The Simplest Games are Sometimes the Most Beautiful

There is beauty in simplicity.

Have you ever played a video game and just marveled at how simple yet clever its core concept is?

Just last week I discovered a game called Mini Metro. It is in beta right now, but you can play it for free in your browser. It is a relatively simple game; the main objective is to create an effective metro system for your little city, and you do so by simply drawing lines from one station to the next. But beware that as your city grows, so do the number of stations and the number of people eager to get to their next destination. If a station overfills, you will have failed your objective, and your metro system will be shut down. It is a game both simple and complex, simple in that it is easy to learn and easy to play, but complex in that to master it requires strategy and skill. To me, that is beautiful game design.

Other games easily fall into this category, many of which have grown quite popular. Minecraft is a game where all you really do is mine and craft, yet it has somehow become one of the most popular games in the world. Portal is a game where you shoot a portal, shoot another portal, and go through the portals to reach the goal; yet, this simple concept is used in so many different ways that it was mindboggling to me how no one had thought of this concept before. Both Minecraft and Portal have been so influential that they have practically spawned video game genres of their own.

Sometimes, an existing game can completely change given one tiny tweak to the game’s design. For instance, what if instead of one person playing Pokémon, you have thousands of people play it at the same time? It may sound nothing more than a novel idea, but what TwitchPlaysPokemon resulted in was a brand new subculture dedicated to just that. Or what if you took a regular old JRPG, and allowed players to store moves for later turns? It does not sound like the most exciting idea ever, yet it is one of the biggest reasons why Bravely Default has been so successful. How incredible then that such simple ideas have transpired into things much greater?

So why do we marvel at simplicity? Sometimes, it is that feeling of juvenility, or a return to youth if you will. Perhaps a better way to explain it is that it reminds us of a simpler time, when a game consisted of only a circle eating dots, or a spaceship shooting aliens. There were no bank heists and cop chases, no cutscenes with multiple choice questions ridden into them, no crazy guns-blazing macho man blasting their way through aliens. Games today have too much frosting when really all that matters is the cake.

Maybe for some of us it goes deeper than that, especially for those who wish to become a part of our industry. What if I told you that you only really needed a simple idea to be successful? You may scoff at such a thought, but then you realize that a man once made $50,000 dollars a day on a game that involved you tapping on a screen to flap a bird. The gaming industry is notoriously difficult to get into, yet if you have the right ideas at the right time, you just might be the next Notch or Nguyen.

Indeed, that seems to be the very idea behind Valve’s Garry’s Mod, which allows users to create “gamemodes” such as “Hide-And-Seek” and “Murder” among others, many of which have become popular especially amongst users of social media. They are simple games – Hide and Seek is exactly what you expect it to be, and Murder involves figuring out who among the players is trying to kill everyone else.

That is not to say, of course, that I dislike more complex, sophisticated games. I will always enjoy the dialogue options and RPG skill trees of Mass Effect, or the weapon upgrades and deep character skillsets of Xenoblade Chronicles. But sometimes I crave games like VVVVVV or Thomas Was Alone, games that are simple in nature but never fail to put a smile on my face. Because the simplest video games are sometimes the most beautiful.

What are a few of your favorite simple games? Share your simple memories in the comments below.

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