[Dtoid community blogger fulldamage shines the spotlight on some of the biggest videogame superfans in the industry. Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Go write something! --Mr Andy Dixon]
I first met Zoya Street at GDC last year, giving a talk on swords and economic narrative in the Final Fantasy series, 1988 - 2009. She had a coolly-designed infographic up on the wall, and -- most interesting to me -- she wasn’t actually from a developer or publisher, giving the kind of “Tips for Breaking Into the Industry” or “Post Mortem from my Awesome Triple A Game” or “Best Middleware for Reticulating All Your Splines Efficiently” sort of talks that fill up most of the rooms.
No, Zoya was sort of a different creature. She was a game fan, a player and an academic who was studying game design from the other side of the field -- from the audience chair -- by reverse engineering the structures she found in it, and comparing those structures to cultural, historical, and economic theories and examples drawn from life and from academia.
You have to love games a lot to do that, you know?
When I was a kid, games were an object and an experience that I coveted. It wasn’t complicated! I’d see Link flinging his burning sword at an Octorok that would disappear with a satisfyingly heavy “thrrrump!” sound, or I’d watch my friend take his Avatar hero to a shrine to achieve spiritual perfection in between orc-smashing dungeon-crawling fireball-throwing adventures in Ultima IV, or I’d see the gorgeous dreamscapes of Myst open up before me, or I’d see a Ken player execute a perfectly thought-out wake-up dragon punch to finish a torpedoing M. Bison, and man that was it. Those were scenarios that fired me up and filled up my imagination -- there wasn’t anything else in particular that I wanted to be doing.
It was a simple love of games; as external experience, as pursued object, as a thing to Do.
OC Remix trades heavily on the nostalgia a lot of us have for that childhood time when games were a simple, magical refuge. There’s an army of composers here who take the musical materials of those times and apply sonic alchemy to it, turning it into something quite amazing. Did you know that for this latest release they tried to Kickstart -- another Final Fantasy themed album -- they actually had to enter talks with Square in order to keep everything legit? I’m never quite sure Square appreciates the power of this kind of fanbase, this army of people who have felt the course of their lives changed measurably by these games, so much so that they have to go out and create and publish even more beautiful things to add to the world as a result.
Sometimes people’s lives get too busy to accommodate spending heavy time on games; sometimes life gets in the way, or sometimes you just realize they’re not a priority anymore. But then there’s a small subsection of folks that just Geek Right The Fuck Out and never stop. It’s hard to say where that boundary is, but you know when you tumble right over the obsession precipice and wake up and realize you’re a career game tester, or a coder or designer, or that you’ve just spent years putting together a Neverwinter server that hosts hundreds of people that you have to create scenarios for regularly, or that you’re suddenly writing your Master’s thesis on game theory in a specific obscure foreign genre, or that your closet contains 15 unique character costumes that you sewed together yourself, or that you’re the only person in the store trying to figure out what precise color of cookie frosting would be the closest match to Master’s Chief’s armor -- nah fuck it, you’ll mix it yourself. It has to be right.
Check out Game Design Forum. Can you dig it? Look at this article length. They got tables and flow charts up in here, B. Not because it was their professional job to come up with those originally, but because they have such a deep appreciation for this game, they have to go in and pull the thing apart by the seams, to figure out why the Final Fantasy plot breaks down the way it does, why the characters are where they are and do what they do, why the developers made the decisions that they made -- the Why of everything! I mean, damn son. It’s not enough to know that the game is awesome, they’ve got to get in there and crack its bones open and suck out the tasty marrow of awesome.
If you’re a well-adjusted sane human being, it is possible that this level of obsession is weird or off-putting. That’s okay! I have to admit, this level of geekery changes the way in which you relate to games in a fundamental way. I talk about theory, design, and compare notes on different obscure game structures and phenomena just about every day, but I’m not sure I love them any more than I did when I was a kid! Rather, they’re like my arm, now. I don’t “love” my arm exactly; it’s just a part of me. It’s how I interact with the world, and it’d be hard for me to function without it.
The map looks like this to me. No lie!
Leigh Alexander wrote something recently that was kind of a call to arms for game journalists to step their game up, to start going after developers and publishers more aggressively and with harder-hitting questions, to get in there and find out the real stories about how games come to be, or come to fail. Game writing is its own form of obsessive geekery, and so I wish her luck in rallying her fellow writers to get a little less “markety” and a little more real. But I’m honestly not worried about it. As more people play games, I think that more people will start to dig into gaming as psychology, as theory, and as cultural landmark -- from all sorts of angles.
I’m not really invested in whether or not journalists are the first ones to do it in a big way. To be honest, I am much more interested in the observations and insights of driven non-developers and non-journalists like Zoya and the Game Design Forum and OC Remix. I know games reach out to people, but what really amazes me are the creative ways in which game fans reach back out to games and each other.
And just in case you're motivated to get in there and help:
Support Zoya’s Indiegogo
Support Game Design Forum’s Kickstarter
Keep an eye out for that OC Remix next Kickstarter
Much love, Dtoiders. Only the best get obsessed.