This trimester I am teaching a studio class at SAE Brisbane. My students have to design games that focus on meaning, expression, and emotion. Up to this point in their degree they’ve been focusing on the bits and pieces that make up a videogame. Now, at this point, I’m to try to get them to think about just what they can do with that toolkit. My interpretation of this is to show them a whole bunch of weird shit and to encourage them to make equally weird shit.
My students need to keep a blog throughout the trimester, keeping track of what they are making and why and how. In sympathy with my students and in an attempt to pressure/shame them into actually writing these blogs, I thought I should write about the course as well.
I’m increasingly convinced that students should be playing and making the sort of stuff you would see on itch.io moreso than the stuff you would see on Steam. There’s several reasons for this. First of all, the sort of weird experimental games on itch.io are not necessarily ‘better’, but they are often doing more interesting things from a purely design perspective. ‘More interesting’ in the sense that most students have already played a first-person shooter and a moba and a platforming game and playing new first-person shooters/mobas/platforming games is only going to teach them so much. Whereas the sort of experimental stuff on itch.io is constantly pushing the boundaries of how videogames can say things.
Secondly, itch.io games tend to be short, singular ideas. Tiny five-minute scrappy ideas rather than huge commercial products. Students often come into game courses having only played highly polished blockbuster titles or commercial indie titles and expect they should make the same. The problem is, students often only get at most 6 or so weeks to conceptualise and design a game. If students play more real short games, my hope is that alters their expectation of what sort of games they could consider making. I would rather see a really confident five-minute experience than a mediocre 2 hour experience (that no one is going to play for longer than five minutes anyway).
So in Studio 2 the students have to focus on how to use the toolbox of videogame skills they’ve mastered over the past year (rules, mechanics, etc.) and figure out how to say something meaningful with it and how to evoke particular emotions with it. We’ll be focusing on drawing from personal experience, on producing game feel, and on designing to a theme. And we will be playing and discussing a lot of weird little titles. I asked my students to write this week about what they want to get out of Studio 2. What I want them to get out of it is a broadening of just what they believe they can make with the skills they have developed. I want them to get in the habit of experimenting and playing with form and putting stuff out there in the world just to learn about how these weird videogame things work.
The first game brief they received is ‘Take It Personally’. It says:
Your first game is an autobiographical one. Choose an experience from your own life that is particularly important to you, and communicate that importance through a videogame. This might be a particular memory or person, a particular time in your life, a particular event you feel passionately about. What is something meaningful to you, and how might you communicate your feelings about it through a videogame?
I wanted to focus on ‘experience’ more than ‘identity’ since, speaking from memory, having any idea at all of what your identity is when you are a young white dude is really hard since almost every aspect of your identity is so damn ubiquitous. Thinking of a specific personal experience to convey seemed much more approachable. I hypothesised that if I was making a game to this brief, it would be something about my grandfather’s final months alive, after my grandmother’s death. It would be a thing where you get to know him by exploring the bits and pieces of his life spread through the one room he sits in all day, strangely out of place from the house he’d lived in for my entire life.
They only get two weeks to make this game, so they have to keep it short and sweet. We played a whole heap of games crafted from personal experiences to get them thinking about it. Importantly, I wanted to make sure not all the games we played were super depressing and angsty. This was surprisingly difficult! I guess when life is good we are less likely to mope around creating art about it. Some of the games we played in class included Andi Mclure’s He Never Showed Up, Ian Maclarty’s Gonubie Hotel, Squinky’s Interruption Junction, Increpare’s Cooking, For Lovers and To My First Born Son, Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia, Nina Freeman’s How Do You Do It, and Michael Brough’s scarfmemory. The students were really engaged and seemed to get a lot of it. They seemed really interested in how these videogames were using the language of videogames to say something particular, as opposed to just ‘being’ videogames.
So that’s what I’m doing this trimester. Expect maybe weekly-ish posts from me with what is happening in this class and, hopefully, the occasional link to one of my students’ games.