Don’t just play videogames: why you should hack them to make your own
Sketch by Mark Surman
Photo by MozillaEU
But before we go deeper into what we will be doing in the Hackable Games Lab at Mozilla, let’s take a step back and talk about why you should not just play video-games; why you should hack them to make your own.
Growing up I used to spend my afternoon playing with my friends in the (car-free at the time) streets of our Athenian neighborhood. We would all meet when done with homework (or pretending to anyway) and play different versions of hide and seek, capture the flag and hopscotch. The one game though that we all loved to play again and again was tag, especially customized for different times of the day and seasons. There was the after dark version of tag, an especially adventurous game played in the one empty lot of the neighborhood, that looked especially creepy at the age of seven. Then there was my personal favorite; water tag, the perfect game for a hot summer day (which was practically EVERY day, during the Greek summer).
And then it was Christmas of 1989 and everyone in my neighborhood got a Gameboy as a gift. Thank god I got one too, otherwise it would have been a struggle to fit into what was our new daily routine; still meeting after school but this time to play endless hours of Tetris, Super Mario Land and Final Fantasy Legend. Final Fantasy was definitely my favorite one that year, since I loved the role playing aspect of it and the fact that you had choices in the game. Also there was a forbidden love story involved which I could relate to as a teenager. I remember wishing I could customize my character or add new worlds to the game. This seemed impossible at the time; sure making my own version of tag was a nobrainer, but making my own version of Final Fantasy Legend? oh god no! In my mind that was a sacred task left to god like Japanese Legends- indeed-.
Photo by Claudio Midolo
Fast forward years later, and I was working at Institute of Play in NYC teaching 6th graders game design at Quest to Learn; one of the first activities we did together at the time was to draw a storyboard that would answer the question; “What are the steps a game designer takes to make a new game? “. The goal of the activity was for the kids to theorize on the process of game creation, preparing them to go through it themselves. Looking at their storyboards at the end of the activity, I remember that what hit me was the way the students depicted the game designers; like me at their age, most of them had drawn this image of a game designer being something close to a god looking character. Also in all 60 drawings of them, the game designer was a guy.
Unlike my 8 year old self though who would have never even conceived as possible or even *real* the career of a game designer; the Quest to Learn kids took on the identity of game creators throughout the year - boys and girls with equal passion- by eventually making their own full fleshed games. However, for the majority of youth who has never taken a game design class or has met an actual game designer (do they really exist?) moving from players of games to actual makers of games seems like a giant leap. So giant it remains inconceivable.
I will make the argument at this point, that we are at a pivotal point were this perception of game development being something immensely hard to achieve as a young person is changing; and there are many reasons for this shift:
One is that more and more mainstream games include mods and level editors, such as the giga hits Little Big Planet and Minecraft that only prove how much players like to be creators of their own game world.
Screenshot of the Little Big Planet 2 editor by @kirkhamilton
I am flying to Toronto this week for the Mozilla All Hands and I am sure I will be writing plenty of updates soon about all the Hackable Games Lab soon-to-be-launched quests; including a Game Arcade at Mozfest and the sequel of the successful Game On competition that Mozilla Labs run in 2010. Meanwhile here is the full prezi that I plan to give at All Hands and you should feel free to drop in our next Hackable Games Call on the 19th of September at this Etherpad.
And since today is the 46th anniversary of Star Trek, I leave you with an appropriate group picture of the Hackable Games Lab crew.
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