An Internal Manifesto
A downloadable manifesto
This manifesto isn't really meant for other people. It isn't a document full of flowery prose, intended to spark a movement or to inspire others to create.
I'm in a place in my own artistic practice right now where giving myself clarity on why I create and what I value in my own works is valuable. This is a messy, stream-of-consciousness thing that I'm writing for myself, in order to help solidify my beliefs and maybe provide myself a rubric or set or values I can refer to when deciding which of my ideas are the most worth pursuing further.
I decided to share it publicly in the spirit of Manifesto Jam. As someone who isn't me, you may or may not get any value out of it.
Given its purpose, it's much more concerned with the "what" than the "why". If this is a peek at how the sausage is made, it's not a marketing treatise on what comprises the platonic ideal of a sausage, but rather an internal corporate values statement distributed to factory employees.
What sort of playful and game-like works do I strive to make?
Works that teach people about and connect them to the world around them. At MIT, I used to describe my research group's aim as making the opaque systems that rule the world around us — natural systems, social systems, whatever — more understandable and comprehendible through games, play, and interactivity. In my own work, this often literally takes the form of training you in real-world skills or teaching you about real-world systems. But this connection that crosses the barrier of the magic circle can also be created through fictional narrative that creates empathy with other people and worlds, or through multiplayer games teaching you something new about your friends.
Works that spark intellectual curiosity and create self-driven learners. Part of why games are compelling is the naturallly-satisfying feedback loop of skill aquisition and mastery. "Edutainment" and "gamification" all too often feel forced and unfun, but we should nonetheless strive to create experiences that take these intrinsically meaningful and fun learning systems and channel them towards giving people the tools to learn and improve themselves. Whenever I show Hello Operator, a common response is that people who both rarely play games and would never ever choose to go to a telecommunications history museum say "oh, I've always wondered how these worked!" and then lose themselves in the game for half an hour. Make more things like that.
Works that enable creative expression. In my non-game tools work, I often focus on making things that empower people to better themselves, or empower people to make their own art. I'd like to merge that practice more with my games and playful work, and create spaces where people feel empowered to create within the safe boundary of my own work.
Works that fit into people's lives. Owning a gaming PC, or a console with controllers, is a big financial barrier to entry. I think a lot about how many more people have played Pokemon Go than have bought every other Pokemon game combined. That's partly because Pokemon Go is free, sure (and the moral economics of F2P merit their own separate discussion) but it's just as much because it's designed for the pocket computers that much of the world already has on them at all times.
Works that don't require games literacy. Needing to know how to navigate a 3D space using a dual-stick controller or WASD + mouse is a huge barrier to entry. It's like telling someone they need to become fluent in a foreign language before reading a novel. Robin Sloan's piece on Gone Home comes to mind.
Works that use interface as a specific aesthetic tool. Most of the things I make don't look like "traditional" games. This is great, and a thing I love about what I make, but the purpose of an alternative control or novel UI should always be about providing an experience or evoking an emotion that ties into some larger artistic goal, rather than simply reveling in the new and novel.
Works that speak to the broader human experience. When people think of "games", they inevitably go for things that emulate the aesthetic of either Hollywood blockbuster action films or pulpy genre fiction. Make things that appeal to a wider audience. The reductive version of this is simply "don't make games about violence".
Works that are respectful of players' time. Complete experiences that can be enjoyed in a single play session should be the default. Longer pieces are totally fine, but should have a specific artistic reason to do so. If an experience is one that's measured in calendar time rather than wall time, it should avoid psychological tricks that create patterns of compulsion and addiction.