The Garage bands of the 60s and the punk bands of the 70s proved that anyone and a few friends can become musicians. Disposable and instant cameras allowed anyone to become a photographer. Camcorders and camera phones turned anyone into a filmmaker. Paper and ink, and later typewriters and computers, made everyone a potential writer. Crayons and fingerpaint...well, you get the point.
Making an art form accessible and its tools widely available does a lot for the art. It demystifies the way things are made and encourages participation, which leads to more and more artists. When someone can create art independently, without needing a large amount of money or having to worry about things like marketability, demographics, and profits, it makes experimentation more possible. Experimentation can lead to innovation, innovation to evolution.
The mass availability of creative tools does something else as well: it helps us appreciate any given medium even more. When you realize just how something is made, you better appreciate its craftsmanship. It isn't until you pick up a camcorder and record a shaky Christmas morning video, or snap a blurry photo, or hear a recording or your own attempt at singing, or try to draw a cat and get something more like this
, that you realize there's some actual talent going into the greater works. On the other hand, it may also help you realize a talent you would have never otherwise discovered you had. A young kid drawing his own comic book (as I'm sure we've all tried) learns either one of two things: (a) that comic writing/illustrating isn't for him, or (b) that he really enjoys writing/illustrating comics and might even be half good at it. The latter would then be prone to pursue this idea and may find a lifelong career/interest in it.
What I'm driving at, as if you haven't guessed already, is that Video Games don't quite have this demystification and accessibility yet. Everyone and their mothers know how a novel is written or a movie is made, but most people, even many gamers, know about as much about the what and how of making a game as they do the building of an atomic bomb. They may have some faint, unsure ideas about it, but they'd, unlike with writing or filming, most likely be inept at attempting or even explaining it. Programming languages seem like gibberish and coding seems like a sort of black magic. The entry barriers for Video Game creation are too high. Which is precisely why the medium has been almost exclusively controlled by major corporations for so long.
That's all changing though. It has been for awhile now. Not only are more people learning to program, but programming languages are getting simpler and simpler. The development of games is slowly being demystified and the tools becoming more available. Anyone with a computer can make a video game, even if they have little to no programming knowledge at all. And, even more importantly, they can do it for no cost at all. It's cheaper to do than any other of the mediums because it's the only one that's non-physical. Everything's done on the computer (which everyone has), even distribution. As far as materials go you need even less than you would for a film or band. The tools are there, all that's left is the know-how. I, for one, can foresee the day when people will sit down and make a Video Game just as someone might scribble a doodle, or record a home video, or write a diary entry, or snap a family photo, or hum some made-up tune. It's an exciting prospect; one that seems almost inevitable. It's certainly a thrilling time to be a gamer.
Anna Anthropy's book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form
, which I of course bought because I am a freaky yet normal amateur artist who dreams of dropping-out and becoming a queer housewife, attempts to serve as a sort of manifesto to this thought. The philosophy it supports is no doubt a good one, unfortunately its execution is anything but.
I should start by saying that I am a bit of an Anna Anthropy fan--I think her game "dys4ia
" is one of the most expressive and compelling things ever created--which only makes this book all the more a letdown.
Don't expect elaboration or serious analysis from this book. It never really explores the main idea it subscribes to. In fact, in the first few paragraphs of this review I discuss the idea of accessibility to art as much as this book does, if not more. I'm not kidding. There's even some things I touched on that the book failed to even mention. All Anna really does in this book is repeat the doctrine of taking the art form away from the rich companies and putting it into the hands of everyday people. You'll hear roughly the same sentence proclaiming this idea numerous times throughout the book. Really the only follow-up to this thought is that Video Games currently have very narrow-minded perspectives (i.e. rich company perspectives) and that Video Games generally fail to offer any worthwhile perspectives; something that of course could be corrected by giving more people the opportunity to express their own view. She's obviously correct in her observation, I just wish the word "observation" could have been plural.
Again, reading this book will make you little more wiser than reading this review will (and having read a few of my reviews, that's not much). The book says essentially all it needs to say in its first chapter. It could have easily been essay length or even published as an internet article. There's no sense of escalation as the book progresses, there's no building upon ideas or any sense of build-up at all. In fact, the title of the book is really all you need to read. It says about as much as the text: Rise
--okay so something new is happening--of the Videogame
--it has to do with video games--Zinesters
--and it implies an independent, D.I.Y. approach--How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You
--to how everybody can--Are Taking Back an Art Form
--make games now.
It doesn't go much deeper than that. What it does offer are some great recommendations to some games you've probably never heard of. Most of which are available for free online, so you'll definitely end up playing some new games after reading this. Unfortunately Anna's descriptions of gameplay are largely boring (unlike the descriptions in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter
), so you really are better off just playing the games. She also offers some suggestions in programs to use for people who lack programming knowledge. Some of them you've probably heard of (Game Maker, Games Factory), others probably not (Knytt Stories, ZZT). Unsurprisingly, the two Appendixes, one dealing with software to use to make games and the other dealing with recommended games made using such software, are the most useful parts of the book.
So the book isn't completely worthless. There's some good suggestions and you'll probably find a helpful word of advice here or there. The problem is that, despite it's length, it doesn't really tell me more than a Google search of "free video game making software" or "the best flash games" could have. Its ideas are too few and its execution too boring to get anyone really excited about making games who wasn't already excited. Video Games as a more personal expression, a more individual vision, a more zine-like mentality is something that should happen, something that will happen. But you don't need this book to tell you. Fails as an academic work, fails as a guide, and fails as an account of pop culture. Not worthless, but hardly worthwhile.