Examining UX design & Ian Bogost’s proceduralist elements at play in “Monument Valley”
DESIGN RESEARCH, GAME DESIGN
The Design of Games, Part I

First image: A scene from chapter 6, “The Labyrinth,” showing Ida and the Totem. The dark arched door at the top is the goal to reach. Here is a walkthrough of this level

Several sections of Ian Bogost’s “micro ecology” of games closely relate to the game Monument Valley: Art, Reverence, Transit, Relaxation, and Habituation. The game is a mobile app, and traces the story of a young girl, Ida, through several levels (called “chapters” in the game), that are based on the architectural designs of Escher. The overall gameplay relies on solving each level’s puzzle/maze, by using your finger to manipulate sections of the building, which grow and transform until Ida’s character reaches the end. Other than Ida, there is a character called Totem that appears in later levels, as well as several crow characters, and the architecture itself can be seen as the defining character of the game.
Art in Monument Valley
Monument Valley is firmly within the realm of art games. In fact, Ken Wong, the lead designer of the game, wrote in an article titled “The Precipice, and Games as Art,” that his hope for the game was to “contribute to the argument that the medium of entertainment we call video games is in fact art.”¹ He further explains that this means recognizing games as a medium of expression through which game creators can convey experiences and ideas, and understanding their cultural significance, through which “we can understand some small part of what it means to be a living, loving, dying, feeling, thinking being.”²

This is quite complementary to Bogost’s thoughts on art in the realm of videogames. Using this definition, if we look at Bogost’s spectrum of games, Monument Valley occupies a space that is more towards the art side, although I think it is definitely also entertainment.

Monument Valley employs several qualities of proceduralism. The first is strong authorship, especially as this game developed within a design agency as an internal project, which allowed the team to create on their own terms. Coming from a user interface and user experience (UI/UX) design background certainly influences the entire design of the game. Many of Bogost’s thoughts on proceduralist games can also be linked directly to the discipline of user experience design.

This level clearly shows the influence of M.C.Escher
User Experience Design & Bogost’s Proceduralist Elements
The poetic experience can be described as a close consideration of the user/player’s experience. The main theme of the game hinges on a journey, and the story, which is described in the introduction, is one of exploration, regret, and forgiveness. Ida must embark on a journey to seek forgiveness for stealing something called “Sacred Geometry.” This encourages the introspective aspect that Bogost mentions, as the puzzles could be seen as a metaphor for the long and challenging path to seek forgiveness. However, this story is a very subtle, open-ended and often overlooked piece of the game, and there is a lot of room for players to reflect and think deeply as they play.

The gameplay is focused on the player’s interaction with the game mechanics and dynamics. Manipulating the architectural elements with touch replicates the familiarity of moving blocks and manipulating objects (or physical puzzles), easing players into the interactions of the game. It is both mechanically simple and conceptually familiar, playing into Bogost’s definition of habituation. These interactions delight players so much that many have played the game over and over again, and as such there is no need for any in-game reward, other than completing the puzzle and moving on to the next level, and enjoying the user interface and aesthetic experience.
This shows how players have to move the architectural elements. Here, the pink circles indicate a movable element. Many of the puzzles rely on ‘impossible structures’ and optical illusions.
Chapter 4, “Water Palace”
Looking at the user interface design, there are no menus or unnecessary details. There is only the tactile input from the way the player’s finger moves across the screen, and this simplifies the player’s interactive experience. The form and visual design is essential to the game. Every visual element and sound effect is carefully and thoughtfully added to echo or amplify this experience, and it adds a meaningful layer to the gameplay. For example, the sound effects of friction and sliding the blocks as well as the totem’s movement, and Ida’s walking, signify essential elements of play throughout the player’s experience. Additionally, calling the levels “chapters” emphasizes the theme and signifies to players that this is a different kind of game. It also encourages players to view this as a story that unfolds through play.
Further, it “de-emphasizes visual fidelity in favour of the experience of movement”³. Monument Valley is a game that hinges on movement, the movement of ida walking, climbing, jumping; the movement of the totem and the way its movements aid and complicate ida’s movements; the crow’s movements that stop ida’s movements; the movement of the architecture emerging and twisting to create the gameplay; the movement from level to level into more and more intricate forms of architecture.

One of the few cutscenes to appear in the game, a character called “The Ghost” tells Ida why she must seek forgiveness. At the end of major sections, Ida approaches this shape and removes her hat as a sign of respect and asking for forgiveness.

This scene shows how Totem’s character is used to aid Ida in completing the puzzles. Here the circles on the Totem indicate a movable piece.
Reverence
Monument Valley has a very reverential mood throughout. Starting with some of the more mysterious, shadowy cut scenes, to the use of the term “sacred geometry,” there is a feeling of estrangement and respect. The creators also state that along with M. C. Escher’s artwork, they were inspired by “temples, palaces, mosques, monasteries and other buildings which combine exquisite artistry with a potential for exploration and mystery”⁴. Like the church in Bogost’s example, the architecture in each level inspires respect and reverence, and positions the monuments as symbols of culture and creativity. This reverence also inspires a meditative, relaxing mood as the user plays the game.
One of the few cutscenes to appear in the game, a character called “The Ghost” tells Ida why she must seek forgiveness. At the end of major sections, Ida approaches this shape and removes her hat as a sign of respect and asking for forgiveness.
Transit
It could be said that this game is one of transit, mediated by the function of walking and the form of the landscape and architecture of the Monument Valley world.

The story’s “plot” is tied to the landscape and Ida’s transversal of it, and the sense of unfamiliarity and adventure that Bogost writes about is very present.
Learning
There are two types of learning present in the game: one that is essential to playing the game, and another that is learned as a result of experiencing the game. Players learn the puzzle mechanics and this helps them in further levels which draw upon that knowledge. Several levels are quite tricky and require you to remember what you learned in previous ones, of how to interact with and manipulate the architecture, as well as the maze-like paths Ida can take. Players also learn ways to use the totem to augment the mazes/puzzles, and part of the “reward” or delight of the gameplay is putting this into practice to solve each chapter. Implicitly, they are learning about ‘impossible design’ and the influence of Escher in art, as well as the culturally inspired architecture. They are learning the importance of visual design in experiencing games, and apps, and how interactions can be the basis of an experience. And they are learning how enjoyable, engaging/challenging, and meditative a “simple” game can be.