The shortlist for this year's jayisgames Casual Game Design Competition was announced last week. Always worth checking out, its field of small casual games produces interesting artistic uses of the medium. One that's already attracted attention is . . . but that was [yesterday], whose author Michael Molinari describes it as a game about "learning to move forward in life".
. . . but that was [yesterday] plays confidently with gaming conventions. An arrow tells the player to run forward – an action familiar from a million platform games – but when you do you hit a wall of confused images and fall down. To overcome what turn out to be painful memories you have to turn in the opposite direction and wait for the wall to recede. What makes this so powerful is the contrast with a gamer's normal expectations – . . . but that was [yesterday] is telling us the idea that we can constantly move forward in life, as we do in games, is an illusion. Sometimes we just have to wait to feel better.
. . . but that was [yesterday] also deals with bereavement and loss, and asks what we keep with us of people who are gone. Its award shortlisting came in the same week that Kate Bornstein's great book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws was released as an iPhone app, building on its gamelike structure of tasks. Games can be unsubtle point-collecting tools, but both these creations are nuanced and thoughtful. With research suggesting that many young people now value games more than TV, games such as this will increasingly be the best way to reach them.