Canabalt! Art? Game? Art Game? Game Art?


The only reason I came across this game was because I called my little brother asking him what was a good known game and he told me about this one. Canabalt consists of the player only pressing one button which is the space button on a PC. How it works is that the player controls a man in a suit and tie and all the man does is run, but the player controls his jumps. The man jumps from building to building and over objects such as boxes that get in his way. If one misses to jump the man falls from the building and the game is immediately over. Once you die the game tells you how many miles you ran before you died.



Canabalt as a Game
According to French intellectual Roger Callois in the Definition of Play and Classification of Games, there are six qualities that qualify a game as a game. He states:

“1. Free: in which playing is not obligatory; if it were, it would at once lose its attractive and joyous quality as diversion;

2. Separate: circumscribed within limits of space and time, defined and fixed inadvance;

3. Uncertain:the course of which cannot be determined, nor the result attained beforehand, and some latitude for innovations being left to the player’s initiative;

4. Unproductive: creating neither goods, nor wealth, nor new elements of any kind; and, except for the exchange of property among the players, ending in situation identical to that prevailing at the beginning of the game;

5. Governed by rules: under conventions that suspend ordinary laws, and for the moment establish new legislation, which alone counts;

6. Make-believe: accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality” (10).

When applying Canabalt to Caillois’ definition of a game one is able to clearly understand why and how the game does apply to his defintion. First off, the game is free because I was able to find it online without having to pay for it. Secondly, my time restraint consisted on how far I ran without dying, so yes my time was limited. Also, when playing the game i don’t receive anything, not even points. All it tells me is how many miles I ran, so mo prize. Canabalt did contain rules which was only to run and jump, if I did not, I would obviously die and the game would be over. Lastly, it was make-believe because it’s suppose to represent a man leaving his work and just continoutlsy running throwing all of his paperwork towards the sky.

Canabalt as Art
G.W.F Hegel in Philosophy in Fine Art states:

“It has already been said that the content of art is the Idea, while its forms is the configuration of sensors material. Now art has to harmonize these two sides and bring them into a free reconciled totality” (80).

When Hegel says, “the content of art” he means the IDEA and when he says, “configuration of material” he means FORM. Basically for something to be considered art the person has to come up with an idea and then make his idea happen, thus the form. Then, there has to be a correlation between the content and configuration and if there is someone must respond to the work once it is done, have an emotional or intellectual react to it. This enhances Simon Niedenthal argument of what art is in games in What we Talk About when we Talk About Games Aesthetics. Niedenthal states, “Game aesthetics refers to the sensory phenomenal that the player encounters in the game (visual, aural, embodied) such as fame mechanic, computation, interface, story, genre, sensation, or perception” (2). Consequently, game aesthetics is clearly seen when playing Canabalt because the player wants to feel the sensational feeling of getting as far as he or she can. The game is pretty addiciting, so the player can play it as much as he or she wishes because he or she has endless turns.
In the end Canabalt is considered an Art Game because the game is a medium of expression, meaning the creator of Canabalt wanted to create something more than just a game. This is evident because Adam Saltsman said he created the game as away of escaping in an interview.

“I used to have fantasies at my old office job of running down our long, long hallway just for fun. And to literally escape. I’d forgotten about that until months after Canabalt came out. There used to be an intro cinematic that I was designing, where the character receives an email, but it was all getting in the way of the main thing.”

Therefore, this game was used as medium of expression of escaping reality and just running away through a game. He also explained that the player is wearing a black suit so that he could stand out from the gray scale background, thus taking in consideration the texture of the game.


 G. W. E. Hegel. (1998 [1826]). “Philosophy of Fine Art.” In The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, edited by D. Preziosi. Oxford: Oxford University Press: pp. 80-88.

Roger Caillois. (2006 [1959]). “The Definition of Play and The Classification of Games” in

Game Design Reader. Edited by K. Salen and E. Zimmerman: pp. 122-155


5 thoughts on “Canabalt! Art? Game? Art Game? Game Art?

  1. Thank you for using someone other than Juul because everyone else did. Canabalt creating the game as an escape is interesting. I mainly play video games to escape life. He had an idea and created it. The game is simple enough to take you mind off of things but also enjoyable.


  2. This game reminds me somewhat of Rainbow Unicorn. The concept is basically the same except for the fact that you can also dash into objects that are in your way to destroy them and collect things for more points. I find it interesting that the game was created as an escape. Most games tend to be escapes for people in general but the creator wanting it to be an escape is an interesting concept.


  3. Your blog was a nice read. One thing I noticed is that your use of Caillois is slightly incorrect. The six qualities do not define a game as a game those qualities are used to define play. While play can be related to a game they aren’t the same thing. Caillois uses agon, alea, mimicry, and ilix to classify games.


  4. Like what the first person said thank you for not using Juul, I have seen his examples way too many times now. Using Callios definition of game worked ok since he does refer to agon, alea, mimicry and ilix, though I feel it does fit into one of these categories as well. Also well done on citing Hegel to explain on how this game can be considered game art and the dynamics of the game and how that works together to express the form the artist imagines.


  5. I am actually very intrigued that you decided to choose this game. When you defined the game as art you didn’t really mention anything about how it looks other than when you say that game aesthetics is a sensory phenomenal. You are talking more about the senses of emotion instead of sight. I think that for the most part, art is something appeasing to the eye, something that captures the attention of the participant. Good analysis!


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