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August 18, 2008

Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:50 AM * 15 comments

A simulation game, simulating bipolar disorder.

No, really. The author calls it “a video game about mania, melancholia, and the creative process.” The graphics are simple, the controls are easy (left arrow to move left, right arrow to move right, spacebar to jump, and esc to exit), and the point … well. The gameplay is the point.

Urer’f n uvag. Fcraq nf zhpu gvzr nf lbh pna ng gur ortvaavat cynlvat onyy jvgu gur yvggyr tvey. Vg jvyy freir lbh va tbbq fgrnq. Abg gung vg jvyy uryc va gur tenaq fpurzr bs guvatf, ohg vg’f tbbq gb qb. Fur jba’g nyjnlf or gurer.

A free download (donationware). Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.


See also:
  1. Making Light: Internet Time Wasters
  2. Making Light: Internet Time Wasters II
Comments on Gravitation:
#1 ::: Red (Chris Holdredge) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:09 AM:

It's an absolutely lovely game, and one of the best arguments I can think of in the "games can be art" discussion. But could your third paragraph perhaps be considered a bit spoilerish? That event was the most unexpectedly moving moment I can recall from playing any video game - certainly from one as simple as this.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:22 AM:

Spoiler despoiled.

#3 ::: KristianB ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Oooh... another game by the guy that made Passage (, which caused me to burst into uncontrollable sobbing and lie down in bed hugging my giant teddybear for fifteen minutes. In a good way.

#4 ::: Jack Kincaid ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 04:06 PM:

A 'bipolar disorder simulator' for non-bipolars, and a 'suicide ideation accelerator' for others.

#5 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2008, 07:46 PM:

Gravitation is brilliant, as is Passage (get it from the URL in comment #3). I liked Gravitation a bit better, if only because I accidentally ruined Passage for myself. (Passage starts at the very upper left of the map. There's something that looks like a "floor" just under you, and I assumed the little guy could only move left or right. That might be just as well, since if I hadn't I likely wouldn't have found the companion. Yes, I'm unobservant.)

I was lucky enough to come across Gravitation a few months back. I didn't initially get the bipolar interpretation. Gravitation can also be interpreted as a game about the balance between creative work and real life; the more time your avatar spends working, the higher he goes and the more he achieves--but he misses time spent with people who won't be around forever, and it's those relationships that fuel his creative work. I get a little bit of both interpretations from the creator's statement.

Gravitation doesn't just stand up to interpretation, it stands up to multiple interpretations. So, yeah--art.

#6 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 03:47 PM:

Why on God's green earth *anyone* would want to simulate having a mental illness is beyond me. I recognize that as a failure of imagination on my part. But I guess it could be useful as a teaching tool.

At the end of the day, you can walk away from the game. BPD, not so much. It is that, and the effect that the knowledge of such has on a psyche, that makes me question the accuracy of the simulation. Not to mention the issues of voluntary manipulation of emotion (which game play is, no matter how good the game) and mental illness.

Then again, I have not played the game, so am in no position to judge.

#7 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 04:52 PM:

If we may consider the general subject of time wasters, I just bought Audiosurf a couple days ago, and I love it. Essentially, it turns your music library (MP3s, unprotected iTunes audio, whatever else) into a roller-coaster like racing game. Pick out a song, and it analyzes the tempo and sound and turns it into a track. Fast driving song with heavy beat turns into a frenetic downhill race, slower acoustic song will turn into a more relaxed uphill drive. The beats of the song become colored blocks on the roadway that you need to hit (or miss) to line them up in various patterns which score you points. (There are a lot of options for "characters" which introduce different gameplay and scoring.) And of course, you're listening to one of your favorite songs while you play.

I love it, and so does my six year old son; the problem will be avoiding becoming totally addicted.

Speaking of addictive games, for any iPhone owners (I'm not one) I just read that the Frotz engine has been released for the iPhone, so you can play on your iPhone most of the classic Infocom games and more recent Interactive Fiction written for the Z-code machine.

#8 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 08:25 PM:

Thanks for posting that, Clifton! I have the Activision CD (everything but Hitchhikers' Guide) and I was just beginning to experiment with getting a Z-machine running on my iPod touch. This will save me a lot of trouble I can use on other things; I just want to be able to play "Leather Goddesses of Phobos" and "Nord and Bert" on my iPod, like I used to on my Newton, but I wasn't keen to redo the user interface for the game to fit the iPod model.

#9 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 09:50 PM:

I loved the concept of Audiosurf, Clifton; the heavy-graphics background made my eyes hurt, though.

Favorite Audiosurf song to play: "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," Of Montreal. 17-odd minutes of postmodern goodness.

#10 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 10:35 PM:

#8: After revisiting the Infocom games, be sure to check out the interactive fiction that's been created by hobbyists in the last 15 years or so. This is where a lot of the progress on games-as-art has been made. The Interactive Fiction Database is a useful tool for finding games (and apparently the iPhone version of Frotz hooks up to it). I'd initially recommend Emily Short's Floatpoint and Metamorphoses; Andrew Plotkin's Dreamhold and Shade (I should also mention that So Far is breathtaking--but difficult, so don't play it first); Adam Cadre's Photopia; Suzanne Britton's Worlds Apart; and Graham Nelson's Curses.

There's also software available for writing these kinds of games.

There's an interactive fiction competition held every year. The quality of the entries ranges from the brilliant and innovative to the amateurish or even insulting. The most impressive games from last year's competition were Deadline Enchanter by Alan DeNiro and Lost Pig by Admiral Jota.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 11:20 PM:


I wrote one of those! An Inform game about a kid searching for a lost baseball in a haunted house:

Source file.

Playable z5 file.

#12 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 11:41 AM:

#6: My guess is in order to gain some sort of feeling of understanding. Quite a few mental illnesses changes the world view of the patient so far that it literally is difficult for anyone else (or as is the case with me, myself when not in an episode) to relate in any way to what's going on during episodes.

Even though a simulation is a very poor substitute for the real thing, it might give some sort of metaphor the player can relate to somehow.

#13 ::: Andrea A. Phillips ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2008, 07:58 PM:

Thanks for posting this, Jim. It's an excellent metaphor for the creative life, and I can already tell it's going to stick with me for a long, long time.

#14 ::: wade ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2008, 02:14 AM:

hey people
i have to say this game struck a serious cord with me as i have left my family behind to pursue a life of work and whathaveu. This piece of software and art combined has made me realize what can happen when you get to consumed with your own ambition, thoughts and actions. It's simplistic nature hides a far, far deeper meaning that will touch the hearts of anyone who can relate with their own interpretation. Im glad that my pixelated aviator had to suffer such fate so that i wont. learn from his mistakes and think about what really matters most, i think that is the message that was intended with this gem. Highly recommended.

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