Jason Rohrer’s New Gamist Manifesto

At the just-concluded Art History of Games symposium in Atlanta, Jason Rohrer presented a new game “Sleep is Death” as a response to the deluded quest for AI-based storytelling in games. As part of his presentation of the game, he distributed a manifesto of game design principles to symposium attendees. This is the manifesto:

“New Gamist Manifesto

February 3, 2010

1. Games do not have spoilers.

2. Games cannot be finished.

3. Games do not have characters, except for the characters who play them.

4. Games do not have stories except for the stories that players tell through them.

5. Playing a new game is less like reading a new story, hearing a new song, or seeing a new film.

6. Playing a game is more like learning a new language.

7. Games are interfaces, not between minds and content, but between minds.”


12 thoughts on “Jason Rohrer’s New Gamist Manifesto

  1. Very interesting that he’s making these statements in the “is” state rather than the “should” state. Did he list any examples and/or support for each principle?

  2. It’s just a pure statement of philosophy. And I think what he means with the “is” points more towards something that I generally find to be true. Games with elements that are further away from those core principles of “more like” and “less like” are still defined by their systems more than their stories. I remember much more about linking summons to different characters and leveling them than I do the story in FF8. It’s not to say it’s not there, it’s just to say it doesn’t stick as much on a subconscious level for most players. (Not all, there are surely exceptions everywhere)

  3. I don’t know, I think the manifesto is kind of flaky. There are some general problems, such as the fact that it says more about what he disproves in the current game development scene than what he approves of or encourages, and there are a number of other, more fundamental problems.

    “1. Games do not have spoilers.” – If a spoiler is the out-of-context revelation of any knowledge or experience that the audience wants to learn/experience in-context first, then even telling said audience what the gameplay is at all could be considered a spoiler. As gameplay is a part of any game, his first statement falls apart. If the only thing I said of Zelda was that the player uses progressively discovered tools to unlock new portions of the game world, that could be called a spoiler. Technically.

    Of course what he really means is that there are no “story” spoilers, which he obviously thinks is a detriment. This, combined with number 4, indicates that he believes true “game stories” to be entirely constructed by the player.

    This assertion contradicts number 7, which asserts that there is a second party in the process of the game (and the process is the story.) If 7 is true, then 1 cannot be true, for a second story-teller creates one half of the story which can be spoiled for the other story-teller; 4 must also be wrong, because the presence of another mind in the story-process means that there is story outside of the story of the player.

    I have a problem with number 2 simply because he does not define his terms. What does he mean by “cannot be finished?” If he means that there are no concrete goals or accomplishments to be made outside of running around a virtual world, then I would argue that games cannot “begin” either. They would be like art. Static. If he means that there is never a point at which there is not something new to do, then I would argue that he has created something impossible, dare I say god-like, for (if you take the Big-Bang theory seriously) even the Universe becomes un-done and begins again. If he means that a game never ends because it sticks with the player in their mind and heart, then I would question why he must state the obvious, for anything that occurs can impress an audience and remain with them in memory, and it is obvious he is trying to draw distinctions between games and film or literature.

    As for number 3, if we were to take it to be true, then anything short of another living being cannot be said to be a character, and thus literature and film are both media of emptiness. If he means that games simply do not have imaginary characters to interact with, then once again he is dealing with something static. The more interaction a non-sentient facsimile has with a player the more like a character it becomes, if a very inhuman one. A Mario stage becomes a character that the player interacts with. Even if it were devoid of monstrosities, the halls of Rapture are still very much their own character. Remove all forms of interaction, including visual stimuli, and the game ceases to be anything at all, besides a flailing sprite or model of the player.

    “5. Playing a new game is less like reading a new story, hearing a new song, or seeing a new film.” – First, I wanted to ask “than…?” It is an incomplete thought, though I grasp his meaning. What he wants to say is that experiencing a new game involves participation from the audience, rather than passive enjoyment that defines the other media he mentioned. True enough, though I imagine he would quibble with me about the particulars of what I find to be a different experience (this opinion of mine is solely based on my view of his other assertions and how I react to them.)

    “6. Playing a game is more like learning a new language.” – Ah, so he finished the thought. Well, in a sense I agree with him. However, I think he is confusing something very fundamental. He associates learning a language with learning a form of interaction, which is true. However, he would seem to draw very exact parallels, and this contradicts other elements of the manifesto. A language’s purpose is to interact, but not for the sake of one-way interaction. That is speaking to the wind. A language’s purpose is just as much for hearing. But the moment one begins to hear the words of others, the story is no longer theirs alone (contradicting number 4 and 3.)

