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Persuasive Games: Video Game Snapshots
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Persuasive Games: Video Game Snapshots

September 11, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

There is No Game Camera

A fundamental difference between Eastman's Brownie and today's DIY game tools emerges: game creation can never be an automated process. Taking a photograph is easy partly because so much of the process goes on without us. After you press the button, light bends through a lens onto the emulsion of a film or the light-sensitive surface of a CCD.

Development can be outsourced to Wal-Mart and digital images are ready for immediate printing or posting. Video is similar; editing, titles, and sound are all optional but easily added with tools that come with every modern computer. Writing isn't automated like image-making is, but it 's a skill everyone uses in their daily lives; it's the printing or publishing that's better facilitated by new tools.

Conversely, video game creation exercises few common skills. It requires programming of some kind, or puppeting a tool that does the programming for us. It requires animation, sound design, and environmental design.

It requires designing for interaction, which can be complex even when the result is simple. It requires careful tuning even just to produce an experience that functions, let alone functions interestingly. There is simply no magic box we can put in front of the world which, when a button is pressed, turns what it sees into a video game.

Snapshots are Personal

People were already fairly accustomed to using and creating images, video, and writing before the social web came along to make it easier to distribute them. That doesn't mean people were creating good images, video, and writing: just think of the last time you sat through someone's child birthday party video, perused their family photo album, or read the soddy poetry from their courtship.

The reason other people's cherished objects are just crap to you, to borrow a line from George Carlin, is because they have invested them with sentimental meaning. A snapshot has value only for the very few, even if it can be shown to the many.

This is a principle many portrayals of web 2.0 misunderstand. The so-called long-tail economics of web aggregators make a business out of offering high-quality content for everyone, low-quality content for no one, and everything in-between.

Despite the tabloidesque tales of ordinary people made YouTube stars that litter popular magazines, the fundamental benefit of simple creation and publishing tools lies in their ability to let people make things for one another on a very small scale, one traditional marketplaces can't sustain.

And what are the things people tend to make first, for the smallest audiences? Personal things, things that speak between themselves, and their friends or family. Snapshots, of a variety of sorts. All of those millions of photos or videos or blogs about vacations or pet tricks or hobbies add up.

The outcome of such work isn't important because it's good; it's important because it holds meaning for its creators and their kin. No matter what the VCs and technopundits may say about sharing and aggregation, YouTube and Flickr and the like function as social media because they function first as private media. Our notion of "private" has just expanded somewhat.

If you look closely at sites like Sims Carnival, you'll find the snapshot games hidden among the much less interesting DIY attempts at mainstream casual games. Games about crushes, games celebrating birthdays, games poking fun at celebrities. That site even has an "e-card" section for such games, and premade templates to create games about kissing a date, icing a birthday cake, or celebrating the holidays.

Sims Carnival's tools make the customization process more like Eastman's "we'll do the rest." It's easy for someone to insert fixed assets like text and images -- the things they already learned how to create easily in previous eras.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

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