The Experimental Game Workshop 2023

The Game Developers Conference is a whole lot of fun. Every year tens of thousands of games industry people come together to talk, listen and party. Deal-makers abound – you can spot them a mile away – but the majority remains those that derive a simple joy in the urge to create games and explore ideas of new ways that people can get pleasure from interacting with games.

My favourite session is (usually) the Experimental Game Workshop. A long session which presents crazy ideas of what games might be in the future. These ideas provoke me – make my creative juices flow – make me come away wanting to make games. Here are some highlights (in the order they were presented at the workshop):

Time Bandit (Joel Jordan)

Animal crossing and some other free to play games make the player wait for things to happen (or alternatively pay to avoid waiting). Joel Jordan wants to subvert this. I do love a little subversion! One of his slides had the cover of Marx “Das Capital” – Joel wants us to all think about our time and how it is used by ourselves and others. (Side note – Marx is one of the greatest thinkers of all time (!) – whether you agree with his ideas or not – I’m not sure whether I do – but if you disagree with them, and you don’t know what they are, I don’t want to meet you at a dinner party, or worse still, a voting booth).

Joel’s game uses real (clock!) time as a a gameplay mechanic. It takes 30 minutes of real time to move a box. I didn’t catch the full plot, but you need to break into somewhere that has a guard rotation with a real-time shift schedule. If you get caught you get put in jail – for 12 hours of real time. And you can’t buy yourself out. Time is not money. And there is something very fishy going on (in the game – of course there is also something very fishy going on outside the game – and Joel wants us to think about that).

Overall, Joel’s game points to an alternative future where work is not about manufactured desire.


Neurocracy (Joannes Truyens)

This game is built on the mechanic of surfing an online encyclopaedia (like Wikipedia). It provides a deep dive into the Wikipedia of 2049, with a murder mystery to be solved. It simply looks like Wikipedia, and tries to avoid handholding wherever possible.

The game has a large community – it’s free to play and it looks cool, with a major update planned for July 12th 2023. And IGGI researcher Younès Rabii is part of the team!

Cyber Space (Nicole He)

This voice control game presents the HUG (Human Understanding alGorithm) score. The player’s aim is to maximise the HUG score by asking questions and talking with the AI – using speech recognition to avoid multiple choice questions / answers.

Nicole presented a slide with game tester comments – of which she said: “It’s hard to see these comments as anything other than a good thing, in terms of the game design goals.” It made me smile:

The game is free and browser-based – it’s funded by the Canadian government.

Hexcraft (Tegan Morrison)

The idea here is to creating an alienating gameplay experience. The player walks around a 3D environment, and NPCs carry around goals and data – they do stuff even when the player is not looking.

Escape from Lavender Island (Jeremy Couillard)

Jeremy Couillard is taking games into art and art into games. His game has a striking art style. You know when you are provoked by art and can’t decide whether you love it or hate it. Well, it’s that for me (and hence I want to see more).

It’s a third-person open world game with an extended cut scene. The game looks weird and Terry-Gilliam-esque. It’s due out in September.

The game was inspired by a recent book – “The dawn of everything – a new history of humanity – Graeber and Wengrow” which advances the notion of a city as a shared hallucination. I plan to read it.

Jeremy made a lot of sense for me as a provocateur/commentator/thinker about games and art and society.

Bib Goes Home (Alistair Lowe)

A mixed reality pop up book game – a physical pop up book provides a substrate for a digital game where characters are projected onto the book. Just… Lovely!

They are looking for a kickstarter / manufacturer / publisher – they deserve to find one.

Ennui – Unto Infinity

A game journey through tragedy and grief. Deep autobiographical story visualised through cut scenes and a point and click adventure. Not designed to be “fun”, but as we explore games as an art form, this is one of the directions to be explored.

Can’t put my hand on a web link for this one.

Poke. Stroke. Grasp. (Jack Hart)

Jack Hart has previously worked on interactive poetry, and this is not so much a game as a playful meditation on the author’s feelings and state. It has only 3 1/2 minutes of gameplay, and some of it was pretty disturbing / gross. Challenging!

A little game called Mario (Izzy Kestrel)

This is the one I’ve been talking about most since GDC. It’s wonderfully daft! It all started with a tweet/joke: You know when you are at a party and say that you are a game dev and someone asks “Have you done anything I know?”. Suppose you could answer “Have you heard of A little game called Mario?”.

Izzy Kestrel created a game on GitHub called A little game called Mario where anyone and everyone can contribute – and hundreds have. It went from being a simple block game to being a cacophony of art, audio and gameplay mechanics. Anyone that checks anything in at all can answer that question with “Have you heard of A little game called Mario?” And now Izzy is working on A little game called WarioWare.

My favourite mechanic? Moustache physics :).

The Thinky Games Community (Joseph Mansfield)

There is a Discord server at focussed on playing, making and sharing of puzzle games, a Twitter at @sftrabbit and a YouTube channel “Joe plays puzzle games”. These channels all bring together an active thinky games community. (A thinky game is a game that allows the player to carefully reason through problems).

There are game jams, and collective projects, and Thinky puzzle game jam, as well as a publisher and source of funding in Astra games.

There was no single game being presented here – but there is clearly an active community that is seeking to grow further.

Push Away (Attlee Lowridge)

Games can tackle tough themes, which are definitely not aimed at “fun”. This game is based around a sexual assault, portraying dissociation (the protagonist is the author’s psyche). The game is linear and aims at increasing the understanding of the player as to the way that a person might experience such an assault. It is certainly not there to be “enjoyed” any more than one might enjoy a harrowing movie. But important.

Awakening (Papa Corps)

This Argentinian team presented an inductive puzzle game – you watch a clue video, and an “editor” to mark the parts of the video which match.

It looked polished and interesting.

In Conclusion…

… designers, developers, artists and composers keep on pushing the games medium. The Experimental Game Workshop at GDC continues to be a good way to understand some of the developments that are leading the way.