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Feature: 'Persuasive Games - Video Game Zen'

So many video games are frantic, twitch-based experiences - so how about the inverse? Columnist Ian Bogost explores the history and possibilities for meditative, relaxing game titles, from Harvest Moon's gardening through the fingertip sensor-using

Leigh Alexander, Contributor

November 29, 2007

2 Min Read

In his regular Persuasive Games column for Gamasutra, Ian Bogost explores video game Zen, and discusses the kinds of titles you can turn to when you want a meditative game experience, the opposite of a high-attention, twitchy "lean forward" experience. Bogost explains how the advent and evolution of casual gaming has brought "video game Zen" to the forefront: "Casual games inch closer to Zen because they are abstract. These games ask the player to move cards or blocks or stones into patterns. Unlike in Cloud and flOw, The relationship between the objects and the patterns are arbitrary. The outcomes -- clearing matches in Bejeweled or completing suit runs in Solitare -- matters less than the repetitive acts that create them. These games invite and measure repetitive gestures. They are akin to doodling on a napkin, or skimming through a magazine, or knitting in front of the television. Knitting, after all, is as much about keeping your hands busy in a predictable, ordered way as it is about making a sweater." The column draws the analogy between certain kinds of game behavior -- like the gardening and maintenance behaviors of Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon -- and maintaining a real-world Zen garden. "Several titles include more Zen-like gardening mechanics, even though they do not bill themselves as relaxation games. One is Animal Crossing, with its flower planting and tree axing. The most Zen of gardening activities in the game is also the most reviled. If you fail to visit your town for several days, weeds and clover start growing on the grass and pathways. If weeks or months go by, the weeds take over. Frustrating though it may seem at first, the process of systematically weeding an Animal Crossing town can be remarkably relaxing. Move, press B to weed, repeat. Sometimes you have to do it every day for a while before you overcome the undergrowth." You can now read the full feature, which contains more in-depth analysis of what types of game mechanics truly create relaxation -- and why the titles generally perceived as "relaxing" may not actually be (no reg. required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

About the Author(s)

Leigh Alexander


Leigh Alexander is Editor At Large for Gamasutra and the site's former News Director. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Slate, Paste, Kill Screen, GamePro and numerous other publications. She also blogs regularly about gaming and internet culture at her Sexy Videogameland site. [NOTE: Edited 10/02/2014, this feature-linked bio was outdated.]

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