For the last few years, I’ve been trying to put my thoughts together about video games in relation to other popular medium like movies, TV, comics and books. Video games are fast becoming the predominant form of pop culture consumed by people from their teens to middle-age, taking up the cultural space that used to be occupied by Movies and TV in the minds of the general public. Gamers have the same kind of emotional engagement and investment in games as they might in movies, TV and comics, as the ongoing debacle over the ending of MASS EFFECT 3 is proving.
The problem with games is that they’re becoming more and more like big Hollywood movies: expensive to make, expensive to buy, and tell stories in a narrow range of genres, usually military shooters, and other genres involving killing things. Hell, as I get more bored with Hollywood blockbusters, I have more fun plaything through AAA games with the same plots as blockbusters because they’re interactive, not passive experiences. However, I’ve always been of the mind that games can be more than action movie simulatcra, that the medium has more uses and more to offer us.
This is why Anna Anthropy’s new book/manifesto is such a breath of fresh air. RISE OF THE VIDEOGAME ZINESTERS calls for everyone, not just professional games designers and programmers, to make their own games. Anna Anthropy is an indie games developer and trans-queer activist who has created games like LESBIAN SPIDER-QUEEN OF MARS for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim website, REALISTIC FEMALE FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER and many others. Her games deliberately take a scrappy, indie, DIY approach and offer satire and commentary on games, the act of playing games and other issues like gender and representation. Her latest game DYS4RIA is an autobiographical meditation on her experiences with hormone therapy that’s easily playable on the web. You can play through it all in less than 10 minutes, but it takes you through her head and her life in the same way a book, a story, an essay would, except through playing it, you experience it in a way that offers more than just reading prose does.
What Anna Anthropy is calling for is the democratization of an artform, very much in the spirit of the DIY ethos of the ‘zine scene that came along in the US in the last 15 years or so, which spawned the thriving indie comics scene that now also includes webcomics, the same ethos that Youtube has engendered in filmmaking now that everyone has easy access to a cheap video camera or the one in their smartphones. I grew up on the UK indie comics scene with Paul Gravett’s FAST FICTION and ESCAPE magazine scene in the 1980s, and that scene is still thriving in Britain with the regular comics marts and publications like SOLIPSISTIC POP. Comics has always been the most easy thing for anyone to do, since all they need is to draw on paper and then use a photocopier to publish their own books and magazines, and now having scanners and websites make it even cheaper and easier to put work out there for people to see. Affordable high-quality digital cameras in the past decade have made filmmaking more accessible to both amateurs and talented semiprofessionals to produce work. Anna Anthropy is looking forward to a “Youtube for games” where anyone and everyone who doesn’t work for a big corporate games company can upload their games for everyone to play and engage with. She has been involved with ‘zine-type game sites like Glorious Train Wrecks, whose manifesto calls for the creation of wild, crazy indie games for the fun of it.
Creating videogames is a more complicated proposition because until recently, only people who knew how to code and program computers could create them, but now, as she points out, there are programs available for virtually anyone to be able to jump in and create a game from preset programs and formats. Programs like Klik and Play and Gamemaker are only two out of many templates specially designed for making games with. They use a basic 2D format for the computer screen that recall all the 2D scrollers and shooters we grew up with as kids, but can now be used like tools or weapons to say whatever we might want to say through the game design and mechanics. The book tells you all about all the programs out there you can use to make your own games. It’s not a manifesto without a how to. You’re not going to have to license the Unreal engine to make a cinema-realistic graphics-intense game. You’re not going to get 12 million dollars seed money to make the next GEARS OF WAR with a team of 50 programmers. You’re going to make your funny, scrappy little DIY game and you get to say it’s all you.
As we’re smack in a time when mainstream pop culture becomes more and more homogenized and generic, the most interesting creative works will continue to come out of the margins. The most talented and ambitious ones will always rise and end up becoming tomorrow’s mainstream, as has been shown in Japan, where many fan creators, or Doujinshi, began with fan comics, games and visual novels, and ended up becoming multimillion-yen production companies like Type-Moon. Those with that kind of ambition will always find their way to professional status, but for now, everyone starting out, whether just for fun or to work towards going pro, have more tools at their fingertips to create and express what they want. We’ll always have AAA games, Hollywood blockbusters, Marvel and DC superhero comics because they have the money and the drive to keep their markets going, but the truly interesting work is from people who just want to create for the joy of it, and that’s what really matters in art. Not profit, but creation. And the more voices, the better.
You can follow Anna Anthropy and find links to her games on her blog.
RISE OF THE VIDEOGAME ZINESTERS is now out in bookshops and Amazon.
Gaming for life at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh
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