The Perfect 99-Cent iPhone Game

By  |  Monday, December 29, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Now and then, a young and idealistic programmer will provide the Internet with an “art game” — that is, a computer game that eschews pure entertainment value in favor of a deep, philosophical statement. It’s the stuff that convinces some game journalists of gaming’s worth, beyond just guns, cars and magic mushrooms.

The trouble with these games, though, is the lack of a distribution and revenue model. Most are only interesting for a few minutes, so you can count them out of retail stores. Downloading is an alternative, but art games are often available for free, with the programmer simply soliciting donations. Moreover, the average joe never hears of art games to begin with. To better succeed, these games need to confront potential players more directly, with a price point that makes them worth trying.

Apple’s support of Passage for the iPhone nails this concept perfectly. For 99 cents, players can experience an abstract take on the human life cycle, broken down into a few poetic gestures. Basically, you navigate a young male avatar along a narrow strip of oversized pixels, collecting treasure. You can obtain a wife along the way, but her position by your side makes it harder to move and pursue material matters. Either way, your character inevitably ages and dies.


If my description didn’t do the game justice, it’s worth spending a buck to see it for yourself. And if you’re so taken by the game, you can easily evangelize it to your friends when they insist on playing with your iPhone. And that, I gather, is the point.

Also, check out Esquire’s excellent profile of Jason Rohrer, who created Passage, to learn more about the decidedly non-stereotypical game designer.


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