Why do I suddenly have so many things to write about just now that I don’t have proper internet access? Anyway, something that I realized in the context of the last few posts is that I may end up sounding more defensive than intended because I keep talking about my own games. While not the intent, I acknowledge that it’s very easy to read that as a self-centered artist not wanting to accept any criticism.
The post about narrative as gameplay took a long time to write, mainly because I kept rewriting it to find the right angle. Originally it went into detail both about my games and other people’s games, but that felt wrong for a number of reasons. First of all it felt arrogant, because it felt like I was trying to compare my games to those games. And it also felt presumptuous, because it sounded like I knew what the designers intended. I felt it was more honest and more useful to write about my own work, because there I can speak rather precisely about what was intended and how the result compares to the vision.
I actually find it kind of odious to write about theory. I am primarily interested in making games and allowing them to speak for themselves. (Don’t take this as some kind of statement about what other people should do. Too many of the things I write here are taken in that spirit, even though I say nothing of the kind. This is my perspective, and I do not seek to impose it on you. Neither do I think that my preferences make me superior. I don’t like spinach, but I don’t think spinach should therefore be forbidden.) I only ever end up writing about theory when I feel that certain things are not being said, or that problematic ideas are dominating the discussion without ever being challenged. That’s also why I posted about the IndieCade comments: not bitterness, but a feeling that these comments exemplify certain approaches to games that end up making the field feel restrictive. The comments weren’t terrible, but they were amusing and interesting and worth mentioning.
We need that, I think. We need to question a lot of the assumptions that go into how games are played and reviewed – and designed. Not because there is a better way, but because there are many ways. To take the example of my own games one more time, there are lots of people who enjoy them. From the comments The Book of Living Magic got on Kongregate, there were thousands of people who really loved it just as it is. I don’t say that to brag, but to point out that clearly this is a legit way of making games. When I talked about player reaction to the game in the post about narrative as gameplay, some people thought I was complaining that my game wasn’t successful enough with players. Nothing could be further from the truth – once it actually reached players, I was overjoyed by the response it got. What I will complain about, however, are the attitudes that say that a game like this could never appeal to anybody, that it’s not a proper game, that it doesn’t function. That’s the path to strangling variety and creativity.
Maybe I should try to write about other games more often in the future. I do enjoy doing so, but I think it requires a great deal of thinking and work to be done properly. (Writing The Bolshevik in the Borderlands was not easy.) But I might sound a lot less defensive talking about other people’s work.
Then again, maybe it’s just what I sound like. And that would also be OK.