Zen Gaming, part 1

Posted by on Dec 12, 2008 in Zen/Ambient Gaming | 2 Comments

Friend and Hemisphere collaborator Andy pointed me to a post today entitled “Sony Introduces New Genre To Video Games…”.

The game is Flower, and the genre, “Zen Gaming”.

First of all, let me say that Flower looks gorgeous: somewhat like a next-gen Wind Waker without friend Link. Thematically, it sits in good company with the likes of Okami, in that the player’s apparent “purpose” is to bring life back to the land. The game feel remains to be seen, but, like flOw, one can be sure that players will have strong control over the game’s pacing and difficulty progression.

So why am I posting about this here?

To answer that question, I need to give a little personal dev-history. I started working on Osmos about one and a half years ago. When Andy tried the first prototype, he pointed me to the Flash version of flOw (which has since come out on PSN), as well as Rez and Every Extend Extra (which have since come out on XBLA). While the aesthetic of flOw was more on the New Age side, and Tetsuya Mizuguchi‘s designs felt more Trance influenced, they seemed to share something in common. Was it genre? If so, it was a sparsely populated one – but one that Osmos seemed to belong to. As you can imagine, my interest was piqued. Since then, I’ve payed close attention to the area and given it a fair bit of thought.

But more on those musings later. In the meantime, the interesting news is Sony’s announcement. In one fell-marketing-swoop, they’ve labeled “a new genre”. It remains to be seen what games they group under it, but for now I’ll start with the minimal assumption that, besides Flower, flOw will also qualify.

One interesting point here is that game genres, unlike music or film, are typically based around their gameplay: FPS, Platformer, Shmup, and so on. But in a Zen game, what principal activity does a player engage in? The label doesn’t tell you. Instead, it’s about the aesthetic, the relaxed pacing, the ambience. The closest example I can think of in gaming vocabulary is twitch, in that it describes an effect on the player’s mental state, rather than a mechanic. Perhaps zen is the anti-twitch. But I believe there’s more to it than that…

What makes a game zen? What does the space look like, and what other games fit into it? Is “Zen” even the right word to describe these games?

I’ll stop here, and call this “part 1” of the post. More soon…


  1. David BOZO
    December 22, 2008

    HeyHO EddyBOX

    I took a test drive in both HiDef and reg…………… simply beautiful mix of color, sound, and movement.

    Really Nice…………………….. Thanks for the experience.

  2. autoexec.bat
    July 19, 2009

    ?hi – very Intersting!
    Also good Zen gaming examples are Widosill & Feedthehead.net
    and Graveyard and The Path and Eternal Forest and Passage.
    I’m a big fan of this genre. I remember my first mobile phone – It was Sony J19
    or something – it had only two games built in – one was Sudoku and Other was Falling Sand – very very Zen laike game.