Gamer's manifesto takes on homogeny of designs, plots

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In my last column I talked about some of my personal history with game making and some places to explore that kind of thing. This week I’m going to talk about a book I’ve been wanting to bring up for a while now, Anna Anthropy’s “The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters.”

Of the various books about games I’ve read, this one is probably the best introduction to the medium as an art form, and also a solid intro to making a game for yourself.

The core of Anthropy’s argument is that games have become too insular, too controlled by a limited number of people. Unlike a novel or a painting, they are often created by huge teams of people working for less money than they probably should be. And the productions are too big and expensive now to really explore what games could be, as opposed to what will sell the best.

Her answer to this homogeny is to encourage everyone to make games. She gives dozens of examples of people who have created extremely personal games that go beyond the boundaries of what’s commercially viable and become something altogether more interesting.

She tells her own story and how her experiences as a counter-cultural transsexual woman shaped her view of games, and her problems integrating with the current culture of game development.

The book is rounded out with an explanation of how she creates games, and then the pros and cons of various tools for making games.

Overall, this book is excellent. It’s a quick read that will nonetheless challenge your thinking.

Most books of game design are targeted at people interested in the status quo; “Rise of the Videogame Zinesters” is a manifesto for the artist who isn’t a technical wizard.

This is a very good book for those interested in the subject of games, and especially people who want to make games who are already thinking about other sorts of art, like drawing, film, theater or music.

The book goes for about $15 for a print copy, less for a digital copy.

Here’s a few quick-fire game recommendations, all of them free:

I should also mention Anna Anthropy has made a ton of great games. Perhaps her most famous is “Dys4ria,” a game about her experiences taking estrogen.

It’s the only totally autobiographical game out there I know of. Which is really weird when you think about it. How can we make games about what didn’t happen when we don’t have a model for making games about things that did?

You can play “Dys4ria” at www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/591565 (This is a mature take on mature subject matter, so keep that in mind.)

Anna Anthropy isn’t totally new to the idea of autobiography; she made a game called “Calamity Annie” a few years back that was my first introduction to her. It’s a western romance told in the form of a series of gun-fights. The screen is black for a moment, and then suddenly a “Bad Hombre” will appear and you’ll need to click on him and others.

It’s a simple but effective game. The stylish pixel graphics and colorful characters make this a fun diversion. Download a copy for Windows or Mac at www.auntiepixelante.com/?p=177

And one last game made by someone else to round this out: “Frog Fractions.” It confused me when I first started playing it. It was clearly a parody of the glut of edutainment games from the 1990s, like “Math Blaster” or “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis,” “Clue Finders” or “Jumpstart.” I played all of them, and most were pretty sucky.

But “Frog Fractions” quickly turned from amusing parody to one of the best games I’ve played all year. Explaining why would ruin half the reason for why it is. I was laughing non-stop from beginning to end, constantly surprised by each new twist the game threw at me.

Play it at www.twinbeardstudios.com/frog-fractions (There is some off color humor, so be aware of that.)

Until next time, have fun exploring the punk side of game design.

Walla Wallan Noah Hinz is a tabletop and electronic games aficionado. A graphic arts student at the Evergreen State College, he’s working on various art projects and game designs. Email your questions and comments to noahhinz@gmail.com.

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