Game Zinesters Deserve Game Design Classes

In The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy issues a powerful call to action to transform the video game industry to encompass a wider set of voices and perspectives. She criticizes game industry monopolies, which largely tailor their games for violent, misogynistic gamers and normalize a culture of labor exploitation. Anthropy asserts that games are a powerful medium of expression and game design should be open to everyone. She seeks to encourage hobbyist gamers and storytellers to design their own games to create more unexpected, diverse, and representative games. I wholeheartedly agree with Anthropy, and I believe that creating game design classes for youth are an essential catalyst for her vision of cultural change. 

I taught board game and escape room game classes for middle school students for the past two years. These after school programs invited students to share their passions: students made games about Koala habitats, ghost stories, R&B music, environmental threats to the ocean, and countless other fascinating topics beyond the violent tropes endemic to the mainstream video game industry. Students not only had an opportunity to express their personal interests in these classes, but also to engage with thoughtful game narratives created by their peers. 

The class taught much more than just how to build a game. Students gained skills in collaboration, project planning, constructive feedback, and revision. They practiced writing skills, exploring different strategies to pull players into their game narratives, and applied math knowledge to create puzzle games. The class offered a rich, interdisciplinary learning experience, and supported a community of passionate, young game creators. 

While I applaud Anna Anthropy’s invitation for folks who are underrepresented in the game industry to start making games, game design is complex and can be tough to figure out on your own. Her tips on game design are very insightful, but the game world can seem daunting and exclusive to those who are unfamiliar with it even if they have a helpful resource book. Thus, to effectively support the next generation of indie game creators, it is important to create spaces where young people can explore game design together. Working collaboratively with a community that can playtest your game-in-progress and provide feedback is a key resource for first-time game designers. And given the continued domination of the game industry by white men, new game creators who hold marginalized identities would especially benefit from a community that can offer support and encouragement. 

In sum, I am inspired by Anthopoy’s vision of a more diverse and representative ecosystem of games. I’m optimistic that it seems as though the game world has already made some positive shifts since she published this book. But to truly democratize access to game design as creative medium, potential designers must be able to build games in a low-stakes, supportive environment. Expanding game designing classes in schools is one way to provide this opportunity while also offering engaging, cross-disciplinary learning experiences that support students’ academic and personal growth.

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