[-empyre-] Experimental game sketching

Sandra Danilovic s.danilovic at mail.utoronto.ca
Sun Mar 23 01:27:45 EST 2014

Dear Emma and Alison,

A few quick comments on your fabulous posts… 

Alison, I think your point about the embodied tolls and costs of game making production in "experimental"  or other related spaces is excellent - I think we take for granted the rhetorics of inclusivity and don’t really think about issues such as how free labour and leisure intersect, especially for the DIY, hobbyist game authorship scene that is being lauded and celebrated… It’s an eye opening post, thank you for bringing this issue to attention. I agree that we also hardly talk about the financial burden or perhaps, lack of funding that affects designers who are trying to make a living for themselves, designing incredibly personal, and/or idiosyncratic games without any financial or other kinds of support - this is extremely difficult and we take it for granted… I hope that we can also continue to address these issues next week, if participants are comfortable..since we have a number of game designer practitioners joining us. 

Emma, this point you make is also crucial to understanding experimentation with making games: “I feel it is important to be explicit about the histories and restrictions of digital game making tools in order to generate a flexibility that might push beyond them.”  I wonder what you think, given your immense experience in this area, how game makers can work with these tools to push beyond them?  I love, love, love your analogy of “game sketches", which I think is a subversive concept because it frames digital game design and the computational side of it as more supple and immediate -as the flexible process you speak of... it allows for thinking about game design as (one of my favorite things), improvisation with the medium. Conceptually and materially, I think your game sketch analogy breaks old cliches. So, how are other ways to work with the limitations of the gamemaking tools or the impositions of related social and cultural expectations in this regard? Can you speak about those limitations and perhaps, how you have approached them in your own work? 

Are there ways to make the game design process more accessible, easier, a more organic process, for DIY and hobbyist designers or anyone really, for non-designers, non-gamers, or anyone who wants to engage with making a game and with whatever components go into that game -rules/logic, visual design, sound effects, etc. For example, AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) recently had a game making workshop for non-gamers and non-designers, taught by a fabulous designer who is regularly involved with DMG (Dames Making Games). http://www.ago.net/discover-digital-games-winter
These kinds of initiatives seem to be equalizing game design on a par with drawing and painting and other art classes. Emma's analogy seems to fit so well here.. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, for myself, I have taken up the Twine software for multiple purposes - also just to experiment with it -without the pressure of producing something…without the pressure of an outcome. So, I see this as having opened up a sketchbook, in Emma's terms. I think this is really important for us aspiring makers, artists, game designers, or however we identify (see Anna Anthropy’s brilliant book on the topic of DIY game design, “Rise of the Videogame Zinesters”)… It’s important to engage with the process without worrying so much about expectations, outcomes, deliverables, etc… Although, I think with game making spaces such as Dames Making Games in Toronto (www.dmg.to), the highly mentored process of gamemaking does produce an actual playable game in a community of like-minded people, which can be a very satisfying process indeed.. The joy, energy and beauty of a collective space like DMG - making playable games in a motivational space with so much support and respect for its members is a testament to the power of gamemaking as a highly social process, not an isolated process, as we usually think. 


From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Westecott, Emma (Academic) <ewestecott at faculty.ocadu.ca>
Sent: March 20, 2014 11:47 AM
To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] Experimental game sketching

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------

One of my interests in experimental games is in the processes of experimentation on display in the ways that games are made. Hence my connection of game prototyping to sketching practices evident in more traditional art forms. Whilst the technical constraints of pencil and paper sketching include choices about both mark making (i.e. what type of pencil) and display form (e.g. what type of paper) there remains expressive freedom in content. Functionally, sketching allows us to develop ideas, to fix and build towards a future outcome. As mark making sketching builds skill and expressive range. For me, this process of experimentation is less interested in proving anything than it is about exploring expressive voice. I teach my students iterative development, a fairly standard approach, moving from concept to engagement with tools to feedback in the form of critique. One of the challenges is how to foster experimentation with tools without being restricted by their formal structu
 re. It is true that there are more tools more available than has ever been the case, however game tools tend to enforce a particular way of working that impacts the types of games likely to be made. Whilst constraints are essential to finishing anything I feel it is important to be explicit about the histories and restrictions of digital game making tools in order to generate a flexibility that might push beyond them.

I feel that the uptake of game making outside market-driven spaces is finally seeding a loosening in both the content and structure of game culture more generally. For me, this connects to the trend for self-expression via game making. The uptake of these 'personal' games by game culture signals an interesting fracture as games move from a relatively mainstream form to one in which marginalized voices can be heard. Now there remain many questions about maintaining this dilation, in ensuring these makers make a decent living (as discussed in Alison's post), in avoiding exclusionary cliques and in building an ecosystem that can build virtuous circles to sustain experimentation practices across communities, but that is beyond my word count here.

Looking forward to the discussion!


"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." -- Audre Lorde
Emma Westecott
Assistant Professor, Game Design
Digital Futures
Director, game:play Lab (@gameplaylab)

T 416.977.6000 x4656
C 416.659.3667

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