by Gabriela Aveiro-Ojeda
Letting your creations fly
At the forefront of my own creative pipeline, interactive fiction games serve as a vehicle for the presentation of a story. They make up the skeleton that holds all the components together and dictate how that story will grow and develop. If I think too closely about what “makes” something a game while developing one, it’s like setting an undefinable finish line for a project. One can contemplate and contextualize, something I do a lot myself, but at the end of the day I try to leave this question, what makes or what doesn’t make a game, for the post-mortem of a project in order to allow a creation to live, breathe and then die.
Building a sustainable future for games
Having been involved with the Toronto non-profit Dames Making Games as a co-director has taught me about sustainability and what exactly that means for video games as art and as commercial products, in an industry that seems to consume more than it prepares for longevity. A priority we take when preparing our curricula for workshops is to create a space that nurtures but also supports more marginalized populations (especially people of colour) who are at higher risk of being the targets of mistreatment and overwork in the game industry. To some, such a process may appear similar to something like radical self-care, but I see it as unearthing the potential for growth in which future generations can build off of a structure of sustainability. It wasn’t until my involvement in Dames Making Games that I took the link between how we play digital games and how we make them more seriously.
Consumption is something I think about almost every time I create something – I want the consumption of my art by marginalized individuals to result in the production of more art that can change the status quo. I initially began to develop more and more art that was attuned to my family’s stories related to brujería (“witchcraft”) and Guaraní traditions not just because I wanted to tell an untold story, but because I also wanted to contribute to a future in which this kind of storytelling exists with great vitality. As well, in the medium of games – rife with colonialist mechanics (consuming, depleting, destroying) – I can use my stories to carve out a place where colonialism can be challenged and uprooted. When we rethink our interaction with games, we can also better understand what exactly we want to see done with games, and how we can project ourselves into that future.
Delivering an impactful experience
One of the concepts I struggle with in video games is the issue of time – both in creating and playing a game. In a world where pouring 80 to 100 hours of playing time into a single game is common, experiences that grace even under 50 hours seem like a godsend, not to mention that making games is even more of an arduous process. This again ties into consumption – while I have put over 100 hours into playing a game, and countless days making games, it is by no means something I like doing on a frequent basis. I also question games that force me to put in 80 hours just to finish the story, because at that point I feel I have overstayed my welcome in the game’s narrative – that I’ve remained there too long and I can’t exactly put my finger on how I got there in the first place. Of course, there can be exceptions to this rule but a long game feels like walking on an incredibly long tightrope – you’ll fall eventually. Some of the most important games I’ve encountered are much shorter experiences. These are games that are determined to tell you something immediately and as clearly as possible. Last year, I set aside some time to play Thunderbird Strike by Elizabeth LaPensée, which I still think is the most important video game I made time for in 2017.
In Thunderbird Strike, a player takes on the role of the thunderbird from Anishinaabe stories, and they can choose to bring animals back to life or destroy pipelines that poison the land (an example of destruction in a context that challenges colonialism). Thunderbird Strike shows what a powerful statement a smaller game can make with an action as simple as striking down pipelines with the electricity of the thunderbird. A game like this also ties in to themes of sustainability and the future we can build with games. Issues of colonization in games are prevalent in the very mechanics that are commonly used, which frequently encourage the player to continuously consume without much thought. While games don’t all have to challenge colonial consumption and attitudes, an overwhelming number of them ignore this issue entirely. I find myself more and more indifferent to games that involve exploration and looting of colonized cultures (series like Tomb Raider and Uncharted fall into this category) and don’t challenge themselves to rise above glorifying colonization and destruction. I often cannot bring myself to play games that enjoy themes of colonialism – mostly because I can spend that time exploring other games that provide a more fulfilling experience.
Crafting a scene
I recently had the chance to connect with gamemaker Jochi Araujo, who lives in Paraguay, where I was born and raised. He recommended another game I’m glad I made time for this year: Jajoko Jakare Yrupe (in Guaraní, that roughly translates to “Let’s save jakare yrupe,” which is a precious aquatic plant often admired for its beauty and importance in nature due to its healing qualities). In this game, one plays a jakare (“alligator”) who must protect the yrupe from visitors trying to steal the plant. This particular game was inspired by events that transpired not long ago in Paraguay1 when waves of people stole and destroyed jakare yrupe. Again, we can confront destructive consumption through games in ways that challenge expectations.
For further consideration
It can be a struggle to work with video games, a medium in which colonialism is often not only ignored and never thoroughly addressed, but also used with implicit endorsement. However, there are still bright corners where those dominant narratives are shifting:
• Purity & Decay2 is a cybernoir game developed by Meagan Byrne and Tara Miller, two Indigenous game designers. It features an Indigenous cast and narrative, and plays out as a choose-your-own-adventure detective whodunit.
• For excellent articles and criticism of digital and video games, Dia Lacina3 writes about photography, grief and Indigenous representation in games, and mental health for Waypoint and Polygon (two editorial websites on games, their creators and gaming communities).
• Supporting your local arts and non-profit organizations is key, particularly producers of independent digital games. Groups like Dames Making Games support marginalized creators so they may thrive, and often need local support to keep that fire going.
If you’re inside the world of video games, look outside your circle – look to challenge the constraints and conventions of game design to address pressing issues. Let your creations live, breathe and then die.