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Interview Physics Deluxe

Petri Purho is a magician who also makes games. He is best known as the creator of Crayon Physics Deluxe. In his youth he also made a lot tiny experimental games.

What’s wrong with Jonathan Jones?

I think he’s very conservative about what art is. Brian Moriarty does a better job of articulating that line of thought in his lecture An Apology for Roger Ebert ( Both of them make the same argument that only good art is art (and good art is an extremely rare commodity).

I’m more liberal in my definition of art. I give the full authority to the author of the piece. If they say it’s art, then so be it. Who am I to be a gatekeeper and tell them that it’s not?

Are there video games you wouldn’t consider art? If so: Aren’t there just two categories in the world – good art and bad art?

To me video games are an art form. It’s just that not all video game developers are good artists.

Does the aspect of interactivity & fun make games more or less artistic?

If you have the frame of mind that art has to be about something specific or that it has to have a message, then there will be a tension between making the game be about that and making it fun (or interactive). Most games that fall under the label “art games” are games that tend to limit the interactivity and/or fun in order to have a message. The classic board game Monopoly is a great example of this: the original version of the game was created by Elizabeth Magie in 1902 and it was called the “The Landlord’s Game.” It was essentially an art game that was supposed to demonstrate to the players how landlords abuse the tenants and have an unfair advantage and can use the system to enrich themselves. Then the Parker Brothers noticed that it was more fun abusing the tenants and made a game that celebrated being rich and making money on the real estate market: Monopoly.

Hence most of the celebrated art games have a very limited interactivity and try to stay away from “fun” mechanics. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

But I don’t think art has to have a message or be about something specific. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be just a feeling, or an emotion that the author is expressing or exploring or trying to evoke in the participants/viewers. Or it can be an exploration of an idea or a system or it can be just something that’s fun or awakens something in us. It’s silly to try and figure out or even express all the things I think can be art. It’s just that I find it limiting (for myself) if I cling to the notion that it has to have a message. At that point it feels like I’m making propaganda.

How important is weirdness for art in general and video games in particular?

I love it in art that I experience. But I don’t think I’m that good at utilizing it as an artist.

What are some of your favourite strange/avant-garde games? 

Everything is going to be OK by alienmelon,

Mondo Medicals by Cactus,

Murder Dog IV: Trial Of The Murder Dog by The Catamites,

Sexy Hiking by Jazzuo.

Where are video games today, evolution-wise? What could/should the future of video games look like?

I don’t know … I used think that the future looked very promising, all these interesting games were coming out and finding players. Now in a way we do live in the golden age of video games, I think more video games are being made today then ever before (I don’t have the facts, it might be that in the 80s more games were being made before the crash). But because so many games are being made and it seems that there are no real avenues for non-commercial games. Exposure, funding, support … all these things are lacking for non-commercial games. We’re in a weird place and not in a good weird way, but in a “no one knows what to do” way. Releasing your weird game for the mobile market seems like a commercial (and artistic) suicide. And giving it out for free doesn’t guarantee that anyone will find out about it either. Probably less people will find out about it, since they assume it’s a shitty game because you’re giving it away for free. Releasing things on Steam/PC is only slightly better.

And YouTube/Twitch add their own complications to the mix. Because now people can experience your weird linear game through twitch for free, so they don’t have to buy it. So you have to take that into account. Not to mention the negative attention those things can bring to the creator.

I think it would nice if there was some alternative path or venue for non-commercial games. Maybe grants or something. I don’t know. I feel like the fear that your game will be lost in the sea of other games being released really weighs heavily on the medium.

What I’m trying to say is that the current climate doesn’t really support or encourage making weirder, artistic games. And I think video games as an art form are going to suffer from that.

“Crayon Physics Deluxe” could also be a slang expression for a “young, highly promiscuous woman,” right?

I haven’t heard that one before. The author is dead and everything, but that wasn’t my intent in naming the game 🙂

Subversion can be a protagonist in its own right – what are some of the subversive strategies you would like to employ in your next project?

I’ll probably subvert my own identity as a video game developer for my next project.

Why did you make an almost disappointingly non-weird entity like a beetle Thumper’s hero?

😀 I wish I could answer that. But Thumper‘s not one of the games I’ve created.

Image source: © Petri Purho / DA

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