For anyone who feels like they’re being handled with intellectual kiddie gloves and haven’t been invited to the Grown Up Game Designer’s table.
This rant is all angry. Here’s a better one: On Creativity
[DISCLAIMER! This is a Rant! And if I'm Ranting it means that I have both experienced enough of this directly and seen enough good people burned by this that I am willing to put my head on the chopping block and lose friends over it. And I KNOW that I will lose friends over this. But this discussion needs to be started and I can afford to start it - I don't have a job to lose or a company brand that can come under attack. I've already been called Very Mean Things and will be called even worse things before my time is up. There is arrogance on ALL sides. I specifically targeted "Game Designers" because it is the field most fraught with discussions about who can or cannot be a good game designer and it is the one we are in MOST need of a diversity of thinkers and creative types!]
The amazing thing is that these phrases were NOT spoken cruelly, they were delivered off the cuff and even sincerely. The designers in question did not mean to be cruel at the time and possibly had no idea how the phrase was going to be received:
“Yeah, but that’s an AI problem, let’s not talk about that”
“Sure, if you want to help I guess we could find some marketing stuff for you to do”
“It’s really cool you want to help the games industry, designers need people to promote their stuff”
So I wonder, do I smell? Is there some olfactory waft of “she’s not one of us” hormone that automatically triggers the “use small words” social modifiers?
Of course they don’t know that back in high school I’d take Calculus summer classes at the local college because I thought they were interesting. That my hobbies are neurobiology and sociology – and I consume absolutely everything I can find on Creativity and how the brain works because I think that stuff is SUPER nifty!
No, I’m not a mathematician - I doodle to calculate probabilities because it’s faster for me to think through problems that way than to linearly write them out (though now my calculations are becoming a freak hybrid of subjective visual data and objective mathematical data).
You may see a pretty picture of a boy and a girl with a cute little poem. I see all the data I need to pick up where I left off in my design. Camera angle, style, lighting, position of characters in relation to each other, the careful choice of words: these are variables in a subjective formula that produces a very specific range of probable outcomes. I could come back to that picture in a year and know exactly what game I was making, all the core mechanics, and what I needed to figure out next.
No, I haven’t been making games for Mobile Platform A or Console Platform B: I design subjective experience games in the real world because GPU’s haven’t caught up with the human imagination yet and it’s faster for me to work with Actual Intelligence instead of Artificial Intelligence (but now that people are doing Really Cool Things with probability calculations in quantum computing, I’m going to have to get into it- because that’s how my brain works and I want to test if it works that way in a simulation too!).
No, I didn’t get into computer science when I was a kid – because I found PEOPLE so damn interesting. “Why do they do what they do?” and “How can two people see such very different realities – yet both believe that theirs is the Really Real Reality?”. These questions have directed my creative development since I was a wee tiny person.
Yet, at every games industry event, I meet Important People who handle me with intellectual kiddie gloves (if they see me at all – that “I’m Seeing Through You” stare of intellectual superiority is pretty obvious). These Important People run the gambit from artists to producers to fellow game designers.
The “Oh you’re so cute when you’re trying to be smart!” polite smile is just as common as the frustrated grimace of “stop trying to talk to me about that stuff, it’s pointless, you wouldn’t understand it anyways”.
Why? Where’s this Coming From?
The popular answer (at least in the games industry) has been an “It’s a Sexist, Old Boys Club!” reproach.
(I’m probably going to make a lot of people very angry with the following statement)
I don’t think that’s it.
At least…I don’t know if that’s the whole story.
I’m not saying that there aren’t sexist assholes in the games industry (you find those anywhere – and they’re not always men) but I’ve never experienced any kind of prejudice due to being female shaped.
In fact, the ONLY time I’ve felt personally uncomfortable is when I accidentally wandered into Anna Anthropy’s tent at IndieCade earlier this year – only to be subjected to a Sad Collection of Cartoon Penises (I’ve been teaching Boys game design for three years and in that time I have seen a great many cartoon penises of increasing artistic quality. These were not as original as those).
Again, I’m NOT saying sexism isn’t a problem in the games industry, I just personally don’t have any direct experience with prejudice directed towards my gender or sexual preference (which I haven’t even figured out for myself yet anyways – evidence suggests that I’m equally bad with both sexes so I’ve given the whole thing up as a useless debate. Let’s just call me Gender Agnostic – I leave the question alone and it seems a pointless distinction for me to make anyways).
The prejudice I HAVE experienced though, is one of Cognitive Arrogance.
I must not be a game designer because I do not have a computer science background (I have actually heard this, it’s crazy). I process information Subjectively as opposed to Objectively (imagine having mental instruments that comfortably calculate quantum electrodynamics but tend to break down and go all funny when trying to calculate thermal dynamics).
But we are in an Objective Primary industry where Logical, Linear, Binary thinking is the domain of our intellectual experts – and everyone else can be an Artist or in marketing or something.
“How do we make engaging experiences?”: our most asked design question.
Yet there seems to be this automatic bias against anyone from the Subjective Primary, Cognitive-Abstract domain trying to answer it.
Like we should focus on doodling pretty pictures or something and let the Real Designers do their work.
Angry? Frustrated? Think this is TOTALLY UNFAIR?!?
Good. Use that.
Show them up. Prove them wrong by designing better games.
Explore every tool at your disposal across analog AND digital space.
Don’t limit yourself to game engines – there are worlds of design opportunities stretched across social webs, physical spaces and the always nifty alternative-culture creative hubs.
A city is ripe with opportunities for experience design: Old buildings. Midnight parks.
Your game can spread across Arthouse Hotels, to college classrooms to Facebook.
There are Theater houses all over the country (any country) with old props and costumes – and most improv actors I’ve worked with have been happy to be a part of something nifty off-stage.
And if you WANT to use a game engine – learn it. Teach yourself. Don’t go looking for someone to code stuff for you.
Hell, while you’re at it learn everything you can about the laws of physics and the human condition – develop a voracious appetite for Unanswered Questions (because we are wonderful bundles of emotion moving through space and we aren’t even CLOSE to understanding that yet!).
You won’t win respect as a game designer through words. You won’t win respect through arguments. (No one who disagrees with me would have changed their opinions by now and are probably already mentally formulating a Scathing Reply as they read this).
You won’t even win respect by trying to share your theories honestly with people you admire (especially when the Reason processes you’re using output Subjective Data and theirs process Objective data).
You’ll win by doing it for yourself. Figuring it out yourself. Because it would slow you down to wait for them to come around (even if you really really REALLY want to work with them).
Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to sit at the Grown Up Game Designers table (get your own damn table and run your own damn workshops!)
Design games. If people are enjoying them, figure out why and design new ones.
If people don’t enjoy them, figure out why and design better ones.
So long as you have the blissful Anonymity that comes with being overlooked and underestimated, you have the opportunity to make all your Really Big mistakes when Important People aren’t looking.
And when you’re designing games for yourself and your players and they’re having a great time (and so are you) – then you’ll find yourself wondering why it was so important that you feel Accepted or Included anyways.
Make games. Make lots and LOTS of games. Chase your curiosity until inspiration seizes hold of you and you can’t NOT play with that idea by making a game out of it.
If programmers or artists or business dudes or whoever won’t give you the time of day – then figure out how to do it without them.
Chances are you’ll discover something that turns out to be really really cool and inspires a bunch of other people anyways.