No, You Can’t Make Video Games

Repost from Gamasutra 07/03/2012

This article is a response to a video titled “You Can Make Video Games” made by Richard Perrin that I recently watched on youtube. The condensed version can be found here (~10 mins) while the complete talk given by him at AmeCon 2010 (a UK anime/manga/gaming convention) can be found here (~40 mins).

What I’m going to write is certainly going to rub people the wrong way and sound incredibly elitist and arrogant, thats why I’ll start with some praise for the talk.

Around halfway in both videos Richard presents free tools and resources to use in game creation and explains a bit what they are all about and what they can do.

Thats great and I really liked this part because its hard for people to scour google for resources on their own and evaluate their usefullness, especially if its the first time someone is going to think about making a game, or if their google-fu is weak.

I also appreciate Richards enthusiasm and I do not want to criticize it, what I want to criticize is that both videos (the short version especially) is presenting a wrong impression of game-design and his enthusiasm can (or in my opinion inevitably will) lead to misguided expectations.

In essence I want to spare people the disappointment by being suckered by his enthusiasm.

Quotes from the talk will be in italics.

No, You Can’t Make Video Games (Movies/Novels/Be An Astronaut)

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.

“… all you need is the desire and some determination.” 

It’s the fault of how the Echo Boomers generation works and how our parents, Generation X, approached uppbringing.

In many cases our uppbringing was piggybacking on the trends of the hippy movement, filling your child with love, care and telling it how wonderful the world out there is, how the child can be everything it wants if it only wishes for it hard enough.

“Mom, I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!” – “Sure darling, you can be whatever you want! :)”

This feel-good message left many of us struggling after highschool, living with our parents for longer (statistically), often changing professions and ending up worse than we started, always looking for something.

The message gave children the wrong impression that they can achieve whatever they want if they wished for it enough. It created a generation lacking any direction in their decission-making with far too big expectations and far too little skills.

Everyone was a misunderstood Bill Gates.

“…the only thing stopping you from making games right now is YOU!”

 

Before I go any further I want to make one thing very clear.

I don’t want to stop people from trying, discovering their potential, or discovering they don’t have the aptitude, for themselves.

What I want to emphasize is that its just not as easy as the talk makes it out to be.

Its not just your lack of “conviction” (Richard doesn’t call it “lazieness” per se, but its implied) that is holding you back from making games.

“Forget about the design document […] you don’t need a 20 page epic on how your game is going to work. Start playing with it, start trying ideas out […]”

Richard, 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.

As long as you are advocating this as a learning process, and make clear that all of your early projects will be -shit- and not worth anyones time, I’m ok with this, but you make it sound like this is -all- you need to succeed.

“…don’t feel like your first game needs to be this amazing original creative thing…”

“…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.

Yes, I know how elitist and arrogant this sounds, but it’s something I learned the hard way as a graphics designer.

I will attempt something hard here, I will try to make a slippery-slope argument without it being a fallacy.

Look at the situation in graphics design or even photography.

Everybody and their mother has access to image-manipulation software and cameras, essentially for free. We have created a situation where -everyone- creates things, all the time. We create so much content, that -good- content with merit is drowned out by the noise.

Evidence?

DeviantArt.

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

The situation right now is that most companies don’t want to invest in graphics design if they can “hire” one of their employers sons that has a pirated copy of Photoshop:

The obvious paralell to DeviantArt for games is Newgrounds.

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.

I know, because I tried.

I made “games” in RPG Maker.

They added nothing, neither to my skill, nor to the medium, they were a waste of my time and anyone elses that I shared them with.

They weren’t even games, they were “game fanfiction”.

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.

Well you better be a fucking universal genius then.

You need content for your games and this content will require you to have certain skills, and sooner or later you will run into limitations what you yourself will be able to do and the tools you are working with.

Either you will need to learn how to do do the things you can’t do (in my case this would be coding, audio-editing, writing) or you will need to get someone that can do these things for you.

“…you heard it all before, it’s not true.”

Yes Richard, these are all true.

This isn’t some kind of conspiracy perpetuated by game-designers. Making games is hard, it takes a lot of time and hard work to create something of value.

Most people can’t make games, but they want to have made games.

The guys like me that argue on forums and blogs about game design can’t make games, just like movie enthusiasts can’t make movies.

Sometimes it’s ok to admit you are not capable to do things and leaving well enough alone.

I can’t make music, but thats ok with me.

Yes there are.

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