Kids Is Less a Mobile Game Than an Artsy Experience, and That's a Good Thing

When I first saw a trailer for Playables' Kids, I was mystified, but intrigued.

The black and white game—if you can even call it a game—follows hordes of identical beings more sophisticated than stick figures but nonetheless featureless. They run around in mobs, following along with the crowd, gathering around and then falling into giant black pits and flowing through an intestine-like tube in a single file line. It's mysterious and bizarre, with music that straddles the line between haunting and hopeful.

I knew I had to get my hands on this weird little game, so I reached out to publishers Double Fine, who provided me with a review key on iOS. According to the creators of Kids, "the project consists of a short film, an interactive animation and an art installation." As soon as I started it up, I saw just how true those words were.

Kids: Title screen with falling kids

(Kids via Double Fine)

The game opens on a white screen with a giant black pit at its center. Soon figures—I'll call them Kids for simplicity's sake—begin to congregate around the hole. Once enough Kids have gathered, they stop. It's here that I touch the screen for the first time. Where I tap, a small group of Kids topples directly into the pit. I keep tapping around the circle until every last Kid has dived into the abyss before the screen goes black.

Kids: Crowd of people gathering around dark pit

(Kids via Double Fine)


Subsequent levels have the player guiding Kids through tubes and masses, tapping fallen Kids to wake them up, helping Kids swim through voids of nothingness and getting groups of unruly Kids to come to a consensus. The controls are very simple, consisting of basic screen presses, with each task requiring a slightly new interaction for the player to figure out. If that doesn't sound like the games you're used to, it's because Kids is almost more experiential art than game.

Kids: Hi and hello figures

(Kids via Double Fine)

The game unravels over 34 tiny episodes that can be completed in 20 minutes or so, with each little area focusing more on big ideas than gameplay. As I played and completed each piece of the puzzle, the game made me wonder why I was doing what I was doing.

Kids: Body going through tube

(Kids via Double Fine)

Sometimes Kids would all do the same thing in unison, following along with the crowd. Other times, the Kid I controlled would be somehow repellant, with everyone else avoiding them. What did it mean when I pumped Kids through tubes like they were coming out of a factory machine, only to squeeze them out at the end like human pimples? In some, they eagerly volunteer to be selected from a group, and in others, they point the finger and beg for anyone but them to be picked.

Kids: Pimple people popping out

(Kids via Double Fine)

For the most part, I found these actions to feel silly and playful, but I can imagine that if I were in a different state of mind, I might find the game's situation dark, foreboding or even isolating. When I controlled crowds into holes, I wasn't sure if I was leading them toward unity or destruction. Bringing them together might speak to the power of community and connectedness, or it could highlight just how lonely a person can feel even in a group—especially when there's nothing about each individual to make them stand out from the others.

Voices can be lost in the crowd, or be amplified by them. None of these ideas are explicitly in the game, but Kids certainly evoked these concepts in me. I imagine other people will have a completely different reaction, and that's a very special thing.

Kids: Huge crowd of people

(Kids via Double Fine)

If you're going to play Kids, you'll definitely want to do so with the sound on. The game lacks music (besides its rousing credit song), instead relying on excellent sound design as its soundtrack. The sounds of pounding feet, splashing water and little voices stand out against the silence, creating an almost tactile sound experience that adds to the emotion of the game.

Kids: Swimming and singing people

(Kids via Double Fine)

For example, in the second little level, the screen is black, save for the occasional Kid falling like a ragdoll through the darkness. By tapping one of them, you can make them float in place, but then more of them begin to fall, and keeping them all afloat is an impossible juggling act. The first time I played through it, the sound was off and I didn't quite understand what I was doing. When I replayed it with the sound on, I realized that each Kid I caught was accompanied with a layer of angelic singing, and that each additional figure built up to the game's ending theme.  These sounds guiding my movements and made Kids feel more complete.

Kids: People swimming in the sky

(Kids via Double Fine)


And once you've completed the experience, you can revisit any of the episodes. Chances are that at least one will have spoken to you and that it will demand another look. If all goes well, you'll be thinking about Kids and it's implications long after you've put the game down. I know I have.

Kids: Figure walking alone surrounded by people

(Kids via Double Fine)

Kids costs just $2.99 and is available for iOs and Android, as well as Mac and PC.


If you love the aesthetic of Kids but are looking for more gameplay, click HERE to find out why you'll love Hidden Folks.