I sometimes feel like I live in two worlds. There is the area where formalism and definitions are vitally important, and then there is the space in which I interact with creatives and people who make things. As someone who has devoted most of my life to academia through both classes and now even work, I have a deep respect for those who spend their time trying to analyse each and every word of a text, who have years worth of study turned to the sole goal of teasing out some new meaning. It’s an important and worthwhile goal that can often expand how we can come to understand the numerous cultural artifacts of the past and present.
However, and I think Matthew Burns has put it exactly right, “the [zinesters] have arrived on the scene with such a completely different set of values that they might as well be from different planets.” Those that are on the edge of making things that dare academics to define what they produce as games, “games”, “not games”, not-games, or even notgames don’t care. They “[uphold] personal expression as the highest ideal, the only goal that matters.” If it is meaningful to them, it’s a thing. The label doesn’t matter because the thing itself does.
It reminds me constantly of the fact that dictionaries are some of the most powerful books. Since they proscribe meaning, they can shape language usage. There is even the phrased tossed around causally by children “It’s not in the dictionary. That’s not a word.”
Perhaps this is just me getting to it late, but the discourse is not over some grand abstract meaning of what games are, have been, or even will be, but over dismissing projects because you don’t like or understand them. It’s not trying to help build a community of respect, but tearing down someone else’s castle down because they, according to you, didn’t build it the right way. It’s “you’re doing it wrong” used to describe development, writing, and creation. And it’s disgusting.
It’s gotten to the point for me that I often want to ask people, right after they have told me something “is not a game,” to point me at their own work. I want to examine what games they might have made, what stories they have written, or even songs they have composed. I want to ask them about their process for creation. Where do your ideas come from? How do you combat the midnight of the artist?
The reason I don’t is that I have to go back to the tower of academia and work the next day. There is a threshold for me where, once we cross it, I can’t care anymore about the discussion. I have to go back to trying to teach in the hope of inspiring one student one day. I have to find ways to work within the system to help people and not just be another grade machine. I have to wait for the night to make things that I, and often only me, find interesting. Those little projects that scratched some “What if?” I had that week.
somedays, i wish i could be a zinster