I will not be the first person to smuggle discussion of video games onto Bark, but I will be the first to ask its readers to make them.
At first this suggestion will seem crazy. “But Andrew,” you say, “not only am I unable to program a computer, I also lack millions of dollars and furthermore, if I had that kind of scratch, I would pay off my student loans and buy a macbook made out of solid gold before creating a video game, because most of those are a simulation of man pointing a gun at a face and shooting it, over and over, until the end of time.”
The video game literati will be happy to inform you that there are plenty of games not about face shooting or about bird flinging, that are about more sophisticated things or at least slightly less embarrassing ones. These games are good, but these games also cost millions of dollars to make. But what I’m actually here to talk about is how it is now possible to make a video game with no programing skill and no money, and how, because of that, people are now starting to make games for and about people who would otherwise have no interest in video games. There are very few of them, and they are hard to find, but they exist, and they are doing wonderful things. They tend to have names like “Space Marine Pet Shop” in which you guide a hulking video game protagonist on a journey to buy a kitten without dying on too many spikes, or “A Soul-Crushing Drive Through the Bowels of Kotzebue, Alaska” which is the most accurate portrayal of a soul-crushing drive through the bowels of Kotzebue, Alaska ever created.
And then there are games like Dys4ia, which is a very warm and sweet game about a trans woman going on hormone replacement therapy. It is “creative video game nonfiction.” It takes less than five minutes to play, and you should. I’ll wait right here (NSFW in the same way that you might not want to read Sharon Olds aloud at work).
I think that writers should understand better than anyone why it’s so important that people can make games like that.
The problem with other video games (well, most video games) is that, forgive me, they are made by nerds and for nerds, and only nerds, and to the appeal to the nerdiest core of their nerd hearts. I have a nerdy heart too. I genuinely love games about shooting aliens and I genuinely love games that are about flirting with aliens (I have mixed feelings about aliens). But I am here in Spokane learning to write because what I also love, and love so much, are things that don’t appeal just to these particular tastes. It’s not that nerdy stuff (the stuff we like to call “genre”) is bad, or can’t transcend the cliches that bind them. What’s wrong with video games is that almost all of them only do the nerdy stuff. There’s a host of troubling issues that come along with the narrowness—so many problems with the way race, gender, and sexuality are dealt with—and it’s because that group of people who gets to make video games is so small and exclusive, and so commodified, that there are few places for genuine humanity to slip through. There are games, even big games, which do contain genuine humanity. But most games are the product of a silencing capitalist machine that can only repeat actions that have generated money in the past.
But why games? Why’s it important for games to be seen as art? Can’t we just count them as loss and enjoy our literature, music, and art? Roger Ebert wrote a semi-famous, curmudgeonly article about just that. His parting shot was the question of why the creators and consumers of games were interested in what they did being considered art in the first place. He assumed they were looking for some sort of validation for their time invested, and perhaps that is a bit true. Don’t we have plenty of art already? What’s the need for something else to be art?
Well, why do you write?
I mean, not what you want to say with your writing, but why do you want to say it with words? Why write? There are various mechanisms of expression available to humans; I know an environmentalist in Boston who writes punk-country music and I have an ex-girlfriend in Ann Arbor who still enjoys drawing tigers and practicing the viola. I picked writing a long time ago because I liked being able to just say exactly what I wanted to say. I can I do whatever I want with it. I can write nonfiction about struggling country-punk rockers in Boston, or fiction about punk rockers in the country. Maybe I will write a poem about viola-playing tigers, and then be banned from all poetry, forever.
Isn’t it nice that we can have pictures of viola-playing tigers too, though? Or punk rock songs about them? Hey, wouldn’t it also be cool if there was a program called Twine that let you make choose your own adventure games about viola-playing tigers, that you could download, for free, and make in an afternoon? I’m not going to be sad if you don’t or anything; I’ve got a tin ear and even my punk rock would sound terrible. You could make a game, though, if you wanted to, and I think that game would be very cool.