Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus is the kind of game that sparks heated debates about whether or not it is actually a game. Personally, I think such debates are silly. Who cares what we call it? The important questions are whether Proteus is worth playing, and why (or why not). To decry it as not being a game is to name it unworthy without providing any reason. I know that humans are wont to label and categorize everything, but when this leads to argument over the labels of things rather than the things themselves, we’re missing the point. But I digress.
The reason Proteus sparks such debates is that it lacks the standard goal-oriented design that most players expect in games. There are no enemies to kill or challenges to complete. Proteus is, essentially, a surreal island to wander and explore, with a striking visual style and excellent sound design. It has also earned gushing praise from nearly everyone who’s played it, which caught my attention. It has inspired poetry. But the real reason I decided to play it now is a passing comment I saw, describing Proteus as a meditative experience, something to play at the end of a long day to de-stress and relax. Given how busy I’ve been lately, some zen relaxation sounded pretty good.