Gorogoa delivers everything I want in a video game. Released this week on Windows, iOS, and Switch, it is an uncompromising, serious puzzle-adventure game; an experience that uses simple mechanics and a strong art style to dig into a melancholy narrative about war, decay, and collapse. It’s a gestural game that suggests more than it explains and can leave a player feeling empty and confused. It stands apart from other art games, and is all the better for it.
Gorogoa is a game we need more of because it goes against the goals of other art games. Unlike many contemporary games that get talked about in terms of “pushing the medium forward” like The Beginner’s Guide or Braid, Gorogoa seems to have zero interest in reflecting on games. Where most games that get talked about as special or artful are games about games, Gorogoa is about using the basic form of the puzzle game to reflect on responsibility, war, and the passage of time.
And, wonderfully, it’s incredibly unclear about what that reflection means. It doesn’t beat you over the head with meaning or interpretation. You help a boy collect five fruits. Those fruits are symbolically tied to a great, monstrous beast that either preserves or destroys civilization. You solve puzzles to get those fruits and to confront the reality of that beast, but there is no simple panel-pushing solution to “solving” the narrative. You experience it, and you think about it, and you reflect on it until it fades from memory.
This mode of game design isn’t for everyone. Kyle Hilliard at Game Informer stresses the beauty of the game while saying that it ultimately made him feel nothing, and Sam Machkovech at Ars Technica loved it while mourning the lack of a longer, more elaborate story. Both detractors and supporters agree that it doesn’t do enough, and it seems to me that both of those ideas miss the point to some degree. The joy of Gorogoa is that its narrative is simple and ambiguous.
Echoing some of the words of James Earl Cox III from last week, whose game You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter was removed from Steam, what we should be looking for and championing are works that stretch and distort our expectations of what games should be. Gorogoa is invested in expanding our horizons as players of games, and much like an experimental film, novel, or comic, we should take it at its word. The only way to push the boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t in games is to take games like Gorogoa and follow along its lines of expectation and become open to it. If we can accept these qualities, we’ll all have richer futures for it.