Homemade Games: Because Who Made It, Where, and When Matters

Jul 4, 2014

One of my good friends growing up had paintings by her grandmother on the walls.

These paintings weren’t the kind that sell for a lot. I don’t imagine they’d find a place in art galleries, either.

They were fine paintings. They looked nice. A few were abstract. A few were landscapes.

Now, I happen to know that her family could have afforded some more expensive paintings. There were also plenty of professionally produced options out there, including prints of famous artwork.

That’s of course not the point. Market price didn’t establish the value of the paintings. The family wasn’t asserting that these painting are superior, in some general sense, when compared to anything professionally done, or some reproduction of recognizably famous artwork.

They took on special value because the family personally knows and cares about who made them.

We sometimes see a large company project feature a celebrity-like name credit on the front of the box – even if that person was usually only one of many people on the team. In the commercial independent games scene since 2005 we’ve seen a number of personalities brought to the forefront. In each case this adds a new dimension to our experience of the game: we feel like we somehow know the game’s creator.

I’m eager for that to go further. I’m eager for when we will actually know the people that collaborated to make the games that we play, because those people will be our neighbors, friends, classmates, family members, and increasingly, ourselves.

Not because those games would fetch a higher price tag on the open market.

Not because those games are believed to be superior to the professional products created by strangers.

Simply: because these games would reflect something more local, more personal, and more connected. We’d see in the environments, the art, the gameplay, and the characters some meaningful clues about people that we know. We’d be better prepared and better equipped to adapt or extend the games to change with us, to fit special occasions, to welcome new friends into the process and result. Working together we’d get to know one another better.

There are already small, tightly knit communities that enjoy games in this way. There have been since computer games began. When Steve Russell started Spacewar! in 1962 on the PDP-1 mainframe at MIT, others with access to the computer lab added their own improvements and modifications. It was already happening, though at that time for less than a dozen people and in a single place in the world.

I’m pleased to say that it’s increasingly happening all over the place, starting for example when kids begin installing and then programming their own Minecraft mods for the local servers where they meet with their classmates to play.

It’s a matter of time before some of them move on from modding someone else’s game to starting on their own.

As tools and hardware evolve, learning resources improve, and the kids that grew up modding Minecraft get older, I think we may see fewer of the games that people play coming from retail shelves or digital distribution, and instead increasingly coming from down the street, friends on the school bus, mom’s side of the family, or the babysitter.

I can’t wait.

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