The Secret Ingredient Needed to Make Anything a ‘Real Game’ There's been some heated discussion as to whether Proteus—Ed Key and David Tanaga's award-winning lo-fi ambient exploration game—can be called a game. All the back-and-forth boils down to just so much fooferaw. But, if you want to nail Proteus down to a more restrictive, AAA-centric definition of what a game is, then cartoonist Zac Gorman is here to help you.

Want to see more of Zac's work? Head over to his personal blog and game-themed site Magical Game Time. If you're feeling commercial, you can buy prints and shirts here. He'll be back on Kotaku with a new comic same time next month!


Opinions on Ed Key and David Kanaga's newly released game Proteus are likely as mixed as the crowd at a Justin Bieber/Mastodon double-bill. Personally, I think it's just lovely. It relaxes me, which certainly isn't true of most games I play these days. It's a rare game that just sort of is, and it manages to forge a connection with nature that's more spiritual than photorealistic. It's got soul, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. And it's mysterious.

But hey, maybe you're not sold. After all, there have been plenty of folks making the (increasingly pointless-feeling) argument that because there are no clear-cut rules, Proteus isn't a game. (Personally, I made it a game: It's a game for me to see if I can hear all of Kanaga's music, and find all of the music-making little critters. I'm the only one keeping score, though.) Maybe you just want to see it in action to get what people are talking about.

If you'd like to get a sense of what Proteus is all about, check out this commentary-free playthrough by YouTube user OmGarrett. Watching really isn't the same as actually exploring on your own, but that doesn't mean it's not a pleasant, relaxing thing to do.


Proteus' Creator Defends His Game—as a GameProteus, which went on sale on Steam on Wednesday, is the latest art piece to kick up a fuss over whether something deserves to call itself a game. Twitter's self-appointed video game cop has weighed in on the discussion, as have thousands of his deputies in message boards and comments. Now one of Proteus' creators has his say.

"I find this rather burdensome to write," begins Ed Key, who made the game with David Kanaga, and I feel his pain, even though I don't have much interest in his game. Key is responding to this piece on Gamasutra, which said, "It's currently not cool at all to say that you didn't enjoy Proteus, or to even hint at the idea that this isn't one of the most important video game releases of the here and now ."

Speaking as a member of the games-writing cabal, I didn't get that memo. But if we're going straw-man here, then I'm going to say this is a basically stupid slapfight perpetuated by the idea that everything in video gaming is a zero-sum proposition, and that the existence of a game one doesn't approve of deprives more meritorious games of praise, attention, money or whatever.

Back to Key. "I don't call Proteus an antigame or a notgame," he said, "I call it a game, but obviously I am at pains to make it clear that it doesn't have explicit challenge or "winning." Key points out that SimCity or The Sims also have been said, by some, to be "not games."

"Proteus doesn't have or even aspire to the same systemic complexity as SimCity, but it does have systems," Key says. "It's just 95 percent optional whether you engage with them and it generally doesn't give you any confirmation when you do. There's a design reason for this."

There seems to be a larger reason that it's worth standing up to this navel-gazing game/notgame argument. "Outside of academic discussions, encouraging a strict definition of "game" does nothing but foster conservatism and defensiveness in a culture already notorious for both," Key says. Amen. But this is video gaming, where everyone feels the instant and constant need to express their disappointment in something they never had any intention of playing.

What Are Game [Ed Key, Proteus]


Last year, I wrote about the beautiful digital island found inside of Proteus. Proteus is an exploration game where the world is reactive to the player. Stones will hum as you walk by. Frogs will sing to you. I'd tell you more but it's best that you experience it yourself; there's nothing quite like it.

And now, it's out for the public to enjoy on Steam. Check out the trailer above, which gives you an idea of just how gorgeous Proteus looks and sounds. It's a dream-like place you'll want to get lost in.

You can buy Proteus here on sale for $8.99. If you liked Journey, I'd reckon this is right up your alley.


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