When is an art game not an art game? We link to lots of art games, you know -- things like Jason Rohrer's Passage or the work of Messhof or Petri Purho, and it's a diverse lot -- but they all have one thing in common. These artists have high regard for the medium of the game, and they are attempting to create something novel and interesting with due respect for what games can do and how they achieve their effects. They have chosen to work their art within the medium of the game, because they love games.
Suppose instead you had essential contempt for games, but conceived of yourself as an "artist" -- and had funding from, I don't know, say the Tribeca Film Institute. You might produce things that were essentially unplayable, but with moving images that might strike art dweebs who know nothing about games as "artistic," and if you adopted a theme like, say, global warming, your work might be viewed as "relevant."
Enter Gas Zappers, a trio of dreadful Flash games, funded by, yes, the Tribeca Film Institute.
A.N.W.R. (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) is a sidescroller in which you play a polar bear jumping from ice floe to ice floe and attempting to kick, punch, or grab and then throw oil barrels that are flying toward you. It's incredibly slow, at least on my 1.5GHz machine, which may have something to do with the fact that it's a 39 megabyte Flash application -- which is truly bizarre since, e.g., the polar bear's walk animation is two-stage and clumsy. It's hard to see why 39 megs are needed for so clumsy a game, particularly since most Flash games are a tenth the size, and far smoother in terms of controls.
Attacking oil barrels earns you coins, and if you gain enough, an arctic tern gives you a Nobel Peace Prize. (Bet the Nobel Committee doesn't know this; they made the Peacemaker guys take the Nobel Prize out of their game, where it makes far more sense, because they are protective of their trademark).
If barrels hit you, you lose health, and eventually it's game over. There's also some kind of boss battle at the end, but I couldn't be bothered to get there.
It appears that essentially no time was spent actually playing and refining the game; you're told that you must not fall into the water between floes (as it's polluted by the humans), yet many gaps are simply too large for you to leap. In other words, the creators don't seem to have thought it worth spending time and energy making sure that this thing actually works as a game at all: the political statement is all, evidently. Well, that plus the images.
Four Co2untries is sort of the reverse of a circle-shooter; you play a polar bear with solar panels revolving around the Earth, while about your periphery, an eagle, dragon, bear, and tiger (representing the US, China, Russia, and India, the world's largest CO2 emitters) burp smoke balls at you. You're supposed to position your solar panel to intercept these smoke balls, and once you've grabbed enough, you get a fluorescent light bulb, which you may shoot at one of them. The bulb inserts into that animal's mouth, and it can't burp smoke at you until, after a while, it spits it out. Theoretically, you can "win" by having all four animals with light bulbs in their mouths at the same time.
16 megs this time, equally slow; at least it works better as a game qua game, albeit it's pretty dull.
In Save Venice, you play a gondolier. Waves come from left to right, and you're supposed to position yourself and then whack them with your paddle. If you whack enough and get through the three levels of the game, evidently you've "saved Venice" from drowning as a consequence of global warming. When you miss one, the water level rises, and if it rises too far, game over. A mere 8 megs this time, but still incredibly slow, with incredibly awkward controls; neither the "paddle whack" animations nor the wave positions make it all clear exactly how to time your whacks, and since the thing responds damn slowly anyway, it would be hard to do so even with better information.
In short, these games totally suck, and to the degree that we recommend that you "play these things," it's only to see what you should avoid, either if you want to create art within the medium of the game, or if you want to create games with social impact.
I should probably end it here, but my god; the Tribeca Film Institute is an institution in the city of New York. Eric Zimmerman, Frank Lantz, Nick Fortugno, Messhof -- Christ, Rohrer is just upstate, and last I checked, Paolo Pedercini was still at RPI. If they want to fund game art, you'd think they could make an effort to find out what practitioners in the area are available.