It’s been a long fought argument as to whether video games can be considered art. Proponents against the idea claim that videogames are merely a digital playground and that they lack an “imposed personal vision of life” granted by the creator. The development of a game is a multifaceted process and so much like the ship of theseus the final project is not the same as the beginning though it may bear the same name. Because of this lack of ownership there is no unified intent in a game’s creation and therefore according to some a game cannot be art. On the other side of the argument are those
that believe that gaming is a valid form of art because much like traditional forms of art a video game is able to “creatively express thoughts or emotions that are hard or impossible to communicate through literal, verbal means” (paraphrased from a quote by developer Tim Schafer).
Examples for both sides of the argument can be found all over the gaming world but between them is a small group of developers who are using the platform of gaming to create experimental video games that function more as an interactive artwork than as a form of entertainment. One such creator is french multimedia artist Titouan Millet who has recently published his latest project Mu Cartographer.
Placing players in control of a self described “Abstract Machine” Millet provides players with a portal into their own personal world wherein they can transform the terrain of the world at their whim using a variety of terraforming tools and color filters. Initially options for transforming the world are slim however as players explore and uncover the various hidden treasures spread throughout their world they gain the ability to further morph and explore the terrain.
Varied and bizarre, each tool exists as its own mini game with players having to match frequencies, connect dots and otherwise stretch and turn the tools in order to make them work as desired. The world itself while not featureless is barren of any animal or plant life consisting of little more than multicoloured play dough.
The gameplay of Mu Cartographer is a zen, sandbox experience with only the game’s ambient soundtrack breaking from the otherwise silent process of finding the elusive treasures, unlocking features and reading the small snippets of story that accompany them. There is no goal or objective in the game outside of the furthering of the players ability to manipulate the world. It is a contemplative experience serving better as a tool to relax than as a source of entertainment.
Though advertising itself as a sandbox video game Mu Cartographer would be better described as a medium through which the developer shares his continued experiments on the use of colour and sound in the artistic process. As an interactive artwork it is intriguing; highlighting how the advancement of technology allows us to view the world around us in new directions however as a game it is sorely lacking. For fans of other experimental games such as Morphopolis Mu Cartographer is a worthwhile addition to the collection and worth experiencing at least once however for those looking for longer lasting entertainment it is perhaps a poor choice.
Mu cartographer is now available on its own website at and is currently open for review on Steam Greenlight.
Chris Senz is a gaming journalist and contributor to PN2.