The 2009 Creativity 50: Jason Rohrer

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In late 2007, 31-year-old computer programmer Jason Rohrer, living in rural Potsdam, NY, uploaded a game he created called Passageto his website. At first glance the game is a seemingly simple distraction with a basic pixilated design harking back to a look more akin to 1987 than 2007. But its theme of marriage, life choices and consequence is what grabbed the gaming community's attention. It was a game and approach that didn't use two of the industry's biggest weapons – high tech graphics and immortality. Instead, it lasts just five minutes and users are forced to decide whether to navigate the maze of life with a partner or not, and which treasures are worth hunting. Soon the characters begin to visibly age, until eventually becoming an immovable grave stone.

By early 2008, while already a topic of debate and discussion among game developers, Passage had gained mainstream attention everywhere from the Wall Street Journal, Slate and BusinessWeek to the more tech-focused BoingBoing and Wired. Rohrer was then featured as one of Esquire magazine's Best and Brightest of 2008, and worked on contract with EA Games on Steven Spielberg's highly secretive "LMNO" game project. More recently, his latest game Between, hosted on Esquire.com, was named a finalist for the 2009 Independent Games Festival's Innovation Award. The two-person game has been described as an exercise in non-communication, challenging players to create secondary-color mixed blocks out of their own primary shades, without speaking directly to each other.

In 2009, Rohrer says he has moved his focus for now to puzzle games, but that hasn't changed his overall goal of giving video games a soul.

Rohrer, on his goals for 2009: "I'm thinking about developing a strict formal design structure for these types of game, analogous to a sonnet for poetry. A sonnet puts all the focus on the words chosen by the poet. I'm hoping to develop a formal structure that will put all the focus on the game mechanics chose by the game designer. Most abstract puzzle games aren't intended to mean anything, but I think it would be possible to use them as a form of expression. You can compose a violin melody about winter. I want to see abstract game mechanics about winter."

On video games' dependence on graphics: "Bleeding-edge graphical technology has been the main selling point for video games for as long as I have been playing them, and I think that is part of the reason why we don't have a strong body of great historical work to point to, even though our medium is over 30 years old. Most of those 'classic' games are only great in our memories of them. If we actually sit down to play them again, the visual delight is completely gone, and we're left with little reason to admire them except as points on a timeline."

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