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story.lead_photo.caption Finland's Kimmo Lahtinen designed a brief game about memories and family for the web-based Meditations project. The free, web-based platform delivers a new game each day of the year. (Kimmo Lahtinen/TNS)

Over the last several weeks, new video games have tackled unexpected subjects in unpredictable ways. One was designed to capture the sensation of seeing a newborn smile for the first time. Another sought to illustrate how a family could drift apart after the death of a beloved grandfather.

The former was over in about 30 seconds. The latter took a couple of minutes. Both have since disappeared.

The games are part of the online project Meditations, which launched Jan 1. The free, Web-based platform, led by independent developer Rami Ismail, delivers a new game for each day of the year.

The games can be completed in less than five minutes, but there's a catch: Each is available for only 24 hours, at which point it gets archived until it appears again on the same day in 2020.

There has been a wide swath of games; some are puzzles, others are relatively abstract and most are lightly interactive experiences designed to provoke an emotion. There have been games about family, pets, anger, anxiety and pure effervescent joy.

More than 350 developers created games for Meditations; many are professionals, some are students, and they come from all over the globe.

If there's any sort of connective thread, it's that they all feel deeply personal and embody a belief that games are as intimate as they are playful. The games are also text-free.

"What I want to prove with this is that games are a more global language than any written or spoken language we have," says Ismail, co-founder of Dutch studio Vlambeer (Ridiculous Fishing).

Think of each new game as akin to discovering a song. Most, when finished, close, a digital representation of self-destructing. For some of the participating designers, that was the draw.

"I think the fact that you can only play each game on a certain day gives them additional value," says Spanish developer Luis Diaz Peralta .

Ismail was inspired in part to start the project after discovering and playing the short puzzle game Tempres, a work that asks the player to slow down to solve it.

"After completing it," he says, "I felt calmer."

He began to want a daily game-based ritual. "I wanted 365 days to have a color from a game -- an inspiration, a thought, a moment of empathy, a challenge, a consideration or thoughtfulness."

Each Meditation is preceded with a brief mission statement from the designer.

"I think a lot of games, especially larger games, are forced to take a more literal approach," says Ismail. "When you make a game that is more akin in length to a song, you get more abstract modes of interaction and abstract modes of communication."

Peralta's black-and-white game focused on his family's celebrations on Three Kings Day and how they were forever changed when a grandfather died. In one scene, we see the family gathering to sing. In another, years later, the family members drift off on their own.

"My mother saw people on Twitter talking about the game and asked me to show it to her," Peralta says. "When she was finished, she told me it was beautiful and she sent it over to a few more relatives, who also wrote me back to say they loved it."

Love and loss also figured into the game of Finland's Kimmo Lahtinen, who used an innocent and inviting drawing to show a young child sitting at a table with a grandparent. As the game unfolds, the player tries to stop everything on the screen from disappearing -- an ultimately fruitless act.

"The sadness and overwhelming futility of fighting against time was definitely intentional -- make people remember their loved ones and think about things they remember and haven't thought about in a long time," Lahtinen says.

"We want to be playful," Ismail says. "It gets beaten out of us by society, but we want to play. It's a powerful part of being a human. It's not a wonder that this is the defining medium of our century."

Style on 02/24/2019

Print Headline: Video games take 5 minutes or less, available 1 day

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