    I’ve already said I like 7, but it is also contradictory.

    His fundamental flaw in the manifesto is that he cannot settle on a definition of gaming that works or is even consistent. Is it, as number 4 says, entirely the creation of the player, or is it as number 7 says, the product of multiple storytellers?

    I go for number 7. Developers and Games are both telling the story together, and that means they both must have something to say. (Note: in the case of gamers, this often takes the form of either deconstruction, where breaking the game world is, in itself, a form of storytelling, or construction, where the player takes the pieces given to make a more complete whole.)

    I appreciate his desire to get back to pure gameplay. Obviously, it is the most fundamental aspects of the medium. However, gameplay does not exist outside of a given virtual context, and that means that virtual context is just as important to games as gameplay.

  4. Pingback: Storytelling Robots Have Illogical Arguments with Sex « Into the Deep

  5. Ed: Well I think he’s suggesting that knowing something in advance doesn’t “ruin” the experience of it. The only thing that affects is surprise. I’ve written more about that here:


    As for finishing games, I think he’s pretty clearly talking about the difference between sessions of play and games themselves. You can’t finish chess, but you can finish a session of chess. Despite the narrative wrappers, level limits, and end bosses many games have, their mechanical systems are essentially imperishable. A la COD multiplayer. The same interface, goal, and mechanic in both single and multiplayer, often the same levels as well. The game part is perpetual, and only the story is finished.

    Also, I don’t think he’s really trying to get back to pure gameplay, I think this is just an attempt at delineating the unique strengths that only games can deliver. It’s not to exclude them from including artefacts from other media, but to help positively define them without having to rely on other media. These rules could be said to apply to BioShock as well as The Marriage, though in varying degrees. It’s just that BioShock has lots of other stuff on top of its game, whereas the Marriage doesn’t. But it’s not less of a game for the other stuff, just more constrained…

  6. For the idea that the experience of a game can’t be spoiled, I suppose I can accept that. Theoretically, an experience that one has should be just as powerful when they know it’s coming as when it is a surprise. The feeling of difference between the sensations comes, I suppose, when the surprise itself is defined as the experience.

    Interestingly, this thought hits a cord with me because I’m tired of people complaining about Mario and Zelda games (and many others) because they don’t surprise them anymore. Surprise, while nice and desirable, isn’t always the point, especially in gaming where actions, planned or unplanned, are the heart.

    As for finishing games, I’m still not fully satisfied with it. Unless we draw a distinction between multilayer games and single player games, the argument could also be applied to literature. The mechanics of sentence and paragraph construction combined with the reading experience is imperishable too, as is the process of watching a film and the mechanics therein. This obviously doesn’t work if we just apply the game label to multilayer, open-ended experiences.

    The difference, I suppose, is that narrative wrappers have to be much more interesting for books and films than for games because their mechanics are inherently less satisfying than a game’s mechanics.

    Ultimately I think that, though I mostly stand by my criticisms, that the whole thing is out of context. Taken by itself, the manifesto is too sparse and spartan of a piece to truly encompass gaming. If I took it in context, and saw that, as you say, he is “delineating the unique strengths that only games can deliver” and not being exclusionary, then I would have to withdraw my protest.

    I’m a big proponent of finding new ways for games to exemplify their unique strengths in narrative and experiences, and in that I am certainly with him.

  7. Pingback: Burning North » Your Argument is Silly

  8. Thanks for posting this, Michael. It’s unfortunate that he begins with his weakest claim (IMO), because by the time he gets to #7 I find myself beginning to agree with him. But since his own essay on Passage begins by asking you to “play the game before reading,” he has a little explaining to do.

    I would say that even “purely” emergent gameplay can be spoiled, to the extent that it uses its mechanics to create unpredictable effects and outcomes. I don’t think that’s true of learning a language, although I suppose someone who, while reading a textbook, checks the answers before attempting the exercises has spoiled something for themselves… Hmm.

  9. Pingback: Jason Rohrer’s Sleep is Death now available for preorder

  10. Pingback: Jason Rohrer’s Sleep is Death now available for preorder| XboxSold.com where you find Everything Xbox| XboxSold.com BLOG

  11. Pingback: Jason Rohrer’s Sleep is Death now available for preorder| Latest breaking News on Video Games Hardware and Software.| BadPower.com Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s