Games are weird tiny things that teach us.
A downloadable manifesto
“And it all comes down to the knowledge that we’re gonna die
Find comfort in that or be scared for the rest of your life”
Camp Cope – “West Side Story”
Games can’t help but teach.
You do a thing, another thing happens and you know a bit more than you did before you did a thing. Sometimes you do a thing and something happens that surprises both you and the game. Those moments are wonderful and silly, but sometimes the game just stops.
Games are entirely, enthusiastically, irrepressibly arbitrary and in spite of themselves they say things about the world. Lots of things say things about the world even (and especially) when their creators claim to not want to. Some games model the world (or a different version of the world) they’re one way to gain access to other experiences. They’re ways to experience pain and hardship and emotional strain in a space that you can control. They’re ways to learn processes and understand carefully constructed, simple causal chains.
Games are an unwieldy, struggling, squirming, imprecise way to teach things, access truth, and challenge yourself or others.
Games are tiny.
Even the biggest, sprawlingest, most expensive games are only a tiny slice of our imaginations, over-colonized and crowded. Yes, even the games that contain whole worlds all packed into their algorithms, trembling like a do that’s anxious to please, they barely render a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the exhilarating welter of our worlds, of emotion, of compassion.
They are sometimes tiny in scope out of necessity. Games are hard to make and this means they are tiny out of raw necessity. They are tiny because they require a catastrophic amount of time and patience and it is difficult to justify that cost when you have to make rent, to make food, to take care of yourself and others.
Big publisher games are tiny because they are afraid of saying difficult or profound things and not making money. Competition does not produce better games. Say it out loud with me: competition does not produce better products: it produces safer products.
Games are weird: they stir and shift.
Every year, whole genres are transmuted into spice, whole assemblages of mechanics tossed into a bubbling mulligan stew. Familiar but demonstrably different.
Games aren’t ours (however you define the us necessary to get to ours). They predate our species. When you take on the temperature of the room, games will still be here. They will change over time, they will take on new meaning along unthinkable timelines. Whole swathes of the industry can disappear in a month or a year.
This is the biggest problem with games: attached to them is a churning Moloch that feeds on precarity. The thing you do for fun is often made by teams of talented, brilliant humans like you that are caught between the thrashing jaws of an always-hungry beast and it will consume more of them than it will spare. If they’re lucky, they will simply change careers and not think about that lost time as wasted. If they’re not, well, that’s a lot of life to lose so that some stranger can pretend to shoot whatever looming spectre the West has conjured up that year.
The cost of big publisher games, these strange arbitrary boxes of rules is such that they shy away from saying anything particularly challenging. They exist as hard armature, smooth and shiny and clean. When they do say something even vaguely profound, it's almost always an accident: someone getting something through, a missive from within the whale.
Games push and press; they coalesce with our always already infolding flesh.
Games are inseparable from our lives and our ability to imagine new and different worlds. As such, they are inseparable from death.
Every day, we leave. Every day, we realize–and desperately try to forget–a departure that lurks and skulks ever closer. We have a vested interest in forgetting how tiny, pale, and insubstantial these shuddering juggernauts of capital and technical fuckery are.
Death galvanizes. It can make us do selfless, amazing things. It can lead a person who has lived their life as an open hand close on themselves like a fist. If we die and there is no “yes, and“ that is to say: if our last breath is a period, a full-stop. It can lead some to the conclusion that nothing in particular matters. Not kindness, not compassion, only the raw relief of transient power through violence and domination.
Some games are shining digital armature that keeps our thoughts of death away with spectacle and novelty, like waving a burning branch at the hostile night. Effective in the short term, but doesn't solve the darkness, and only lasts so long.
Some games are dirty and messy. Broken but still living, whirling in the muck just like the rest of us. These filthy machines, these living weird things that teach us, they're striving farther than those shining spectacles.
The Moloch that churns out these safe spectacles will turn on those filthy mucky farting messes and will scrape just enough dirt off that they can sell them for parts. To flavour their tasteless broth with that earthen tang. This can be a necessary exchange, but if that exchange does not come with material support for the original creators, it is violence.
- To steal from the Arcane Kids manifesto: stop imposing the label "punk" on weird, filthy games. Punk is a signifier rendered toothless by years of corporate intervention and suburban cishet white boys. (If you want to call your own work 'punk,' feel free.)
- Once more for those in the back: competition does not produce better games: it produces safer games.
- The status quo maintained by major publishers is a long slow swan dive into an e-waste landfill. Games have bodies and live in the world, and their graveyards are in landfills everywhere.
- Make messy, filthy things.
- Play Robert Yang's games and then demand better fucking in your horny Steam games
- Fuck with causality. Break the world. Break your games, break other peoples' games. Make impenetrable monoliths to your grief and send them into the world.
- Use content warnings, be kind to people.
(Made for #ManifestoJam)
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