The Message and Making Games

Porpentine on Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution:

When it comes to feeling something true, a handful of words can outweigh millions of dollars of investment in cutting-edge graphics.

Say I want to communicate that a jungle exists. I could create a jungle out of code, sound files, art assets, or I could describe it in a few well-chosen sentences. They aren’t the same, but one is cheaper. If we acknowledge that humans have an imagination, maybe we could make something of these, what do you call them, interactive fictions?

The Message

I consider myself a videogame enthusiast. So far, I’ve been approaching games from various angles, mostly as a player, of course, but also as a writer, podcaster and, at times, a scientist. Never before did I get my hands dirty on the actual playing field, though. “Why not make one myself?”, I thought. So I did.

My buddy Jeremy (who’s also a collaborator over at Superlevel) and I created The Message for Fuck This Jam, a 7-day jam about making games in a genre you hate. Jeremy worked on a vast majority of the text, my job was to come up with pretty pictures to go along with it. On the surface, it’s an interactive story involving accidental space contact and its consequences, but there’s more to it.

I advise you to go ahead and play it (along with some space music), it’ll take between 5 and 10 minutes to finish depending on your reading speed.

All set? Good. So it turns out that, even though The Message admittedly is a bit silly, people respond unexpectedly positive. Some hate it, some say it’s a little underwhelming, but a huge percentage of players turned to us and said they find it to be most rewarding, that it changed them for the better and even cheered them up when they had a shitty day.

Just a few days after the deadlines rushed past Fuck This Jam’s participants, The Message had already been featured on Rock Paper Shotgun, and Anna Anthropy’s blog, mentions on Giant Bomb and followed shortly after. To think that people I’ve been looking up to for years genuinely enjoy what is both Jeremy’s and my very first game, that they get something of value out of a thing we hacked together in a few days, makes me incredibly proud.

People keep asking me whether or not I consider The Message or similar games “art”. Instead of delving into the good ol‘ discussion on videogames as art, let me just point towards Scott McCloud and Sophie Houlden, both of them say it better than I ever could.

What I do consider The Message, and I am absolute sure about this one, is a game that everbody else could have made just as well. All thanks to a tiny HTML-based interactive fiction tool called Twine and Anna Anthropy’s excellent guide on making text adventures. We were able to mash our ideas and quirks into the shape of a videogame, which allowed for everybody to experience and learn about what we had to say. To produce a game like The Message is shockingly easy. Actually, you reading these very words proves you could do it yourself.

Games are great. Not only do they entertain, they stem from unique experiences and lives, they convey meaning and allow entirely unfamiliar situations and stories to be relived. They don’t even have to be about space, a theme that I chose to hate with the universe being fucking difficult to draw, or warriors, dragons and laser guns. They can be about anything and anyone. Your shitty day job. Your childhood dreams. Your first love.

Games can have a variety of effects on people, among them quite a few good ones, which is something we should never stop exploring and experimenting on. Nobody needs them to be perfect as long as we embrace the chance of making them special. Let’s keep making games, these beautiful, weird, uncomfortable, sticky little things. I know I will.

To qutoe the wonderful Porpentine again:

And most of all, fuck the rules, fuck ideas about how people should create, these are just general suggestions to take or leave. Do what you want, put me in a garbage can, crush the lid down, break my skull!