What is a documentary game? The more we dug into this question, the more questions arose among the researchers at the MIT Game Lab. Should a documentary game include specific details about real lives? What if it’s about an incident, a place, or just an idea? Are broad strokes about the human condition sufficient to describe a game as a documentary? What about games that have documentary intent but falter at their goal?
The following list is not intended to be a single, canonical answer for those questions. Instead, we’ve decided to focus on the outliers — earnest, complex works that had to be included despite their marginal qualities. (We also prioritized games that would be easy to find, given the state of game publishing and platforms in 2015.) Take note at how different these games are from each other in format, treatment of sources, point of view, and player agency. By drawing your eyes to a few dots on the perimeter, we hope to illustrate a landscape of possibility.