Everything In It’s Right Place

In recent years there has been a strange discussion: are video games like Firewatch, where you mainly walk through a world and experience a non-linear, interactive storyline, actually games? The slightly testosterone-soaked debate demanded that playing must also require a skill. At some point, the actually cynical term “walking simulator” became established for this, as if the way you move through the world was the true game content. Well.

When answering the question of what play actually is, cultural scientists regularly refer to the cultural anthropologist Johan Huizinga and his major work “Homo Ludens”. Huizinga explains play as follows:

Play is a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.

When the not entirely unknown British band Radiohead reissued their two albums Kid A and Amnesiac last year under the convenient title “Kid A Mnesia”, few gamers probably asked themselves what exactly this had to do with their hobby. But instead of new music videos or a planned art performance, the band decided to release a sort of walking simulator in collaboration with illustrator Stanley Donwood, who was responsible for the artwork and clips for the first release of the albums at the turn of the millennium. 

Together with Epic Games and the developers [namethemachine] and Arbitrarily Good Productions, existing graphics, symbols and texts were rethought into a surreal 3D world for PlayStation 5, PC and Mac, in which sound bites and songs from the two albums can be traced. As, well, a player, you walk through the corridors, float through rooms and explore hidden paths – and in this way rediscover the supposedly familiar albums of the exceptional musicians. 

There are no achievements, no victories and no defeats – just an exhilarating, special experience of Radiohead’s artistic work. And even if the feature pages spoke of an interactive exhibition – and the gaming press completely ignored KID A MNESIA EXHIBITION: For me, it was one of the most impressive gaming experiences of the past year.

I wrestled with myself for a long time afterwards whether I would classify KID A MNESIA EXHIBITION as a game, whether I would even want to write about it on Wall Jump. But in the end I sat in front of my console, controller in hand. And played quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time being absorbed intensely and utterly.

So my inner cultural anthropologist says: Yes, damn, it’s a game! And a really great one at that! Maybe it’s time we stopped demanding that games be perceived as a cultural treasure and recognised that culture can also be a game. And not just a walking simulator.

For me, KID A MNESIA EXHIBITION is perhaps the most exciting combination of many of my passions for which I was allowed to pick up the gamepad. So it’s not only for band fans to risk a look – because everything really is in its right place here.

This post is also available in: German