One of the great things about the modern world is that we have free time. Free time, and a society that promotes the pursuit of happiness, of education, of individual drive to find what makes you grin or frown. That can mean anything from old, traditional pursuits like getting a drink on the town after dark, to more modern ones like plopping down in front of a television or a movie theater. A chance to sit back and drink in the world at our own pace, through a method of our choosing, be it alcohol, book, or computer screen.
There's many though that take this free time and instead of just consuming, use their free time as chance to create. To craft, big or small, to make something their own and share it with the world. In the end, that's what "the arts" are, aren't they? People voicing statements and dreams in whatever medium they can find. Making virtual worlds and inviting you to come be a part of it in a big way.
Also, to show off amazing statues. That's an art thing.
I want to say that one reason why I love being involved in the gaming subculture, is because of the sheer love and interest in the act of creating that can be found everywhere. That going to a convention is a choice to let yourself get caught up in the dreams and inspiration of developers, of fans, of artists. When we started this website, I wrote about why we go to conventions: that feeling of belonging, that knowledge that you were going to see people of like mind and spirit. It's more than just that though, isn't it? We also go to have our minds expanded, to see new things to inspire and intrigue us. We want to see creativity and creation at its best.
I'm speaking a bit high and mighty at the moment, true, but you have to look at people through the best lens as well as the worst. In the end, gaming is about escapism, about having the chance to experience something imaginatively that you wouldn't be able to otherwise. Want to feel like your a war hero without ever risking life or limb? That's what much of modern gaming industry practices were crafted on. Want to experience being a race car driver, or the zombie apocalypse? Again, plenty of choices. Want to be a plumber that only needs to eat fungus to gain superpowers? It's a bit trippy, but that's what arguably started the platform gaming genre.
Want to be an octopus? Want to be an octopus going through normal day life like in Octodad: Dadliest Catch? Well, okay...I guess, if that's what you really want. But it's there, thanks to a growing love of the weird and bizarre in gaming.
Want to throw trucks with your mind? I'm being serious, here.
The Future is Now. And Terrifying.
This is Throw Trucks With Your Mind, a game that came out of nowhere for me last PAX East. Think any first person shooter game, but instead of weapons, you have telekinetic powers that read your brainwaves for concentration and calm in order to have power. It's a phenomenal idea, and it's one so far off the beaten path that I was completely blindsided when suddenly, there it was at a convention, being demonstrated. It might be hyperbole, but its conventions like this that let developers with new and interesting ideas be heard and seen. It's easy to see articles and advertisements everywhere about the newest Call of Duty, but the meteoric rise of the indie scene makes conventions ground zero for seeing your interests in games expand in ways you hadn't expected to before.
One of my favorite moments at conventions is when the guy that madethe game is telling you to kill his zombie hordes faster. Love you,Undead Labs.
That moves onto the next point: the internet is a wonderful place to keep in touch with people you've never met, but there's nothing quite like meeting them face to face. You can hear about a game, read interviews... but there's something special about being able to go up and shake someone's hand, to talk directly with the person that made a game you've been playing compulsively for the last few months. It's a way to jump in and really get in touch. There's a revelry here, not just for the games themselves, but for the vast array of substance and style that's available.
The act of creating isn't always just about the developers and new games that are coming out - it's also about the fans as well, the community itself. Say what you will about the spite and vitriol of online anger and comments (which is a definite problem in the community: there's no reason to sugarcoat that), but at conventions, you get to see the best of a fan-base. Cosplay is the most obvious sign, but its also found in more subtle ways, such as meet ups around MMOs where members come from multiple states, even countries. Fan-art trades, retro-arcades... one of my favorite volunteer creations is the Watch The Skies games, which are essentially sixty-person RPGs where you are playing out the leaders of earth as an alien invasion happens, just like the XCom series.
I'll be the first to admit that cosplay scares and confuses me, but it's a huge rallying point for thousands of convention goers. I'm blown away consistently every year by the great League of Legends cosplay, and there always seems to be a competition to have the most advanced and authentic Mass Effect character you can. You have to be impressed with the effort and inventiveness; crafting yourself to become part of the dialogue of the game only makes you appreciate and enjoy the medium more. If your having fun showing off your fandom, more power to you, right? I mean, that's why people paint their bellies bright blue or green at football games.
As Zoë and myself rally the hordes of our friends (and the scraps of money in our wallets) to drive out to PAX East again, I can't help but realize how my time working this website has made me appreciate developers and designers more and more. It's made me pay more attention to the process, to the careful step by step act of nurturing a game through initial hype and concept to polished project. It's made me truly respect watching a new genre build or remold as new architects of fun come with their tools and dreams, feeling like a spectator to empires rising and falling.
Seeing miniature sculpts painted by the original artists,playing those games against the developers directly, always a treat.
A great example is the phenomenal Robot Entertainment, who I remember stumbling into for the first time at PAX East 2011. The show floor was large, and as the awe towards the larger booths faded, I found myself being called over to a small booth with just two or three computers, the designers of the game promising a slaughter of orcs in comedic ways. It was just before the release of their indie game Orcs Must Die, you see, and it was there that I fell in love instantly. I went home, and eagerly waited for its release on Xbox Live. When it did come out, I played, and played, and played, happy and smug in finding this gemstone I might not have known of otherwise.
Fast forward to 2014. A much larger, a much flashier convention. Disgorged onto the expo floor, and quickly realizing the games with budgets from those that did not. From those that had made it, to the small start ups with their humble banners and limited space. I wondered what new things I could find now, such as in years past.... but wait, what was this?
Whoever came up with more ways to kill as many orcs as possible...I salute you.
Robot Entertainment was no longer among the indie booths; Their cartoon art towered tall, easily seen by many as the wait to play their newest iteration game required a queue with dividers. Twenty computers in all, and with enough support staff to manage the versus games they had prepared for Orcs Must Die: Unchained. It was phenomenal; not just the game, but the surreal experience of having seen this company expand so much in just a several years. To know that, in a way, you've had a chance to come along for the ride with them.
I feel the most connected to my peers, to the gaming community as a whole, after a convention. The chance to see so many other people get excited about games all at once is wonderful, but the chance to connect directly to the source is astounding. To get to talk to so many game designers and developers is something I look forward to every year. It's wonderful that some of them are starting to recognize me and Zoë from our tiny little website here, and we're greeted with handshakes and excitement over the recent events surrounding their game and the industry.
I write this with there being just less than seven days left before PAX East 2015 opens its doors. The indie mega-booth has announced a whopping 79 games they are showcasing, alongside all the others there, either as major publishers or tiny start ups. The last week before the weekend of full on geeking out over all of this is the toughest, because it gives me the time to see all the panels listed, the various events scheduled...and knowing that nearly all of them were crafted with care by the people who made them. Which do you choose? Which games, which creative process do you commit to learning all about?
I can't wait until this three day celebration of the creative process, and for the others reading this that are lucky enough to have passes, I'm sure you can't either.