April 5, 2012
Why You Should Read ‘Rise of the Videogame Zinesters’
By Chris Priestman
Anna Anthropy’s new book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, has undoubtedly touched many people since its release just a few weeks ago. It’s a seminal book and one that offers a peek into the future of video games if those who read it were to act in the present, right now, and make their own game. While I see the book as one that takes an important and critical look at the video game industry, it seems more valuable as a source of inspiration and motivation to encourage a more explored culture within the medium.
While I have become more and more interested in indie games myself over the years, upon reading Rise of the Videogame Zinesters I am reminded why it is that I have turned away from what I refer to as the commercial gaming industry and sought warmth within this friendly bustle of ideas and creation. It’s surprising actually, that it has taken this long for such an important artefact to arrive; one that exposes the gaming industry for the commercial bubble it has so comfortably become and incites a change through a more democratic form of game development. Yet, saying that, the book is very much relevant to the present, adequately placing words atop the shift in power in the gaming industry brought about by digital technologies and internet culture.
The essence of the book is well surmised with the following quote:
“I like the idea of games as zines: as transmissions of ideas and culture from person to person, as personal artifacts instead of impersonal creations by teams of forty-five artists and fifteen programmers, in the case of Gears of War 2.”
It is sentences like this that incite within you, even in the first few pages, a desire to start making your own games. Why haven’t you already?! Halfway through the first chapter I had already bought Game Maker with the intent of making my own game – it didn’t matter if no one would play the game, only that I was able to ‘voice’ myself through a game that I had made. The significance of this, as Anna rightly points out, is that the present technology allows for anyone to make their own game, even distribute it. That in itself is a significant breakthrough of recent years – to allow just about anyone to make a game with no knowledge of programming or coding, art skills or a sense of game design. The tools are out there and there are free ones too, neither do you need schooling to use them or to make ‘good’ games – they just need to be your games and your education will come through experimentation.
My education comes from Film Studies so forgive me while I step back into that information hole drilled into my brain. This technological revelation reminds me so much of the similar breakthrough caused by mobile cameras early in the last century. There was no need for a huge film studio, a camera crew or anything so extravagent for someone to record something of their own creation. Nowadays we have YouTube which really hones that freedom through technology by allowing anyone to distribute their recording to an audience.
In the video game industry the same thing has happened in that for a game to be made and distributed, you no longer require any of that knowledge or the piles of money that would mean only a privileged few could develop games. It’s a remarkable thing really and the fact that anyone can make a game now (provided they have a computer of course) really is the essence of indie games – those things that cause me so much pleasure.
Indie games cater to diversity, subversion and allow for personal creations to exist. It is the process of how we got to this stage today that Anna carves out so effectively and in a way that enthuses you to contribute to human culture by adding your own piece of you. We live in a reality in which a publisher is not a necessity for a game to be made, nor any other controlling or restrictive body and it is this that we are starting to slowly realise. Look at the rise of crowdfunding for instance – games are being made by the creative people and without the need to obey a master, so to speak.
Like Anna says though, this is not where the true excitement of gaming in 2012 lies – it is with the hobbyist developers who do not ask anyone of anything in order to make their game, they just do so. While this process is bound to create many mediocre titles, it is their existence which is important, the fact that they have made a game. Occasionally though, we do get works such as Anna’s very own Dys4ia. This is a game that outlines a very personal tale and does so in a very creative and interesting way. You should play it, everyone should play it but that doesn’t mean they have to like it. It’s good if they don’t in fact, that’s what makes the world go around – people having their own tastes, views and creations and sharing all of this with each other.
So let’s bring this back around for a moment – why should you read Rise of the Videogame Zinesters? Quite simply because I and many other people want to play your game or experience that you have created. The book is a great motivator for that very reason and a great teacher as to how you may want to go about making a game that is your own. Let yourself be heard through game development and in doing so you’ll be contributing to the whole medium, helping it advance in a way that those huge commercial games never will, nor will its masters understand. Really, you’re left with two choices, go and make a game right now or read Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and then make a game. Either is preferable, but I consider Anna’s book a great gateway into the world of indie development and how you can so easily become a part of it.
You can purchase Rise of the Videogame Zinesters from a number of places but for convenience, here is a link to Seven Stories Press.