I was asked the above quote a few days ago while working. The person that asked it is a parent and most likely has little to no interaction with video games on a regular basis. This person does not play video games, they most likely have no knowledge of what goes into making a game nor do they understand the concept of a professional gamer. When I first heard this question asked I was taken aback.
“What can you do with games?” What the hell does she mean, I wondered. I thought, surely, this is just a close-minded opinion that is not representative of a larger proportion of people in my life. Turns out, that opinion was quite popular in the people I knew. It confounded me, these people watch movies and they understand the large amount of work and collaboration that goes into a great movie but to them a video game was three dudes in a sweaty room with Cheetos and Mountain Dew. The stereotype is old, and perhaps outdated, but the idea that game makers are awkward and lacking is just not true anymore. Companies like Super Giant Games, EA, Activision, Cappy Games, DoubleFine, Bungie and more prove each year how successful game companies can be from the small teams to the large corporations. So what can you do with games? Well here are a few examples:
Create a beloved and critically acclaimed work of art…by yourself
Dust: An Elysian Tail was a game released for the Xbox 360, and soon on Steam, that was created by one man, for the most part. Dean Dodril, a self-taught illustrator, decided to try his hand at game design when he realized the animated film he was working on wasn’t going to be done anytime soon. He taught himself how to program, drew all the art in Dust, came up with the majority of the story and aside from the vocals and audio production he basically made the game himself. The entire project took him around 3 and half years but when Dust: An Elysian Tail came to market it was a smash hit and sold over 82,000 copies in just five months. Yes, Dean was most likely slaving away for years on end until the project was done but that’s no different than any writer who sets out to create a new book. The labor that goes into making a game is intense, and doing one by yourself is no small feat.
Compose award winning soundtracks
People don’t think about sound design often enough when it comes to video games. That’s because the mainstream gamers who are playing Call of Duty and Madden (no offense, I play these games too) aren’t experiencing the full library of music that games can offer. Sure, the sound design in a modern shooter sounds well enough as the bullets ring out and the explosions go off. However, put that up against the sounds of a composer like Jason Graves or Jesper Kyd and it’s a no brainer. Jason Graves, most noted for composing the soundtracks of the Dead Space trilogy and the new Tomb Raider, creates the most basic and animalistic sounds using everyday objects. Jesper Kyd, composer of the absolutely amazing Assassin’s Creed 2 soundtrack, makes the game world come to life with his melodic masterpieces. Without the audio the games would be sorely lacking, and often times I feel as though it’s the most overlooked component of the game. Just look at games like Fez, a critically acclaimed game that my own friends have played and missed the audio pleasures altogether. It’s not that they don’t hear the audio due to their playing the game, it’s that people don’t pay attention to the nuance of the sound. It should never overtake the gameplay but it should always be appreciated. Just take a look at Kyd’s and Graves’ Wikipedia pages to see the accolades and awards they hold of their work, it’s some impressive stuff.
Write a heartbreaking story, or a whimsical adventure
Most people fail to realize that bigger studios often have dedicated writers for dialogue and story threads. Just as your favorite TV show has a team of writers to make the world flow, a video game often has writers figuring out how to make characters fit and feel natural. Recent titles like Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us tell gripping stories with twists and hurdles not unlike those of award winning movies. You feel for the characters and have intense feelings of loss when they pass because you’re not just watching them live on screen, you’re the one walking them from place to place. The one to one connection in video games is like no other medium, and that allows for some of the most powerful narratives imaginable, with or without dialogue. The game Limbo, for instance, has not a single spoken word of dialogue but still manages to bring the house down with a narrative that is as moving and touching as any silver screen story.
Compete for millions of dollars, yeah…I said millions
When my coworker said “What can you do with games?” there is the thought that she was being literal. Meaning, what she meant to say was “what can you do by playing games all day?”. Surely someone who sits around playing video games all day can’t make a decent living or be considered anything more than a waste. That may be true for your 26 year-old son in the basement, but for many people gaming is a completely viable career. People like Ciji Thornton, aka StarSlay3r, have made a name for themselves by competitively gaming.
People that watch the above video and see “a tattooed chick spending too much time on Guitar Hero” don’t realize that Ciji is a well known, in the gaming community, figure who has since gone on to be in TV shows, commercials, sponsored events and so on. Her career took off just like all those YouTube personalities you sneer at when you hear they’re making 10x more than you. Of course, not everyone can be like the Korean Starcraft team that practices day in and day out to perfect their craft and hone in on the grand prize. Teams like that operate not unlike sport teams here in the states, fixing every mistake until the championship is theirs. Other people that make a living in the gaming world include the journalists and reviewers who often get the short end of the stick from uninformed masses. Most people think writing about games is silly and childish, believe me I know, but sites like Unwinnable, KillScreen, Polygon and Giant Bomb have proven that the stories behind the people that make the games can be entertaining, inspirational and at times, heartbreaking. When people poor their lives into something it often has extreme results.
Of course there’s more
Video production, marketing, public relations, financial work, legal matters and anything else that goes into running a company can be done in the gaming world. These are huge companies that operate in multiple contents with thousands of employees. Sure, there are the small indie teams of two and three people making games in a basement or a small office, but even those folks are getting bigger slices of the pie nowadays. When two men can make a game that makes millions you know they’re doing something right. What I’m trying to say is that doing something with games can mean a lot of things. This is a growing part of our society that has tremendous value and continues to grow as a relevant corner of society and culture. The more games evolve the more they become the most interactive form of media around. Nowhere else can you find stories like this, entertainment like this or passion like this. It’s the people that make these games amazing, and they’re not sitting around eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew.