In a new Gamasutra feature
, regular Persuasive Games columnist Ian Bogost considers the challenges of puzzle game criticism.
Reflecting on two current iPhone games as numerous other traditional and video games, Bogost delves into the formal properties that define puzzle games, what differentiates them from "other" types of video game, and why they elude typical criticism:
"I want to discuss two excellent abstract puzzle games for the iPhone: Drop7 by Area/Code and Orbital by Bitforge. But there's a problem: it's hard to talk about abstract puzzle games, particularly about why certain examples deserve to be called excellent.
"Sure, we can discuss their formal properties, or their sensory aesthetics, or their interfaces. We can talk about them in terms of novelty or innovation, and we can talk about them in terms of how compelling they feel to play. But such matters seem only to scratch the surface of works like Drop7 and Orbital.
"Can we talk about such games the way we talk about, say, BioShock or Pac-Man or SimCity? All of those games offer aboutness of some kind, whether through narrative, characterization, or simulation. In each, there are concrete topics that find representation in the rules and environments.
"Indeed, it's hard to talk about abstract games precisely because they are not concrete. Those with more identifiably tangible themes offer some entry point for thematic interpretation.
"Chess, for example, clearly draws inspiration from military conflict, not only because of its historical lineage and mechanics of capture, but also thanks to its named, carved pieces. When a knight takes a pawn, it's easy to relate the gesture to combat.
"Puzzles create more trouble. Some logical and mathematical puzzles, like the Three Utilities Puzzle have clear subjects or storylines. Others, like sudoku, do not. Most often, puzzles are entirely conceptual in form, with concreteness a mere accident of presentation."
Bogost goes on to introduce into his inquiry Immanuel Kant's distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, arguing that puzzle games are best understood by their capacity for the sublime, rather than for beauty. In the full article
, now available on Gamasutra, Bogost also goes on to further dissect Drop7
, discerning their allegorical implications and thematic meaning.