Where are the young writers? Where are the young game developers?
According to some, Games are “the medium” of the 21st century. While I’m not even sure this could be close to being true even though I do love making predictions after two years of relative success. Staying power and longevity tend to be determined by the ability of a medium (and a community) to not only produce beautiful content, but to have a legion of young authors and producers challenging, reinterpreting and claiming the medium as a space where they can speak to issues they find important.
So where are the young writers? Where are the young game developers?
That’s right, they’re in the middle of nowhere, somewhere inside of a game company. It’s ironic that an industry whose main goal was works of artistic merit would put their brightest talent in positions that basically restricted them from as much.
It is possible to be beautiful without being meaningful and to be meaningful without being beautiful. Some of the games released recently have been beautiful, truly. But to argue that games are meaningful is a tougher claim. They don’t really do that much. They are fascinating explorations of the relationship between narrative and interactivity, which is fine, I suppose. But we often forget that understanding narrative isn’t actually its own end, any more than masturbating is its own end. We understand narrative (as fun as it might be) so that we might make games to do such things to communicate something important.
Two games that are often held up as the hallmarks of excellent game design are The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite. Examples that games can in fact be redeemed.
As one author posts…
"Of course we know: Why save the species that killed your daughter? Why give up when there’s a chance to play make-believe with a surrogate of the person you lost? The world can burn, the species can end, but at least you are redeemed – even if you have doomed everyone else."
But just like the actual game is that there is no real question, no actual pondering over what the meaning of it all is. Even the suffering becomes yet another element to merely be experienced, rather than interpreted.
You might ask, what does this have to do with youth? With young writers?
All of this goes as a way of saying that there is no counterpost to the overwhelmingly profit-based narrative of the game industry. Youth has its advantages that it does not have to cowtow to such desires, because it does not have the responsibilities and politics that come with age. Instead of developing tools that more easily help lone-individuals and tiny teams develop interactive narrative we are asking students to increasingly specialize, to increasingly only be useful within a narrowing set of specialties. (Twine is a notable exception)
If I had to argue for a medium of the 21st century, it would be the internet, as increasingly privatized as it is becoming, because it has further increased the level of sharing and challenging that can be done across cultures, across boundaries, by amateurs. Amateur musicians, writers, scholars, and directors can at the very least share their work, hoping for recognition, if not massive changes.
But in the game industry, we are still obsessed with platforms, still desperate to eke out the last dollar for the most profitable place. If games are tool dependent, then they aren’t actually a creative medium. No writer would ever tell anyone that they only write for Amazon. They would say they write, and then release wherever they could (depending on whether or not they were aiming for profit, impact, personal choice, etc.).
Games are still an immature field, I suppose, the argument is that that is a somehow extenuating circumstance. But, at the very least, it feels telling that when talking about video games, the first thing people say, “I want to make millions!” and then perhaps some parting comment about “teaching” something. Games, at least within our current culture, are more prized for their ability to make money than for their ability to express, to communicate, or to feel. But perhaps that’s more of a statement about our culture than it is about the medium.