Level 1 of the mobile game Desert Golfing looks like this:
The gameplay consists of dragging on, then releasing the ball to send it flying toward the flag-marked hole.
Completing Level 1 takes you to Level 2, which looks like this:
Level 2 plays exactly like Level 1.
Now, I haven’t reached Level 3,365 myself, but online screenshots from those who have suggest that it looks like this…
… and plays exactly like the previous 3,364 levels.
Much like the single fly that hits the windshield at hour five of Penn & Teller’s infamous real-time road trip simulator, Desert Golfing introduces visual change rarely and stingily. Actually, this game is definitely more generous than Desert Bus, as it eventually swaps out the initial brown-and-darker-brown dunes for more vibrant palettes.
An easy reading of Desert Golfing might be to buy into its nihilist presentation and conclude, along with many others who have written on the topic, that the game has no meaning. But to my mind, a complete analysis of this game requires consideration of its fanbase and, for lack of a better term, “meme status.” I’ll certainly continue pondering the meaning of this game’s existence (and my own) as I steadily add to my stroke count during my next two play sessions. For the moment, though, I’m more interested in the extant online discussion and media attention surrounding Desert Golfing.
Desert Golfing has been branded as many things online, from the “best game in the world” to a “transcendent beauty” to a parody of casual gaming. In isolation, I’m not sure if it’s any of these. I can easily imagine someone stumbling across the game without any awareness of its online following. Such a player would likely perceive Desert Golfing as shovelware – that breed of low-budget, imitative games that fill bargain bins at gas stations and WalMarts – not a “meta-” or “counter-” game, not parody, not funny, and probably not even “good”. They wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, either.
Desert Golfing‘s absolute commitment to minimalism means that it cannot (or rather, chooses not) speak for itself as anything more than a game about putting a golfball into a hole again and again and again until the game’s randomization engine produces an impossible level. Perhaps is why the game seems to frustrate and confound so many players: we expect and crave games that fit neatly into existing genres or else boldly proclaim themselves as trailblazers into a new category. Acting as the gamic equivalent of the magic circle’s spoilsport, Desert Golfing neither resists nor submits to genre classification – it just doesn’t care. In its silence, Desert Golfing‘s meaning is best derived from the voices of its players.