Essay: Rise of the Video Game Zinesters – Jasmine Steele

I utterly adored this read. Anthropy’s perspective on video games aligns with my own to a thrillingly validating degree, and I think I’m going to have to buy and read the rest of this book now.

That said, the introductory discussion of queer women in video games made me more cognizant than ever of how relatively unusual my personal history with games is; aside from a respectable collection of Nintendo games, I’ve played relatively few AAA titles, and I can’t have spent more than a cumulative hour or two playing FPS games. Instead, I was raised on PC puzzle adventures like Portal, Syberia, and Journey to the Center of the Earth (all of which have female protagonists and, to the best of my recollection, pass the Bechdel test. I’ll even make the bold claim that Portal is about queer women — I mean, what’s more romantic than doing science on another girl?). Beyond that, many of my most formative titles were hobbyist passion projects made by one or two people at most: RPGMaker games, Flash-based visual novels and point-and-click adventures, interactive fiction. Very few of these were targeted towards a cisheterosexual male audience, and plenty had female protagonists and/or queer themes. (In fact, one indie dating sim in particular even contributed to my discovering my own queer identity!) Enamored with the entire indie subculture and looking to these hobbyist devs as my idols, I spent much of middle school making Scratch games and dreaming of one day developing a full-fledged story-based RPG of my own.

Because of all this, I was initially taken aback by Anthropy’s claim that most games are about “men shooting men in the face” — not because it’s unfounded (a moment’s thought about what the games industry looked like in 2012 validates it), but because it’s never really been how I’ve thought about games, even back in the 2000s and early 2010s. It makes me feel lucky, I guess, to have just so happened to stumble into the indie game scene so young — but it also serves as a sobering reminder that my own little curated bubble of niche games is not representative of the industry as a whole, and there is still much work to be done before the thematic diversity of mainstream games measures up to that of indie games.

Though it may be a chicken-and-the-egg question, this personal history is probably much of the reason why my perspective on video games is the way it is today. In my opinion, the need for marketability is the death of creativity — in every medium, not just games. I find nothing more charming and creatively invigorating than a work that just oozes shameless self-indulgence, and the games I love the most are those made by a tiny team with a very specific vision and a minuscule target audience, games that surely couldn’t have survived as anything but a passion project. It may sound silly, but I’m being genuine when I say “Why would someone make this?!” is one of the highest praises I can sing of a creative work. This is why I adore platforms like and am overjoyed at the now-massive popularity of indie games! Anthropy nods to the fact that one side-effect of this sort of explosion is that the easier something is to make and share, the more low-quality work there will be to sift through — but I personally find this to be a feature, not a bug. I want people to make low-quality work. I want people to make weird, sloppy, unfun games that only they and their two best friends could love, and I want them to feel comfortable publishing those games anyway, because by god they made something and that alone is enough to make the effort worthwhile. Even if it can’t necessarily solve the systemic problems with the mainstream video game industry, this, I believe, is how we can ultimately expand our cultural impression of what a video game is and who it’s for; the more comfortable people on the margins feel making and sharing games, the more they’ll do it, the better they’ll get at it, and, eventually, the more games there will be for every type of misfit to enjoy.

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