The rudiments of the game UFO on Tape are as modest as they are rich. On startup, your iPhone or Touch becomes the viewfinder of a video camera trained on a cottony, vaguely metropolitan sky. You’re looking out from the smudgy, out-of-focus interior of an automobile; as you turn or peer upward the window pillars and ceiling block your view. A UFO appears—a classic, hoax-ish, tin-pan UFO—and the game is on, as you spin and twist to keep the flying saucer in your frame while it flicks, hovers, and passes behind buildings, lamp posts, and flocks of birds. The longer you keep it in frame, the better your chances are of convincing someone you’re not a liar or a crazy person.
The genius of the game, however, lies in its eschewing of all that sort of narrative appurtenance; the situation is merely suggested by the game’s gestalt. The jerkiness of the frame; the nebulous semi-transparence of the UFO, evoking the lunar prodigy of a UFO in an actual sky; the undead, technoluminescent blue of the picture, and the pixel-lined fade-out screen you get when you lose; all these qualities contribute to the scene-setting and situational transformation that takes place when stories are told. It’s done deftly—but gesturally, in a loose, sketched-in way. This is a calligraphic game.
Casuals are like gaming’s version of the dancing bears, morality plays, and Punch-and-Judy shows out of which the Elizabethan theatre seemed to spring fully formed. Whether games are art or not, it’s clear that they’re something that’s becoming art (and that’s all the practice of art ever is, really). It’s worth noting that UFO on Tape is described as the first finished game by Troshinsky, an illustrator and animator just getting into development. But that shouldn’t surprise us, really. The tools of game-dev are becoming so powerful and accessible, they’re like the sonnet in the seventeenth-century England or the lute in sixteenth-century Italy: powerful gadgets that gifted members of the elite could pick up, cultivate, and deftly wield to delight themselves and their companions. If we’re going to be digital aristocrats, we might as well get good at it.