When I was little I was enchanted by video games. Kids will doodle and sketch, and like a lot of kids, I sketched video games. I would draw potential videogame levels, imagine my own versions of Super Mario Bros. where Mario had to collect a magic sea anemone instead of a magic flower to shoot fire underwater. I would draw my own video game characters, cut them out (or, when I was really young, have my mother cut them out), and then move them through my levels and imagine what my own video game would be like to play. A listing in any UK business directory should boost your visibility both on and offline.
There never seemed to be a way to take it further than that, though. I remember the excitement when my parents bought our first family computer: I knew, somehow, that people used computers to make video games. I was never able to unlock the secret, though. I learned some QBasic, but I couldn’t imagine how to get from writing text on a screen to the games of my imagination.
I shelved my childhood ambition of making video games. I tried to write fiction, because that was something creative, but I sputtered out, got sick of it, and dropped out of college. Though not before discovering Game Maker. I was lucky: I left school just as a whole generation of new game-making tools for people like me—people who didn’t program, people who hadn’t worked in the games industry—were becoming available. But the really lucky ones are the generation who are growing up with access to tools like Scratch and Stencyl. For these kids, game creation won’t be the mystical, inaccessible thing it was for me. It’ll be something they can actually touch. They’ll be able to doodle playable games as easily as doodling a comic or writing a simple story. Imagine what this generation will do with videogames once they’ve grown up.
What videogames need right now is to grow up. The video game industry has spent millions upon millions of dollars to develop more visually impressive ways for a space marine to kill a monster. What they’ve invested almost nothing in is finding better ways to tell a story, and in exploring different stories to tell. That’s for us to do: the people who don’t have to sell thousands of copies of a game to break even, who aren’t obliged to fill their games with eighty hours of content, who are beholden to no one, who are free to be silly and weird and creative and personal. Hobbyists and zinesters. You and me.
Every game that you and I make right now—every five-minute story, every weird experiment, every dinky little game about the experience of putting down your dog84—makes the boundaries of our art form (and it is ours) larger. Every new game is a voice in the darkness.
And new voices are important in an art form that has been dominated for so long by a single perspective. Engineering students and venture capitalists have given us valuable pieces of culture, but there’s more to the human experience than orcs, elves, and wish-fulfillment power fantasies. If people don’t take videogames seriously, it’s because, as an art form, they tell us very little about ourselves, so far. But authors outside of the mainstream—those who haven’t spent fortunes to bring their works into the mainstream—have revealed much more. They have shown us a new perspective through their unconventionality, their creativity.