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Oh no, I insist!

They say all advice is autobiographical. Not sure who “they” are but it’s certainly true in my case. Over the past few years I’ve given a few different talks trying to encourage people interested in making games to give it a go. Under the title “You Can Make Video Games” I originally gave a long rambling 45 minutes lecture on it back in 2010, in 2011 I did a concise 7 minute version for the web and this year at PAX East I did an even briefer 5 minute version that focused a bit more on the philosophy than the practical aspects. These talks are all filled with the advice I wish had been given to me when I was younger. I wanted to help other people get past the daunting hurdles that deterred me from making games for such a long time.

It came as a surprise to me when I was looking through my website’s monthly referrals this morning to see I was linked to by an article called “No, you can’t make video games.” In it Aleksander Adamkiewicz paints a bleak world view that is the antithesis to my opinion on the current state and future of game development. I tweeted about it and my faith in humanity was quickly restored by the masses of developers who responded that they found his stance as appalling as I did. Regardless of his specific intention with the article, the whole thing has a feeling of “get off my lawn, game design is mine!”.

I know everyone claims to be have been quoted out of context when they're under attack but I definitely feel like that’s been done to me. He’s used my minimalistic slides as bullet points devoid of the nuance I tried to add in the wording. For example he responds to my advice not to form teams with “Well you better be a fucking universal genius then.” If you watch the videos you’ll see it’s clear I was talking about not going on a online recruitment drive for your very first games, when you should instead make some really simple stuff on your own first using free assets to cover for your skill gaps. I even went as far as tell people where to find those resources. I feel like I’m represented in his article as much more of an extremist than I am.

However I don’t want to spend ages rebutting all the ways I felt he misunderstood and misrepresented my video. That’s not really what bothers me, there’s a much more fundamental problem with his attitude that I take issue with. I’m going to pick a handful of comments from the article that stood out to me:

“The truth is simple, not everyone has the aptitude and skills required to make games (or anything for that matter). Telling people that they do, is irresponsible.”

“I'm really not averse towards the "hands on" approach to learning, but fucking around in Unity will not make a game, and won't make you a game designer.”

“The same way fucking around in Photoshop will not make art, fucking around in iMovie will not make a movie, and fucking around with Word will not make a novel.”

‘...we need more voices, we need more people making games.’ No, we really don't, unless you want to encourage the creation of white noise in the medium and devalue everyones work.”

“DeviantArt is the place where art goes to die in noise.”

“The medium doesn't need the noise of more 8bit platformers and sprite-based nostalgia-driven RPGs without other merit than ‘HEY GUYS, REMEMBER FINAL FANTASY!?’ Be honest Richard, you wouldn't want to play these games, nobody would, even the creator wouldn't.”

“It's the same with fanfiction writers and fanmovies, its people that think they know how novels are written or movies are made and that a camera and a typewriter is enough.”

All of this disturbs me because it feels like a mindset from the past that the world is trying to move away from. There’s this kind of old guard belief that only the professionals can produce work of any real worth. However we live in a world where the internet has helped bring about a democratization of content creation. Whatever your creative flavour you can now reach an audience completely side stepping the gatekeepers of old. You can write a book and put it out on Kindle, you can make film and put it up on YouTube, you can create art and put it on DeviantArt, and yes you can make video games put them out on sites like Newgrounds.

He regards all this as “noise” or “fan fiction” and that it “devalues everyones work” but that is arrogant elitism plain and simple. Sure it might only be one in a thousand or less that is of the objective quality of a Meat Boy or Don’t Look Back but under the old systems those games wouldn’t exist at all. Not only that but the other thousand games are not worthless because they represent a wealth of people creating things, sharing them with an audience and improving their craft. So many amazing developers started making awful crappy little games that we should be embracing and encouraging new talent, not trying to belittle their efforts.

A good friend of mine recently returned from living in a foreign country. She’s a very creative person and enjoys video games so I pushed her into making some games of her own. One of her first was a visual novel adventure game made in Ren’Py called Let's Teaching English, and it’s a satirical look at the bewilderment and culture shock that comes with moving to another country. It’s fairly short and I’m sure pedants would argue about whether or not they consider it truly a game but I think it’s really special. It may be the only time that topic has ever been broached in the form of video games and I think it’s a beautiful example of exactly why we need new voices.

Perhaps by Aleksander’s definitions she’s not a real game designer and was just “fucking around” with software she doesn’t fully understand. He called my stance “irresponsible” I find his backwards because I think people like her are exactly what the industry needs right now. If she enjoyed making that game and sticks with it she’ll get better and better as she makes more games. She will be someone bringing a whole new perspective to the industry that would have historically been excluded.

I will share some of the blame here, obviously I didn’t make it clear enough that my advice was primarily to help beginners get off the starting blocks. Maybe it wasn’t clear that much of my advice such as avoiding design documents or teams is not how I think all games should be made, merely that these are common pitfalls for amateurs that result in too many abandoned epic projects. Perhaps I should have taken more time to emphasize this approach is not how you make a AAA retail product, but I have no interest in that market regardless. These issues are full of nuance and much of that is lost in my attempt to make a brief and inspiring rant to get people trying.

However I stand by my original point. If you’re interested in making video games, and for whatever reason you’ve never given it a shot then let me tell you this: YOU CAN MAKE VIDEO GAMES.

P.S. I also still believe there are no rules to game design.

Welcome to the home of Locked Door Puzzle, the independent game development studio of Richard Perrin located in Bristol.

My primary focus is on creating expressive games that explore different forms of interactive storytelling.

For contact details check the about page.