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June 12, 2008Glenn Turner

"All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up."
- James Baldwin

While burying my nose in some autobiographical comics recently, I realized that aren't many confessional video games kicking around. There are a few examples but, by and large, confessions aren't a large factor in most games and, if they come into play, they only do so as a peripheral factor instead of a driving one. In fact, it seems that games spur more confessions than they initiate. Where are our Robert Crumb-esque confessors, our Robert Crumb-like re-enactors, invoking our gamepads and keyboards with relatable, personal drama and conflict?

While examples may be few and far between, here are a few of the more notable confessional games that came to mind:

Silent Hill 2

This is perhaps the most notorious confessional game, at least that I can think of. (Warning: spoilers follow). While it may not have its roots in real life, the story of a guilt-saddled husband coming to terms with murdering his ailing wife has all the hallmarks of a confessional work and, as a result, it's one of the most emotionally evocative commercial games to come out in the last ten years. It's a shame none of the other Silent Hill games have managed to quite fully capture the confessional spirit the way Silent Hill 2 did.

Passage and Gravitation

Jason Rohrer's recent autobiographical games are highly personal, highly intimate works that nonetheless never get bogged down in self-absorbtion. And while the games themselves aren't exactly forthright with their confessions, his creator's statements certainly are, and the two works go hand-in-hand, the statements setting a proper context for the games.

My Game About Myself

Confessional only in a superficial sense, Nathan Stapely's My Game About Me is a purely autobiographical work, detailing his (mostly) universal loves of sleeping, eating and surfing. A fun but slight Flash game, and notable solely because of its expressive elements (as well as the lack of additional available autobiographical games).

Why are confessional games so scarce when the genre thrives in other mediums? To this I can only speculate. I can imagine such games are a hard-sell, and that the prospect of brokering such a game to a publisher is a difficult proposition when gameplay substitutes can be found in otherworldly and fantastical settings and characters.

So why should we care? Why do we need confessional games? Players, pundits and developers are constantly complaining about the lack of emotional depth in gaming and, as James Baldwin so eloquently put, our confessional nature is often the basis and impetus for art. If game designers and developers are unwilling or incapable of diving into this genre, to bare themselves in an engaging manner, what does that say about the game industry (much less the medium) and its capacity for art? When we're reluctant to interactively recount our experiences towards others, skeptical that our misfortunes, our failures, and our learned lessons will enlighten and amuse others, how does that reflect on those creating and playing the games?

Certainly, creating confessional games presents a different set of challenges than, say, scribing the latest American Splendor, but it's not impossible. And hopefully, thanks to the democratization of game development tools, we'll see more quality confessional and autobiographical games as more aspiring game makers use it as an expressive outlet. But, for now, I'm still scratching my head as to why it's a genre that's languished in a medium that's been ballooning over the past 30 years. Are we really so hell-bent on sheer power trips that we barely entertain the notion that more grounded conflicts and explorations into failure and regret might be entertaining, might actually be evocative and impacting? I hope not, and I hope to play my way through more confessions soon.


Have any confessional games I missed out on? Let me know in the comments!


2 comments for ‘Confessional Games’

#1 Sparky Jul 26, 2008 03:07pm

Hey-

Interesting post. I have some recent artwork that addresses this question. I am not a game dev. but rather a conceptually-inspired player. I use mostly existing Xbox 360 titles to create my work. Take a look:
http://www.marquecornblatt.com

#2 SithLibrarian Sep 8, 2008 07:34pm

Do you think Rule of Rose could qualify as a confessional game?