Back in college, I remember sitting through a class where for a good hour we debated whether to classify certain TV shows as comedies or dramas. I suppose it was a fun exercise, since it didn’t feel like work, but it felt strange that our teacher was adamant we pick an answer. It wasn’t just about breaking the shows down, but picking sides. When called upon, I recall saying something along the lines of, “I ... don’t really care,” which I’m sure she loved.
There’s value in categorizing ideas, but I often worry about creative projects falling too neatly into templates. And the current game industry loves templates. So it’s nice to see things like Kid A Mnesia Exhibition, a virtual, semi-interactive art gallery based on the music of Radiohead, which makes it clear upfront that it’s not sure how to define itself.
As Radiohead’s Thom Yorke wrote in a recent PlayStation Blog post, “We’ve built… something. We aren’t sure what it is.”
As Kid A Mnesia Exhibition starts, it sets expectations:
This is not a game
Take your time
You are at the beginning
So there must be an end
Some places will make sense
Some will never make sense
See you later
You can debate the semantics if you want. I’m sure someone will mention it’s strange that the project is published by Epic Games, or that it’s listed as a game on the PlayStation Store. Or you can study the design, and how it’s missing the verbs and challenges people expect from games.
That it exists on those fringes is what makes it interesting. It feels like a game, with dual-analog movement and buttons to run and zoom in. It also feels like an art gallery, with a calm atmosphere and a bunch of exhibits to walk through. And at the moments those two ideas work together — when a picture breaks into thousands of particles as you approach it, for instance — it starts to feel different from what we’ve all played before, and like it can surprise you in ways most games can’t.
I don’t want to oversell anything. Kid A Mnesia Exhibition is short, simple, and free. Like a grown-up Happy Meal toy. You walk around and look at art. You listen to music. Sometimes it feels like an early ’90s computer graphics experiment. It’s kind of weird it’s not in VR, given the concept. Yet by fusing incredibly light game mechanics with the ability to explore a fascinating museum, it makes for a memorable place to go hang out for an hour, even if you have no interest in Radiohead.