I’m a child of the 80’s. I’ve grown up with video games since day one. I can remember the christmas I received my first Nintendo. I was 3 and Mario was my first piece of software to consume for hours on end. As I grew, I continued to fuel my enjoyment for video games. 26 years later I still can’t get enough. But “video games are for kids” you say? Not for my generation or the ones that proceed it. Video games are now a part of culture and should be seen as such. Once this is realized by the broader public, gaming can expand beyond the living room and become more than just play.
On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to attend a round panel discussion on the future of game development. Jamin Warren, president of Kill Screen magazine, gave a presentation on this very idea. Warren believes that the future of gaming is not in tech but in culture. To him, education and games has had sort of a top down view of imputed style. It’s always been the idea that there’s no intrinsic value in video games. But much like Maslow’s hammer, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail”. Games and education share many of the same goals. If one were to think of school as a designed experience, one could see the parallels between early gamification, both rely on a progression of skills you achieve over time. “Games are very much a form of skill acquisition”, said Warren, “[they] won’t let you finish unless you learn.”
It’s this education that Warren believes is a prerequisite for innovation. Warren argued that it doesn’t matter how future forward a community is, if you don’t lay the bedrock, you won’t understand what the medium of games can become. Warren cited Flower, an indie developed game for the Playstation 3 (PS3) designed by Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark, as an example for what this future could be. It’s been said that Flower, a game in which the player controls the wind, blowing a flower petal throughout the air, was designed to evoke positive emotions in a player, rather than a challenge. It was designed not for the person buying the PS3 but the person standing next to them.
Warren ended the discussion charting two different futures for games. The first, is seen as more akin to comics in the early 20th century. The medium of using stories to tell pictures had been around since the beginning of recorded history yet at the first part of the century, culture wasn’t ready to accept it as a legitimate form of literacy. The second, is that more cultural institutions will start to embrace games as an art form. This can already start to be seen. As of this week, March 16th, The Smithsonian will be opening an exhibit on the art of video games. Other venues such as I Am 8-Bit display video game inspired art from some of today’s leading pop artist.
It does seem like it’s only a matter of time until the stigma of gaming can move past the childish and move into the mature.
As of the past 5 years there has been a movement creeping into the games industry. With the onset of digital distribution and content creation, everyday Individuals are starting to take game development into their own hands. Small teams of one to two people are now making games that they believe are truly innovative and new. Indie Game: The Movie is the voice behind this movement.
The film follows three indie game developers at different stages of the production process. Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes of Super Meat Boy, a platformer about a fleshless boy trying to save his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the evil clutches of Dr. Fetus. Phil Fish of Fez, a world bending puzzle platformer where a two dimensional creature, Gomez, realizes that he actually lives in a three dimensional world. And Jonathan Blow of Braid, another puzzle platformer where the player is taken on a metaphysical, time altering journey with a preppy lad trying to save the princess.
Despite the static nature of game development, the filmmakers were able to present the subject in a way that was not only entertaining but beautiful to watch. Cutting the film with a mix of captured, in-game, graphics and real world footage, the filmmakers were able to build a strong visual and emotional connection with the artist and their art. What could have been a vary long 94 minutes, watching code being typed into a computer, flew by as the real person behind these games came through.
One tends to paint the mental image in their head of the game nerd, tucked away in a basement coding for hours on end. Keeping as far a distance between them and the sun or social interaction. While some of this might appear to be true, the film was able to lift a veil into world where you saw their antisocial behavior as more of a sacrifice than a choice. The interviewees were all wonderful characters to watch as their story unfolded. They each had an infectious passion for creating games, a passion that could border on obsession or insanity. Regardless, It’s wonderful to see these artisans speak about their craft in such a heartfelt manner. It reminds you that there is heart and soul behind a video game.
Another treat of the movie was the score, composed by Jim Guthrie. Guthrie, more recently known for his involvement in 2011’s breakthrough ios hit Sword & Sworcery, was able to accompany the film with a range of sound that played perfect service to the games on screen. It could have been easy to do a straight chip tune track to a movie about video games but the maturity of Guthrie’s melodies reminds you that games have evolved as a medium and are now mature themselves.
Whether your into games or not, Indie Game: The Movie is more than a story about video games. It’s a story about craft and inspiration. And that’s something we can all relate too.