Is Noby Noby Boy a game?

Noby Noby Boy is a piece of interactive software that, at it’s best, forces you to question the very definition of what a game is and can be.  At it’s worst, it is software that you immediately regret having spent $5 on and, somewhere in between, makes you wonder if something went terribly wrong during the translation from Japanese to English.

Noby Noby Boy is a game — I think.  You control a stretchy four-legged creature named Noby Boy who can elongate his body and eat anything.  Sometimes people will ride atop you, and sometimes they will run from you.  Sometimes a squirrel with antenna will appear in the corner of the screen to tell you your game has been saved.  There is also a parrot that will fly across the screen, which is very important according to the in-game manual, because if the parrot doesn’t fly, then you can’t play online.  There is also a Noby Girl who is trying to traverse the universe to bring people together.  Her progress is based on how far you can stretch yourself.  If this all sounds very confusing, don’t worry, you are not alone.  I may speak with conviction, but I have no idea what is going on in the world of Noby Noby Boy.

Noby Noby Boy comes to us from the mind of Keita Takahashi, creator of the equally strange game Katamari Damacy.  In Katamari you play as a small space creature who rolls a sticky ball around Earth’s cities and playgrounds collecting items to replace stars which your drunken space-giant father has accidentally destroyed.  Your sticky rolling ball swells and grows as it collects more and more items, which serves as an interesting visual reward for progression through the levels.  Noby Noby Boy does not have any kind of progression reward, or even a true goal.  In defense of the game though, it makes no attempt to hide this.  After learning how to control Noby Boy, the game informs you that there is no end goal or true motivation.  You are only there to experiment.

This is where the problem lies in the “game.”  With no motivation or reward, what is the point of playing?  Takahashi has supplied Sony with something akin to Microsoft Paint for the PlayStation 3: a piece of colorful creative software that you can do interesting things with, but not something you can play.

Takahashi strives to question modern gaming’s cliches, openly dismissing current popular gaming genres.  He is essentially a game designer who does not like games.  Noby Noby Boy is his brave experiment.  It can certainly serve as creative expression for both the player and the designer, but can it be defined as a game?  There is no high score to beat, no narrative to unravel, nor is there any real tangible reward for playing.  It’s just a weird stretchy thing that you can manipulate.  Is it worth $5 to take part in Takahashi’s gaming experiment?  Along with my perception of what exactly Noby Noby Boy is, I must admit that I have no idea.