Essay or Sketchnote: Rise of the Video Game Zinesters

In chapter 1 of Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the VideoGame Zinesters, the stage is set for the rest of the book and answers the question “Why write this book?” In this chapter she goes into detail about why she has a problem with video games, mainly that they are mostly made by privileged white men for privileged white men and promotes a culture of toxicity in not only gaming communities, but the industry itself. This discussion leads into a discussion of her hopes for the future of video games and where the art form can go. Ultimately, this chapter shows that in this book she wishes to encourage hobbyists and anyone that has a story to tell, to design and create their own games so that video games can one day become a more representative medium that allows the transmission of ideas and cultures.

Anthropy makes a lot of good points about video game culture and the industry that I can agree with. And while this book was written in 2012, there are things she states that can still be seen today. But, there are also things that I think have largely evolved since 2012 and one of her statements that I can’t agree with at all. Let’s start from the beginning with her section on ‘What are video games about?’. While I understand her point, and I do agree that a lot of games boil down to “main character shoots something”, I really hate her use of the term “men shooting things” genre. In this context I believe she uses this term because if you were to show a lot of these games to someone who’s never played them, that’s probably all they’ll take away from them, but using this term feels like such a simple way to overlook other aspects of these games. Like Mass Effect for example, while technically a 3rd person shooter where it boils down to your main character having to shoot things, when I think of Mass Effect, its combat barely comes to mind. I think of its story, characters and their development through the trilogy, its lore and world building and so many other aspects before I even remember its combat. 

That being said, I strongly agree with her point that commercial games are super expensive and therefore publishers will do the bare minimum to differentiate it from previously successful games. I think this is mostly seen in AAA development and is why Indie games have taken so many gamer’s hearts. Indie developers aren’t afraid to experiment and try something new whereas AAA developers have had a lot of money invested in their projects and therefore can’t afford to not turn a profit, which leads them to following other successful practices. Moving on to her section on ‘What Videogames Need’, I agree with the statements she made here and as this was written in 2012, I wonder if she thinks that “ladder” she talked about has been built yet. Nowadays you have a lot of game engines that pride themselves on being a no coding game maker and you also have the option for visual scripting for some of the bigger engines like Unreal. Interestingly enough, I see a lot of job applications that require Unreal experience to also require to prefer experience with Unreal’s visual scripting “Blueprints” just because they really do seem to speed things up and are of course usually easier to understand then the general C++ required in Unreal. So in my opinion I would say that the “ladder” for non publisher and programmers has definitely been extended since 2012 and will continue to do so. 

Fast forwarding to her section on ‘The Culture of Alienation’, this was a really interesting section. Her argument on how complex controllers have become is something I never thought about. I’ve been using controllers since I was a kid, so no matter what kind of controller you put in my hand, I find it very intuitive, but I never thought what it might be like for someone who has never used one before. I also heavily agree that video game culture can be extremely toxic, some subcultures more than others. It reminds me of this video I once watched of a woman gamer who was playing a multiplayer shooter game, and everytime she spoke the comments some of the other players had were absolutely disgusting. It’s culture like that that gatekeeps a lot of games from a wider audience.

Even if one can get past the toxic nature of gaming culture, it doesn’t seem any better in the industry itself which she touches on in the ‘The Big Crunch’ section. All of these horror stories about the industry that you hear about like crunch where developers are basically forced to work in these unhealthy environments, or all of the sexual allegations in some companies, it really can turn a lot of people away. For example, for me, things like those mentioned above, coupled with the fact that I don’t see a lot of people who look like me in the professional gaming industry, it becomes hard to ever see myself there even though it’s something I really would like to do. I think overall this is what Anthropy was trying to get at, that we need to work towards a future where these doubts aren’t the reasons why someone doesn’t get into game creation because, like she said, games are art, and everyone should be able to partake in it if they want to.

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