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The Marriage


A computer game by Rod Humble


Play the game in a browser:

Thanks to Giacomo Preciado you can now play the game in a browser at his site


Download the game:

The downloaded game is windows 2000, XP and vista.


or zip





This is a game that requires explanation. That statement is already an admission of failure. But when working with new art forms one has to start somewhere and its unfair to an audience to leave a piece of work (even if its not successful) without some justification. Its probably some kind of record to have such a small game give hundreds of words of explanation. By way of defence I should say that I regard game rules as highly compact artistic statements so its not surprising that unravelling them takes a while in prose, also artistic criticism for games is a new field so we don’t have the pre existing vocabulary to deal with outlying games like this, yet.


The Marriage is intended to be art. No excuses or ducking. As such its certainly meant to be enjoyable but not entertaining in the traditional sense most games are. This means I am certain to be perceived as being pretentious by some who read this, my apologies.  This is also a very difficult game to understand, again my apologies, I have tried to assist those who are interested but frustrated with the rules summary below.


The game came out of my explorations into games as art. This thinking started a few years ago out of a series of discussions with Raph Koster when we both worked at Sony Online Entertainment. While we ended up taking different approaches to it, the aim of pushing out the edges of games as art in our spare time was a common goal. I was also very taken with Jonathan Blow’s “Raspberry” which seemed to me to start to push towards expression through gameplay.


In early 2006 my thinking on the matter had narrowed to two areas. One was seeking a unique artistic form for games and the second was categorizing game creation. These thoughts were summarized in an article for The Escapist Magazine titled “Game Rules as Art”. The Marriage addresses the first area of seeking a unique art form through games.


The challenge as I saw it was to have the primary medium of expression something unique to games. So it couldn’t be a story for example, because stories can be told by other mediums. It couldn’t be a poem or sounds because they also have other counterparts. In other words I didn’t want to limit games to being a hybrid art form. In no way is this meant to denigrate the serious  work done by others in interactive storytelling for example, that just wasn’t my interest and games are big enough that there is plenty of room for all.


The game was the second try I had made in the area. The first “A walk with Max” was an attempt to experience how it felt to take my 3 year old for a walk in the countryside. That first game was a failure in my mind because it was representational. You could imagine (barely) putting a little boy in it and some nice looking trees and it becoming a better game. This was the wrong direction for me. I wanted something that was not easily represent able by other media. I wanted to use game rules to explain something invisible but real.


I wanted a game that the graphics and other elements took second stage. So for example Chess is a great game whether playing with stones or diamond encrusted ivory sculpted pieces. One should not assume the game is incomplete because of its graphical simplicity, I cheated a little here by using colour symbolism similar to painting. This is also the reason there is no sound to the game, any element I could remove that got in the way of the game itself I did. Sound and music is a very powerful medium in and of itself, I feared its inclusion would overwhelm the subtle message of the game.


“The Marriage “came out of a long weekend I took with my wife down to Carmel. It was created that evening on my laptop as I listened to the waves of the pacific below. All the game mechanics were completed that evening although I spent weeks afterwards tuning and polishing. The game was also made “in process” as it were. I simply could not design this game on paper before hand. It had to be done by exploring , discarding and balancing game elements during creation. This feeling way of game creation felt right. It was like carving with the grain of the wood or painting with the brushstrokes rather than against them.





-------------------------------------------- You may wish to stop reading here------------------------------------------






After this point there is a lot of information that may lessen your enjoyment of the game the first time you play.  I suggest you play the game first before reading further and if you get confused return to it.







Rules Summary:


Initially you have two squares a blue and a pink, on screen.


Soon different coloured circles will enter and leave the play space.


You have two controls.


1.)   When you mouse over the blue or pink square the blue square reduces in size and both squares move towards each other.

2.)   When you mouse over a circle it disappears and the pink square gets smaller.


When the edge of the blue square collides (or “kisses”) with the edge of the pink square (but not when they overlap): the blue square shrinks slightly and becomes more transparent. The pink square grows slightly and becomes less transparent.


When the blue square touches any coloured circle but black then the blue square becomes less transparent and grows in size to a significant degree.


