Gravitation is the best happy game I've ever played, entertainment games included. It's a small art game by Jason Rohrer, a leading figure in video game art. Download it and try it for yourself first (it's only 500KBytes). http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/gravitation/
I came to this game skeptical about it, after having played Passage, from the same developer, a few months ago, ending it dumbfounded about how the game meant anything at all and completely unconvinced about it being any good. So I was ready to dismiss it and only started playing it for time killing purposes.
When you start playing Gravitation, you'll notice a timer relentlessly counting down. This obviously means the time you have left to live in the game. The screen is limited and you only see yourself and a fireplace. I moved around and saw a ball flying, and instinctively pressed SPACE to jump at it; I missed the ball. There was this little girl and I saw she had thrown me the ball. There wasn't anything else to see, so I reasoned I had to play with her to move the game forward. She threw me the ball again, and I jumped and grabbed it; it went back to her and a little heart appeared. My own heart warmed a little. I played with her some more and, suddenly, the music got wilder, the screen got bigger and I was on fire: I saw an exit where, before, only darkness existed, and when I jumped for it. I forgot the little girl and I flew through space; leapt from platform to platform collecting stars that seemed to get me more energy, and I leapt and leapt; until it all came crashing down. The screen got smaller and I got weaker. I had to go back down to the little girl, I reasoned, and play with her some more; she's useful to me. But when I came back, there were these blocks of ice blocking the way and I couldn't play with her. I pushed them, which wasn't easy, and they melted in the fireplace. For the effort, I lost a little life, but for the effort, I got to play with the girl. She was beginning to be more than just useful: I was beginning to get fond of her. But still, I wanted to see more, so when the music got crazy, I left her for the heights again. A routine started to emerge: I would go exploring, then I would get back, break some blocks of ice and play with the girl.
I thought it would last forever.
But, some time later, when I came back from my frenzy, she was gone; only her little ball remained. It struck something deep in me, a loss and lost kind of feeling. She was gone. While I was going on a manic spree, climbing platforms in search of achievements, I dismissed her. She was what kept me going through all this and I abandoned her. I thought I could just work a little harder to melt the ice and she would take me back, and love me. But no.
She was gone.
I still had 20 more seconds to live and plenty of energy to jump, but it seemed pointless to go on. I just stood there, looking at where she once was, regretting ever leaving her. After a while, I went to the fireplace in tears. The timer reached zero. My life faded. Gravitation.
All this in under 5 minutes. Notice that I kept saying "I", as if it happened to me. I think that's key to the reason I was completely immersed in the experience so quickly, and I think that's something no other art medium can do. You're not just seeing it, or reading it, or hearing it: you're living it.
And that is why Gravitation is the best game I've ever played.
Well, I wrote this on reddit.com (a likes-to-think-it's-classier-than-Fark-or-Digg-or-Slashdot-but-doesn't-even-come-near-Metafilter site), and have since came back to the game to play through it again.
The second time, I stayed playing with the girl. You feel energetic the whole time, but nothing else happens. Really cute and boring; I was expecting more from the girl.
The third time, I decided ignoring the girl. She didn't go away and cried all the time, and asides from alternating between manic and depressed, nothing happened. She didn't go away: this is very odd, given how my first time went, and I think it must be a bug. You can try justifying it with saying that the girl is your daughter and she was taken away from you because you neglected her when you went collecting stars, but that doesn't make much sense. Why, if she's so miserable, doesn't she go away? Is she some sort of needy masochist? Is that what the game is saying about women: treat her as bad as you want, but as long as you stay with her, she'll stay with you as well. It's stupid.
The fourth time, I went to the top. I ignored the girl and went collecting stars, waiting on a platform for the depression to get better, in order to reach ever higher heights. I quickly found that if I collected too many stars, I'd get depressed really quickly. This time I saw the stars as drugs, whose only use was to help me get to the top. Not a very good message. I got to the top and waited for my life to fade.
I am now kinda convinced, after reading that the game was about the creative process, that the stars are not drugs or career achievements, but ideas. Every time you pick a star, it drops and becomes a block of ice with a timer counting down from 9. The faster you deal with the block of ice, or idea, the more points you get (there's a blue counter on top that tracks the score). Also, if you let them pile up, they become harder to work with, as the burden is too much. The climb is not a race to the top of a career, but the strenuous process of finding new ideas. But this doesn't make sense on the face that you can't push any blocks if they become too piled up (because they get stuck on a platform, probably a bug), and that the girl doesn't go away even if there are blocks of ice stopping her from playing with you the whole time. She doesn't even cry because of this. She only goes away if there are blocks of ice AND you climb four times (even if you clear your house of blocks of ice before the fourth climb, if you drop any ice after that she will be gone by the time you get back). The girl is obviously a child, most probably your daughter, as it's difficult to imagine having to play ball with a grown woman for her to love you. Also, you burn the blocks of ice at the fireplace, and it's a given that the fire represents the time you have left to live (it gets tamer as the life timer comes closer to zero). Ice isn't good for fire, so it probably isn't good for your life; but you don't lose life from the timer when you burn the ice, only the time you've spent collecting the star and pushing the ice. Of note is the fact that the landscape becomes icy whenever you start feeling blue. What does the ice mean then? I have no idea now.
So there is a fun game play aspect, that no one seemed to notice, in the fact that you can get a high score by melting blocks of ice. That there is an element of mania and melancholia, and bipolar disorder, to the game is pretty obvious. And if you play some more, you find out new layers of meaning, though not necessarily from reflection, but from alternate ways of playing. It's probably the closest anyone has ever gotten to art expressed through video game _game play_.