Minimalism In Video Games

Minimalism as an art movement has always fascinated me. But not just in a sartorial or artistic sense. Minimalism in video games is one of my recent interests. However, I’m also an advocate for minimalism in my daily practical life. As a child of two hoarders (I use the term jokingly of course) I made it my mission to de-cluttered my life of all useless stuff. Things I don’t need, don’t wear or don’t want.

And I try to use minimalism whenever I can. Both in my fashion choices and let’s face it, in the rest of my daily lifestyle. I stick to the basics, and I dress rather modestly. Much to the annoyance of my extroverted younger sister. Oh, and I don’t have shopping sprees. Furthermore, I only shop for the essentials, and I stay clear from flashy colors, outrageous patterns, animal prints and other glittery, tacky accessories. I guess it’s true. Trends are fleeting, but the style is eternal.

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Noticing The Minimalism In Video Games

But as I started writing here at IndieGala, I’ve noticed a handful of video games that can be classified as minimalist as well. I was instantly drawn to them, and naturally, I just had to write about them. Well, more about the movement than the games, but of course I will be naming some of my favorites as well. For instance, not that long ago, we had a great sale on Superhot. One of the finest and most fascinating minimalist games here in the IndieGala vault.

And if you’re interested in the game itself, then please check out my college’s (The Italian Guy) review of Superhot: Mind Control Delete. It’s awesome and you’re more than welcome to purchase it even now. But honestly, Superhot is my main inspiration for this post. As I dag deeper into the history, the meaning and the evolution of this movement, I understood that it’s pretty well regarded. Much to my own delight. Well, at least in the gaming industry anyway. But as all good stories usually start, I will also start at the very beginning.

Minimalism In Video Games

The Origins Of Minimalism In Video Games

Honestly, in the early days of the gaming industry, minimalism came naturally. Not intentionally. Both in the piratical and visual sense of course. Let’s take Pac-Man for instance. It’s one of the most popular games in the history of video games. And probably one of the earliest original minimalist games out there. The game controls are quite simple, and the goal of the game is to accumulate all of the pac-dots without being killed by the ghosts. Furthermore, you lose a life every time you get killed. And if you lose all your lives, you would have to restart the game again.

Pac Man VS Red Dead Redemption

Indeed, the simple and straightforward mechanics make the game-play easy and simple. But that’s also true in terms of style too. The base is a mix of black and blue and the Pac-Man himself is just a yellow simple ball. Not to mention, the original Pac-Man game was only 24 kilobytes „heavy“ game. Which compared with the technology of today is similar to a regular photo on the internet.

Oh, and if you’re looking for more Pac-Man inspiration, then please visit my post on the iconic character. Again, you’re welcome.

Minimalism In Video Games

But the thing is, the ’80s were a perfect starting point for minimalism in video games. Mostly because the technology was so basic and restricting. It’s easy to be expressive and creative when you have the proper technology for it. For instance, now circa 2020. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts I am still to this day fascinated by the realism of the rendering in Red Dead Redemption 2. I mean the city of Saint-Denis is beautiful with a capital B. And I’m low-key sad that it’s fictional. Why? Because I would seriously consider moving there if it was real. I’m not even joking about this statement. But just imagine creating a game such as RDR2, with the technology of Pac-Man. Minimalism back then was a necessity. And it became a luxury much later.

Minimalism In Many Other 80’s Video Games

Thankfully Pac-Man is not the only minimalist game of the ’80s. And to be honest, some games precede the era easily. For instance, Pong is a great minimalist game from the early ’70s. While Minesweeper is a fantastic minimalist game from the late ’80s. However, according to my research, the game originates from the 1960s, and it has been written for many computing platforms in use today.

However, the authors in the Towards Minimalist Game Design research paper (great help for this post) stipulate that a minimalist game is deliberately abstract. And of course, that abstraction is not equal to minimalism in game design. But the abstraction merely facilitates minimalism. While a minimalist game is abstract, an abstraction in itself need not be minimalist. For example, the control icon overlays in the Playstation 3 game Heavy Rain are clearly abstractions. But the related controls are not minimalist. Nor is Heavy Rain a minimalist game indeed.

Ideally, abstraction in a minimalist game, (systemic or visual it doesn’t matter) leads to a low perceived complexity of the game. Which makes the game more accessible. But this does not imply that the game is shallow at all. Simple doesn’t always equals shallow. Or dumb. On the contrary, some minimalist games are exceedingly deep. And mind-boggling too. So, don’t be confused by these things.

Heavy Rain

Evolution Of Minimalism In Video Games

When talking about the history of minimalism in games, it’s very important to understand one key thing. The difference between limitation and intention. But much like the mechanism evolved, so did the use of color. Especially in the intention part of the equation. First and foremost, minimalist video games use a limited color palette. Colors can represent emotions in such games. Or moods, locations, or even temperatures. And personalities of some of the characters, for that matter.

But there’s also a heavy emphasis on contrast and lighting between the color palettes. The shapes used in those games are simple and effective. For instance, in Eliss the player merges and splits circles of the same color. On order to reach a target radius of that specific color. And thus to progress toward the end of the level. So, If circles of different colors overlap for too long, the game ends. Not to mention, the minimalist narrative design requires that portions of a game’s story be told through different game-play. Or different art design, level design, and other methods that may be out of the writer’s hands.

And therefore we have video games that have a minimalist, yet contemporary feel in the overall design. Games like Journey or Mirror’s Edge. And games that have a huge 80’s influence in the design, mechanics and so on. Games such as Super Hexagon, Dwarf Fortress, Thomas Was Alone. They all have that retro homage and simplicity that’s appealing to the fans.


And Which Are The Best Examples of Minimalism In Video Games?

Well, all of the games I mentioned in this post are awesome. They really are. And they’re good examples of minimalism in video games as well. Lim is another good choice. And so is the heart-breaking That Dragon, Cancer. Polygod combines minimalist visuals with randomly generated levels, enemy placement and power-ups.

All in a single or multiplayer first-person shooter. Limbo is another fantastic game. So is Aporia: Beyond the Valley, Unravel. And and well, plenty more. And so is the aforementioned Superhot. Over here in Superhot, it’s not just gameplay that is minimal though. But the game’s whole design embraces minimalism as a form of expression. Moreover, the majority of the environments and objects present broken into two opposing colors. Oh, and the game itself has one simple mechanic. Time moves only when you move. Awesome right? I thought so too.

Pros And Cons Of Minimalism In Video Games

The obvious pro here would be the simplicity in the mechanics and design. Modern minimalist video game design involves limited color palettes, limited visual assets, and lighting. Another pro is the cost of making one such game. If you keep things simple and effective you can probably make a good minimalist video game and stay within a reasonable budget.

However, the problem is the placement and competition. Oh, and whether it’s a mobile game or a PC game. There’s a huge market for new video games in the industry of course, but minimalist video games are still considered a niche. Honestly, we live in an era where developers are trying to fulfill the demand of making in-game graphics to look as real and clear as possible. However a rare hand of other developers and their games are taking another approach, but they’re few and between. So, there’s a caution for this of course but hope as well.


Conclusion And Your Thoughts

Minimalism in video games is not as prevalent and in demand as the fans would love it to be, but thankfully it’s not going away. Niche or not, minimalism in video games is here to stay. And in the ever-growing demand for megalomaniac realistic, opulence in modern video games some developers respect the boundaries and restraints of minimalism. But tell us your thoughts on this. We’d love to know all about them. Are you fans of minimalist video games? We are. Tell us your favorites in the comment section below.

Minimalism In Video Games

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