When the pink square touches any coloured circle but black then the pink square grows in size slightly.


When the pink or blue square touch a black circle they shrink significantly.


As time passes the pink square becomes more transparent.


When squares collide with things then a white bar at the bottom of the screen increases in size.


When either the pink square of blue square shrink to nothing or become totally transparent then the game is over.


The general game flow will be balancing the need to have the pink & blue squares “kiss” to insure the pink square does not fade from the marriage versus the blue square needing to touch the circles to insure it does not fade.


The Games meaning:


This part of the document is hard to write. The game was created to be played, to be enjoyed by each person exploring the rules and how it related to their own life. The interested but confused player however has a right to ask “I understand its meant to be about my interpretation and meaning, but I want to know what your interpretation and intended meaning is as well.” Fair enough, but it puts me in a position of either being accused of making something unintelligible without explanation or being so coy that sceptics might assume there was no meaning there at all or even worse examining each element and explaining the creation in such depth we come away with an autopsy report rather than a map to assist exploration. I have tried to walk a middle ground below, but I would urge players to play the game first without reading this part if they can.


The game is my expression of how a marriage feels. The blue and pink squares represent the masculine and feminine of a marriage. They have differing rules which must be balanced to keep the marriage going.


The circles represent outside elements entering the marriage. This can be anything. Work, family, ideas, each marriage is unique and the players response should be individual..


The size of each square represents the amount of space that person is taking up within the marriage. So for example we often say that one person’s ego is dominating a marriage or perhaps a large personality. In the game this would be one square being so large that the other one simply is trapped within the space of it unable to get to circles and more importantly unable to “kiss” edge to edge.


The transparency of the squares represents how engaged that person is in the marriage. When one person fades out of the marriage and becomes emotionally distant then the marriage is over.


Your controls reveal the agency of the game. You are only capable of making the squares move towards each other at the same time or removing a circle by sacrificing the size of the pink square. You are playing the agency of Love trying to make the system of the marriage work. Not only does this mean that the mechanics of attraction and sacrifice communicate love but also the physical way the game is controlled, I wanted a gentle almost stroking like feel to playing the game, that’s why clicking or rapid motion was not appropriate.


The backdrops colour has meaning. It starts off blue representing the world of the masculine. The club scene perhaps or adventures and exuberant experimentation. It then over time transitions to purple a mix of blue and pink representing the beginnings of a more permanent relationship. Then to pink as we enter fully the world of the feminine such as a home made together or emotionally the relationship becoming more kind. Next onto green colour of life and renewal, this represents a giving back to the world by the marriage, perhaps creatively, perhaps by having children or caring for others. Finally it becomes black symbolizing that at the end of the marriage when life is done there is nothing but each other. The only break in the blackness is at the bottom, where the strip of light representing memories of the marriage has been built up.


The game mechanics are designed such that the game is fragile. Its easy to break. This is deliberate as marriages are fragile and they feel fragile, I wanted to get this across.


The final part of the game comes if the marriage ends while the backdrop is black. At every point the two squares have kissed during the game a pair of tiny squares is created and drift off the screen, as the last one leaves the game ends.




After showing the game to numerous people I have been pleased by the feedback. One thing which was surprising was just how personal a game this is. Many people immediately related to the game and in one case even used it to explain to their partner how they felt. Equally requests have been made to allow players to make their own rules for the game particular to how their marriage felt. Most striking was one gentleman who after my demonstration accurately guessed “you have never been divorced have you?” quite right sir. Such responses were proof (as if it were needed) that such things as a marriage are unique forms and the best any art can do is inform the general and explain the personal.


As you play the game I hope that after a while you will begin to just let the games rules mix together and lose yourself in the expression of a marriage.


Rod Humble


I am indebted to Doug Church, Jonathan Blow, Robin Hunicke and Raph Koster for their encouragement at various times during the creation of this game.

Special thanks to Giacomo Preciado for his wonderful version of the game in a browser!



Download the game:

The game is windows 2000, XP and vista.



or zip



The Marriage was first shown to the public at GDC 2007 as part of two sessions exploring new kinds of game play

I am making the game available as a follow up to those talks.