From our Work and Play Issue, this list comes from Jamin Warren, who blew minds at MbirdNYC15 this past Friday. For those who want more Jamin, his gaming festival Two5Six is taking place in May, and the lineup looks pretty unbelievable. He’s also hinted at an Mbird group rate, which if you go here you can redeem.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, an esteemed, well-respected cultural historian named Johan Huizinga undertook a very strange project given his post. He wanted to understand the nature of play in all of its forms. What Huizinga found and subsequently argued was that all human systems found their root in play and to understand the world we live, we had best understand the rules and systems that govern how we engage in what is often deemed mere frivolity.

That bias continues to this day, of course, and from my perch, running a videogame arts and culture company, I can think of no better use of one’s time than to spend it in games. The problem for many, though, is where should I start? Below is a list of five games that ask deep questions about our place in the world, but do so in a wrapper easy enough to unreel for any open newcomer:


This is the closest you’ll find to Thoreau’s Walden project. Proteus is a game about walking, exploring, and basking in the beauty of the outdoors itself, albeit in a digitally pastoral form. This is a world where every object is alive and sings, where the rocks cry out with joy.

61y5VRP9tXL._SL1500_Gone Home

After a trip abroad, you find a note from your sister that she’s left your empty family home forever. What ensues is an exploration into one family’s heartaches, joys, and memories.

Kentucky Route Zero

Cardboard Computer modeled their magical realist tale after the Southern Gothic tradition. A hard-drinking deliveryman, a mysterious highway that no one can find, and a dog with a straw hat all play a starring role.

Papers, Please

No game has ever challenged me more than this one. The concept is a copy editor’s dream: you are a passport agent in a flailing Eastern European dictatorship who must evaluate each immigrant’s papers. But that choice of who goes and who stays will be one which grows more difficult with each passing day.


David O’Reilly’s interest in digital intimacy stems from his work on the in-movie video game in Spike Jonze’s Her. Mountain is far, far less reactive, but no less potent. A mountain is generated from a questionnaire and it spins on its axis without your control. It is commentary on our own obsession with managing every moment and is a request for stillness in a busy world.