What do we write about when we write about videogame design?

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I’m doing a much better job this year of actually writing about the work I’m doing making games, first with SNAKISMS and now these days with v r 3. It’s a New Year’s resolution of mine pretty every year, because I really let it slide after 2012 for a while there (averaged about 45 posts a year), which corresponds to the time of moving to Malta and then to Montréal. Not sure what it was about that time that pared back my ability/desire to write things publicly, but I’m glad that it seems to be coming back as a habit again now.

But this “return to form” also has me thinking at a bit of a meta level particularly about what it means to write about the development of games for me – what use I think it has, what I think can be interesting about it, what kind of writing I’m personally drawn to versus other people’s approaches, etc. I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t actually read very much of other people’s writing about game making, just a very small few. Here’s an attempt to say what I get out of their writing and think it’s important:

Robert Yang. I read Robert’s writing more consistently than anyone else’s because I feel like he strikes a really beautiful balance between being able to talk about the technical underpinnings of videogame creation alongside the aesthetic and experiential outcomes of decisions made at that level. His discussion of lighting is perhaps an obvious example, but I feel it’s there in basically everything he writes. It maybe trends most of all toward the spatial/architectural, but it’s bigger than that, and he’s able to draw in a lot of social commentary/activism that is definitely a major absence in my own thinking much of the time.

Liz Ryerson. She doesn’t write with great frequency, but when she writes something you really pay attention because it’s very powerful. Liz has a very defined voice and an ability to convey emotion that I find extremely compelling in the way that it’s paired with hugely insightful analysis of the videogame landscape. I feel this huge impatience with the state of videogames from Liz that I really appreciate a lot. Like Robert she’s able to draw together social issues and understanding of the people side of games with savvy takes on underlying design ideas and trends. Also, her game Problem Attic strikes me as a great work of game criticism, but that’s another story.

Michael Brough. Nobody writes more candidly and with such clarity about the complicated minutiae of making a videogame. Michael’s often making games where sets of rules interacting is the key kind of “medium” he shapes, and I find it endlessly fascinating and amazing to read what he has to say about it (not that this is the only thing he writes about). One of those cases of just sitting at the feet of a master and listening not because you want to do those things yourself (I really don’t), but because you should listen to people who are so thoughtful about something and are taking the time to tell you about it.

Honestly those are the “big three” for me. I obviously read another people from time to time as well, but those are my touchstones and, re-reading what I’ve written here, really help to emphasise what I personally find valuable in writing about game making. Most centrally, I guess, it’s the ability to tell a story that encompasses both the insanely technical underpinnings of videogames (whether that’s rules, shaders, engines, or something else) and the aesthetic/personal/expressive properties that emerge. The ability to tell a story that doesn’t just encompass these things but connects them in such a way that you, reading it, feel smart and connected to how these things are working.

So I guess that’s what I want to be doing too (when I grow up).

24 February 2017
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