i gave the following speech at the “indie games rant” session at gdc today, accompanied by these slides (left and right arrow keys to navigate). (thanks to radix for klik&play-to-flash conversion.)
i’m angry about too many things to pick a single theme for my rant, so i’m going to rant about a bunch of things.
VIDEOGAMES: A NEW MEDIUM
first of all, the videogame isn’t a medium, it’s a form. it’s a form of games, which have been around for millenia. games are among the oldest cultural artifacts in existence.
DIGITAL GAMES AND ANALOG GAMES
we need to stop thinking that digital games are something different and seperate from all the other kinds of games that have been around us forever, like board games and card games and hide and seek. they aren’t. digital game design and non-digital game design have things to say to each other that we need to stop ignoring.
the problem with the term “artgame” is that when you declare a single game “art”, you’re drawing a distinction between it and the games that prefigured it. you’re declaring they’re not art. and there’s been art and craft in games for as long as people have been making creative decisions about them.
i’m uncomfortable with the “indie” label and the scenesterism it seems to engender. one of the things i hate about mainstream games is that its language and culture are designed to exclude people, and what i like about game creation outside the mainstream is that it can potentially include everyone.
there’s a concept in visual art called “outsider art,” a concept in music called “outsider music.” it refers to people who aren’t connected to an artistic field or its body of criticism but who create art anyway, an art that some consider to be more honest, more pure. i think games will come into their own when anyone can make a game as easily as one can type a short story or sing a song.
GAME MAKING TOOLS
so we need more tools for people who aren’t programmers to make games with. game maker is a start, and it’s brought a lot of people into making games who wouldn’t otherwise be, but we aren’t quite there yet. i want to hear the voices of people who aren’t already entrenched in game culture.
i want to hear stories that are personal. i’m tired of epics, i’m tired of saving the world and i’m tired of masculine wish-fulfilment fantasies. if i’m tired of that shit, there’s no way it’s going to mean anything to a player.
storytelling in games does not mean cutscenes, and it does not mean reading pages and pages of static text. we have to learn to tell stories with rules, with design, and with play instead of aping other cultural forms.
THE NEW ARCADE
when the paradigm of games shifted from the arcade to the home machine, what we largely lost was the videogame as a social experience. i think we need to examine how we can use social spaces like galleries as avenues for games as events, instead of assuming our players have no friends and would prefer to experience games at home, alone.
THE ENTHUSIAST PRESS
the mainstream games press is owned by the mainstream games industry. they’re pets. they’re given generous gifts and spend most of their time rewriting the press releases they’re handed. but what’s poisonous about the enthusiast press is that the model of writing they promote is:
the consumer review’s goal is to tell me whether or not i should buy a product, not to help me to better understand a work. a review isn’t criticism, and criticism is what videogames desperately need. it’s more valuable to be able to say “this game expresses this idea” than it is to say “this game has EYE-POPPING VISUALS.” we need to develop a critical vocabulary to talk about our games.
THE LANGUAGE OF GAMES
the other poisonous thing about the enthusiast press is the language it passes on to its readers, which is a language of marketers. games even outside the mainstream have a language which is intended not to communicate but to establish boundaries, to determine whether the listener is in on the joke. stop saying “EPIC.” stop saying “WIN.” stop saying “FAIL.”
i went to a game design school and one of the MANY problems i observed was that no one knew how to teach game design. we need to figure out how to talk about game design and level design if we don’t want to be endlessly re-solving the same problems.
80+ HOURS OF GAMEPLAY
the eighty-hour game is a dead end. a game that requires that much content requires a huge budget, and that means the game won’t make any money unless it’s a huge hit. which means games are designed to be all things to all people. and that leads to…
big-budget games have so many competing ideas that it’s impossible for any of them to come through clearly. games need to be designed by designers, not by marketers.
generally, achievements are used to artificially draw out the game. many contemporary games have little or no respect for the player’s time, and that’s something we need to change if we want people to play games who aren’t privileged kids with too much leisure time, and i think games deserve a more diverse audience.
and to conclude, my new game, REDDER, went online today. it’s at newgrounds.com and i know some of you have laptops with wifi. you could be playing it right now. do it.