We’re all being kept inside a lot more lately, trying to avoid spreading COVID-19. With so much free time on your hands, now is a fantastic opportunity to dive more into artistic video games. And that doesn’t even entail breaking the bank by paying for expensive, time-consuming AAA titles. All of the games in this list can be played in just a few hours, and none of them will cost you too much. Enjoy!
Journey broke significant ground for independent game development and the perception of games as an art when it came out in 2012. It remains an extraordinary experience, an exercise that reduces the basic “Go from here to there” game directive into something mythic and allegorical. Even more poignant is how, if you go online, you can cooperate with other players to push forward — all without ever knowing who’s helping you, and who you’re helping.
Kentucky Route Zero
I’ve already devoted an entire article to singing this game‘s praises, so I won’t take up too much more space with it. There are few games as lyrical, unique, and emotionally resonant out there, to say nothing of its continual ingenuity in its presentation.
Here’s something you can play in 15 minutes on your phone. A simple romance is lent tremendous beauty by how it turns interpersonal interaction into a series of interactive gestures. In one sequence, you assemble both sides of a conversation by fitting puzzle pieces into word balloons. With each new conversation, the puzzles become simpler, illustrating how the characters are becoming more at ease with one another. Snuggle up to whomever you’re quarantining with and play it together.
The Stanley Parable
This exceptionally clever game unpacks the basic concept of a game directing you to, well, do anything. You are Stanley, a worker in an office building who one day discovers that all his coworkers have vanished. An unseen narrator explains what’s going on and what Stanley is “supposed” to do … but what if he doesn’t obey the narration?
There are a lot of detective games out there, but few truly leave it to the player to do all the work for themselves. Her Story‘s construction is brilliant, presenting you with a fragmented database of interrogation videos and tasking you with figuring out what keywords to input to understand the narrative running through them. We’ve previously praised creator Sam Barlow’s follow-up, Telling Lies, and this one is even better.
You operate a border checkpoint in a fictional ’80s Eastern Bloc country. You must evaluate people’s passports and choose whether to admit or deny their entry. From this simple premise emerges a complex morality tale about the push and pull between survival, compassion, duty, safety, and risk. The sheer amount of possibilities springing from your different possible choices (as well as how good you are at your job) give it endless depth.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
Every single day, people take off from the spaceport to embark on marvelous adventures. Not you, though. You have to pick up their trash to make the rent. An amusing combination of the fantastically imaginative and the completely mundane, this is a terrific game about having a shitty job and hoping for better things. That wouldn’t normally make for an escapist premise, except the world is so well-realized and rich in character that the busywork becomes oddly fun instead.
The title does not lie. In this game, you can literally become anything and everything. A giraffe? An elephant? A bear? A tree? A mushroom? An ant? A flower? A microorganism? A rock? A mountain? An island? A planet? A star? A galaxy? A chemical compound? An atom? Anything. A wondrous work of pure exploration and scientific brain expansion, one you can get lost in for many hours at a time.
Here’s another quickie game. There are a lot of humanoid figures, acting out a variety of scenarios. All you have to do is click on them to make them do something. Through humorous and sometimes dark vignettes, this game offers different meditations on group behavior.
Indie developer Kitty Horrorshow makes some of the best horror games out there. In her masterpiece, you explore an abandoned house, scrounging up cassette tapes to ascertain just what is going on. The answer would make Shirley Jackson proud. WARNING: This might actually be a terrible game to play while stuck at home, because it could very well make you terrified of your house.