In Defense of Puzzle Games

I’ve been harboring a deep secret that I need to let out: I love puzzle games. I’ve spent a few nights over the past week staying up late playing games like Rusty Lake Roots and I’ve loved every minute of it. Matching wits with a tough puzzle is a treat rarely topped in gaming.

In my personal life I’m known as a puzzle fan, but I’ve had trouble converting friends and acquaintances into puzzle-game aficionados. I’m usually met with “Those are games for moms” — and setting aside the misogyny and ageism inherent in this response– it’s emblematic of the idea that puzzle games are somehow less-than other genres. I’m tired of this response, let’s talk about how good puzzle games can be.

As a community, we’re exceptionally bad at looking at what’s come before us. There are groups dedicated to preserving film, paintings, and literature but if we had something similar for games we’d talk more about games like Mancala and Go. Both of these games are essentially PVP puzzle games and have influences throughout modern gaming. Even one of the earliest mega-successes in digital gaming came in the form of Tetris — a puzzle game.

Puzzle games are also accessible and diverse. Games in the genre are developed all over the world. I’d argue more than any other genre. There are entries from the usual suspects like Professor Layton from Japan and Threes from America but also games like Farsh from Iran, and Fidel Dungeon Rescue from Argentina. Part of what makes these games so great and open to everyone is how simple controlling them is. All of the games I’ve mentioned so far take minimal effort to interact with physically — puzzle games are played mostly in your mind, not in the game.

We’re also in the middle of what I would describe as puzzle games’ renaissance. As the digital and mobile markets have expanded so have the puzzle experiences. Just last year we got award winning entries in the genre like Stephen’s Sausage Roll and Zero Time Dilemma on PC, but we’ve also seen games like the aforementioned Threes and Rusty Lake Hotel. I feel confident in saying that we’re currently in an age where puzzle mechanics are more diverse than they’ve ever been. Sure we still see abstract puzzle segments that drop into an overworld unannounced, but we also have The Witness where the game is the puzzle.

As it sits, puzzle games have been written off as Bejeweled-clones for moms. While it’s true that Professor Layton games are most popular with women over the age of 30, this isn’t a bad thing. I think it’s high time we show a genre with a high level of diversity and innovation its due respect.

Want more puzzle games? We’ve got a whole tag full of ‘em over here. Have a favorite that more people need to play? Post them in the comments below.

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