Passage is a special kind of game made by an unusual kind of game developer. Jason Rohrer lives with his wife and child in a cabin in upstate New York. This cabin is specially insulated to maintain heat during the winter; it has means of collecting rainwater and a fully implemented garden in the back yard. As a result, Jason and his family live on around $800 a month. He has an MS in Computer Science and experience doing network applications, but he doesn't play the Corporate America game. Instead, he's free, and he's free to make beautiful art games that, like his house, are technically and experientially tight to the point of self-sufficiency.
Passage is about the literal passage through a maze, but it is also about the passage of time. You begin as a young man; you have a wall fore-grounded directly to your north, and can move to the right or explore the maze to the south. Early on you encounter a woman; if you bump into her you will fall in love and become her companion. Together you walk through life, illustrated as a variation in wallpaper; you age together, you explore together.
Exploring downwards involves an algorithmically generated smattering of pillars and walls that you navigate in order to find treasure chests (representing money or success or something) or maybe just to see if there's an ultimate limit to how far down you can go (this limit is an inevitable bi-product of the algorithm, which increases the frequency of walls the further you go). Being with the woman limits how much you can explore, and yet, this is where the game's genius shone through for me; I was more than happy to give up the utility of easier exploration for the benefit of not being alone. I'm talking about 8-color pixel sprites making me feel something that Final Fantasy could only pull off non-interactively with cheap (read: extremely expensive) parlor tricks of CG and professional voice acting.
Balancing the exploration vs. progress mechanic is the limitation of the screen view; you're only able to see a single row at a time, which effectively gives a sense that you aren't exploring a maze but a lifetime. Further fleshing out this metaphor is the pixel stacking effect. At the beginning, you can make out the pixel patterns of distant phases, but they're only single columns of pixels, and as you progress they become elongated layer by layer. Once you pass mid-life the emphasis shifts: now most of the stacked pixels are behind you, and you find yourself centered closer and closer to the right-most edge of the screen. This is both an interesting visual effect and the best illustration of the concept of Phi that I have ever seen.
Whether you try to explore a lot or you go for the boring mediocrity of a long, stable, repetitive life, you will become old and grey, and eventually your wife will die. And when you see this happen, so abruptly, you may feel something more dramatic and real than when Aireth was impaled. You may feel a genuine sense of loss, blow-back from a five minute emotional investment, and then you too will collapse to dust while the title passes over again.