Proteus is a digital exploration of a randomly generated island consisting of low-fidelity graphics and an ambient soundtrack that is based on your surroundings on the fly. Having been in beta for a while, the game finally released this week to much fanfare and fan-discussion. It’s available on Steam or through the creators’ website (Ed Key and David Kanaga) for roughly $10 or so.
I purchased Proteus on a bit of a whim. I was already adding long time indie-darling Antichamber to my cart when I saw the announcement of Proteus on my Twitter feed and added it as well without much thought. Despite their similarities – simple visual style, indie street cred, ambient soundtracks – the feeling of playing the two games couldn’t be further apart. Antichamber is a mind-bending first person puzzler à la Portal with a non-Euclidean twist. When I finished my first session of that game, my brain was sizzling, I was physically exhausted and I felt like I was done gaming for the night. That exhaustion might be precisely why I enjoyed Proteus more than I aught to have.
Normally a game like Proteus is not in my wheelhouse; someone compared the feeling of playing Proteus to the thatgamecompany games on which I have very diverging opinions. I never “got” flOw and I didn’t really enjoy Flower as much as everyone else did, but I did get into Journey because the story told was more immediate and engaging. Proteus is what happens when you remove the meager “gameplay” elements and the story from Journey, an exploration game with no tale to tell and no obvious way to interact with the world.
So, clearly, I should have hated Proteus.
But that isn’t how I feel. I think having played such an intensely active game prior to walking through Proteus’ strange environment made the relaxing experience powerful in a way that it wouldn’t have been originally. All of the articles being written about Proteus seem to say the same thing, that the game experience is moving after a long day of work or a busy commute. Sheer force of data points to this game being a panacea for the bustle modern day life. A moving experience that everyone has to try for themselves.
But not everyone seems to feel that way. That Gamasutra article created an interesting response from the creators of the game. Somehow all discussions inevitably lead back to the ol’ “Are games art?” discussion in one form or another. This particular variant of the discussion, “What makes a ‘game’ a game?”, is a fun one, indeed. We all get to feel extra superior in dissecting the meaning of the word “game.”
My particular take on the subject is that it doesn’t matter, not in the least.
I’ve watched some movies that wouldn’t count as movies in most strict definitions and never once thought to myself, “We shouldn’t call this a movie; it’s an experience!” This is the same way I played Proteus, recognizing that it’s an experience that happens to control like many first person games, and then proceeding to enjoy.
So, since I intended this article to actually be more of a review, here’s my professional-amateur advice: you knew from the first paragraph of this article whether Proteus was for you or not…