Joy Exhibition (by Strangethink) is a game about making art for aliens. If you like creative games, procedural generation or painting, you’ll love this. It’s available for free on Windows, Mac and Linux.
Picture this: you’re on a spacecraft full of fluorescent aliens, flying gracefully through the red-and-fuchsia mountains of some planet you’ve never seen before. What do these mysterious beings want from you? Art, apparently.
Joy Exhibition is a first-person game where you paint pictures for aliens. But this isn’t just Photoshop with a weird interface: it’s a very strange and meditative form of artwork. Your studio is a quiet little room with a bare canvas and a row of procedurally-generated paint guns. Each gun shoots paint in a different shape, colour and intensity, with those variables changing fluidly as you move around the room and the canvas.
During my playthrough I found one gun that shot hot-pink vertical strings, but as I got closer to the wall holding the canvas, the strings slowly became darker and more horizontal. Another gun splattered five beams of inky green all over the walls, but the beams tightened when I painted the upper edges of the canvas. Another drew brown caterpillars that rotated depending which direction I was facing.
This may sound infuriating, but as I played I stopped trying to paint anything in particular and just sampled each gun, letting it wreak havoc wherever it pleased. Slowly I started to understand that this game isn’t about painting in the traditional sense, but more about finding serendipitous images in the chaos provided to you. You won’t be painting the Mona Lisa anytime soon, but you might stumble across a Jackson Pollock-esque creation.
When I finished “painting”, I stepped back through the central door of my studio and found my creation upon the wall, with several (also procedurally generated) aliens admiring my handiwork. I joined them for a while and listened to the soothing sounds of the spaceship, before going back and trying out a new set of paints.