The Joy of Purposeless Gaming, or the Art of Doing Nothing

This post is, in a way, a continuation of this review I wrote some time ago about the social screensaver The Endless Forest and the art of purposeless gaming. I won’t go into all the details of how the TALE of TALES project is all kinds of marvellous and then some, but I will go on to sing the praise of “pointless games”, so to speak. Of course, you could argue that all games are, in one way or another, pointless and a great way to waste your time, gloriously managing to fail doing anything productive by the end of the day. But there are those games that perfect the art of time-wasting and bring it to a philosophical, almost religious, I might say, epitome. Those games with no or very few rules, dead-end outcomes, and where there is no way to win or to lose. There is only the play, endless, bereft of apparent motives and goals. I find those games hypnotic and perfect.

And since now is the time for smartphone apps and, consequently, wasting money on illusions (read: “smartphone games”), I present to you the one illusion I would spend money on. There is an online version of it, as well, and that one is free to play. Otherwise, you may download it onto your smartphone of choice for $2.99 only. It was released in 2010 AD (dei gratia) and it is called, tellingly enough, Vanitas.

“Vanitas” instructions.

The game features a small wooden box, populated with three random objects. Some of the objects you might chance upon at any given time include: a feather, a die, a nail, a bird skull, a stick, a tiny (literally) bound tome, a soap bubble, a ripe cherry, an acorn, a ladybird (which will fly around sedately for a while and then drop dead), a snail, an egg, a key. In short, it is reminiscent of a child’s secret “treasure box”, where you might find anything, from a decayed milk tooth to a fragile insectile corpse (I should know, I used to a have a mighty collection of random stuff). You may interact with these object, but they will never affect one another and it is only seldom that your interaction with them will produce a visible change. Sometimes, you may get melancholy background sounds, which are mildly startling when they do happen. The game instructions encourage you to “Pause for a moment. Reflect.” Or sometimes, if you should happen to find “three identical objects” in the box and as a consequence you are awarded “a gold star on the lid of the box“, you are encouraged to “consider how lucky you are“.

The official info page for Vanitas boasts:

A memento mori for your digital hands.
To lift you up when you’re feeling down. And drag you down when you’re up too high.

Oscar Wilde would have been proud of this app. Hell, he would have given up on writing The Portrait of Dorian Gray just to play this game. All day long, every day. Actually, I would go so far as to claim that, had Wilde been in possession of a smartphone equipped with this exquisite piece of artistry, it might even have saved him from prison.

Yes, I believe I might invest in an app, just this once.

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4 thoughts on “The Joy of Purposeless Gaming, or the Art of Doing Nothing

    1. Oh dear, I knew I was bound to get something wrong. And I knew I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned Oscar Wilde, seeing that you’d be reading my post. Oh, well…

      1. Well, it sounds interesting but a bit too easy. I mean, procrastination is an art, and half of the fun and fascination of it are dependent on the level of creativity you put into concocting ever newer and more self-crippling ways of doing it. This app seems a little like a crossword puzzle as opposed to writing a poem: fun, but ultimately not quite as fulfilling if you’re a sensitive little soul like me.

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