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Why 'make your own game' is a bad argument against criticism

2015-01-04 14:00:00·  4 minute read   ·  Darren Nakamura@Dexter345

Illogical, impractical, and often hypocritical

The year 2015 has begun. It is a time for new beginnings. New games are coming out. New experiences will be shared. And yet, the same old Internet arguments will take place.

Let's put one to rest right now. There has been growing criticism in the past few years about certain aspects of the videogame industry. Maybe female characters are presented in ways that reinforce negative stereotypes. Maybe the representation of minority groups could be improved. Maybe there is room for videogames to have greater purpose than just fun. Whichever specific issue, the statement "I wish videogames were more _____" is often met with "If you want things to change, you should make your own game."

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable point. "Be the change you wish to see in the world" is cute little buttoned up (mis)quote. With closer examination the argument has little value past being a clever-sounding misdirect.

So why is the argument silly? There are a couple of reasons. The most trivial is that there already are people who wanted to create change by making their own games. We are in a sort of golden age of independent game design with titles addressing serious issues like cancer, mental illness, or fading tribal traditions.

So there are some people "being the change they wish to see" in the game industry. But the kicker is that status as a developer does not and should not hold any extra weight when it comes to criticism. They are two separate things. Suggesting that the only way to make progress is to quietly undermine the status quo is a great way to stifle that progress.

More important than the fact that there are creators doing just the thing suggested by the platitude is that we don't use the shut-down argument for any other sort of criticism. Imagine this. You are at a pizza restaurant. You love pizza. You eat the pizza at this restaurant. It is not bad, but could be improved with fresher toppings. You suggest as much to a friend. Your friend says, "If you want pizza to get better, then you need to open your own pizza restaurant."

Would someone ever make this argument? No, probably not, because it's stupid. It is possible to judge the value of a pizza without ever having made one, let alone without investing time and money into a business to produce and mass market pizza. Simply consuming pizza is expertise enough to criticize pizza. 

Heck, this argument doesn't even fly within the videogame industry for less controversial issues. When a big publisher reams consumers with microtransactions/paywalls, you never hear "just make your own game without those elements." It wouldn't make sense. If the problem is that you don't like how Sega is handling the Sonic franchise, then creating a Sonic-like game doesn't fix that. If the problem is that Valve should develop Half-Life 3, then making an unofficial fan game doesn't fix that. If the problem is that there aren't many people of color as protagonists in AAA games, then making a small indie game with a black hero doesn't fix that. Still, that is the course of action suggested by the argument in the latter case.

The pizza analogy breaks down a bit because it is not unreasonable to suggest that somebody just make and eat his own pizza. However, that highlights one of the other problems with the "make your own game" argument: it trivializes the process of videogame development. It does not take a huge investment to make a pizza; making a videogame costs much more.

It's true that it is easier now than it ever has been to make games. But even with tools like Unity, Flash, or GameMaker, it still takes a significant amount of time to produce anything worth showing off. That's just for indie stuff.

If we are to "be the change we wish to see" and the change we wish to see is in big budget development, then the suggestion to "just make your own game" actually amounts to "just study a discipline for several years, land a job in a highly competitive field, produce content for somebody else in order to gain respect among peers, and eventually you might be in a position to have some sort of tangible creative voice in a major production." It's just that easy, why haven't you started yet?

The truth is that criticism can be a valid way to effect change in the industry we love. Remember when the Xbox One was announced as an always-online console? Microsoft didn't backpedal on that because some plucky consumer up and decided that he would spend 40 years building a multibillion dollar technology company just to build his own console without those restrictions. Microsoft went back on it because enough people criticized the decision.

It seems too optimistic to hope for no controversy du jour this year. My more reasonable hope for 2015 is that nobody resorts to this argument in an attempt to combat actual discussion or progress. "Making your own game" is at the very least impractical for most people. At worst, it wouldn't even solve the problem it pretends to want to address. It's true that making a game can be a powerful way to spread one's message. But it is not the only way.

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Darren NakamuraAssociate Editor // Profile & Disclosures
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Darren is a scientist during the day. He has been a Destructoid community member since 2006, joining the front page as a contributor in 2011. While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strateg... more



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