Good art is about expressing something infinite in a way that’s succinct and appealing. Jason Rohrer is one of the designers at the forefront of the ‘games as art’ movement. Passage is Rohrer’s most famous game, and it’s a game which you really should play. You can download it here and I’d really recommend that you play it before you read any further.
Jason Rohrer’s games are metaphorical; they make it clear that they aren’t just about gameplay or graphics. Passage achieves a consistency in presentation which is rare. Everything in the game is focused towards creating a deeper meaning.
The graphical style of Passage is nostalgic. Most people that play the game will be aware that graphics were once simpler than they are now, and Rohrer’s game goes back to the visual styles of games of the past. It reminds players of their own journey through life, of the games they have played, and of how quickly time passes.
The audio is similarly simplistic. The slow and soft 8-bit style sound mimics the game music of the past and gives Passage its own sombre, almost morose feel. This game is genuinely sad; and I can’t remember another game which is like that.
Passage isn’t a game which immediately grabbed my attention. I didn’t love it when I first played it. ‘Art games’ often seem to be about little more than unique gameplay mechanics and nostalgic graphics and sound. That’s what I thought Passage was. But when you explore beneath the surface it’s clear that Rohrer has created something which is beautiful, coherent, and meaningful. Whether or not you call Passage art seems to be beyond the point. Why are people so interested to call games art? Games can do some things which art does, but games can do things which go beyond a simple definition of ‘art’.
Passage begins to bring the elements of games together. It doesn’t really fit in to regular reviews; you can’t give Passage a 3 for graphics and a 2 for gameplay. Passage is a complete entity, and it shows that games might be able to art after all.