than the one I normally use. My target-oriented synapses may be tuned to a reasonably high-pitch in the heat of a close Call of Duty marathon, but there are times when another bit of the cranial blancmange needs tending to.

And there’s the kicker. We live in credit-crispy times. If you work, you’ve probably found that people around have lost their jobs and you’re doing more slog with less time. Creatively, the brain needs to be nourished. The value of play – the simple, unadulterated joy of doing something because it’s pleasing, because it makes you feel good – can’t be underestimated.

As children, we learn through play: we test our limits; we use our initiative; we take risks; we dare to fail. As adults, though, play is just as important. Think of fearless creator Google, whose offices are famously crammed with “soft areas”, games, and other ideas and devices to stimulate creative thoughtOr consultancy Ideo, who specialise in radical solutions to design problems. They understand that the brain needs new experiences to keep it fizzing with ideas and that those experiences can’t always plug into the logic-based part of your head. Sometimes you need to… well… just play.



For more of the latest in the mobile phone and gaming world download the Phonica Magazine UK App here!

Bookmark and Share


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: