Monday, April 2, 2012

Anna Anthropy's Book Release and Lecture

Anna Anthropy, also known as Auntie Pixelante in the blogosphere, is the creator of video games such as Calamity Annie, Mighty Jill Off, Lesbian Spider Queen of Mars, and most recently, Dys4ia. She recently released her book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form. As part of her book tour, she held a talk at the NYU Game Center curated by Frank Lantz, where she discusses her advocacy of game creation by anyone, the games that are most interesting to her, and her identity as a queer transsexual game author. 

Conversation with Frank Lantz
  • She refers to the game industry as an engine that speaks only to itself. It's a male-dominated, market-driven, violence-focused industry that continues making the same types of games. Since it's mainly gamers themselves who enter the industry, it becomes a perpetual cycle of recycling game ideas and engaging in the same conversations.
  • Current game education such as those in Digipen, Full Sail, and more specifically, Guildhall at Southern Methodist University in Texas are "essentially useless." They reinforce the industry myth that getting a job in a big developer or publisher is the only avenue to get into games. People can definitely make games on their own or in a small group, without much technical knowledge. Anna herself left Guildhall and made Calamity Annie on her own.
  • Game development is not monolithic. Everyone should dabble in games even if they're not familiar with gaming at all. There are so many game editors and tools that allow people to create their own games without any technical knowledge. These include Gamemaker, RPG Maker, Knytt Story, and ZZT (a text adventure creator).
  • Frank attributes NYC's punk gaming scene to Messhof and Anna Anthropy, two very distinguished creators and voices in the community. But both moved out to the west coast, much to Frank's dismay.
  • Games that are less polished and less thought out are more interesting and speaks more about the creator himself. Games that digress from the mainstream tend to be more weird and engaging. For example, Cactus Block is a platformer where the player places the platforms with the mouse. However, in quite possibly a design decision that took 5 minutes, a cactus could randomly appear instead of a platform. This design choice, however, makes the game and the dynamics a lot more interesting. It becomes a game of chance and the player has to second guess every platform that he places. The player has to plan carefully to accommodate for potentialities, maybe clicking in a less optimal place so that a random cactus wouldn't appear and block a crucial location.
  • There is a story to Tetris, whereby errors compound into more errors until the builder is overwhelmed. This is a story authored by its mechanics.
  • The current state of gaming requires an advanced gaming literacy. An XB360 controller has 10 buttons and 3 directional controls, which requires many years of experience to pick up or a high learning curve. People should forget about hardcore games and just pick up something easy and responsive (casual games, indie games).
  • Anna as a creator wants to do everything herself during development of a game (art, music, programming, design, writing), but finds it increasingly hard to do as games get bigger.
  • She sold Dys4ia to Newgrounds for a rather low price, because she thought she would not be able to make money off this game otherwise. However, it became her biggest hit. Fans were so receptive of it and sent her completely positive feedback (although there was some share of hate mail and death threats as well, which is "par for the course"). Dys4ia is a Wario Ware style game that chronicles her experience of taking hormones as a transgender. This game is unique in that it is quite possibly the first purely autobiographical game made, or as some people say, a diary entry in the form of a game.
  • There was a larger presence of outsider artists at GDC. Pirate Kart is a compilation of over 1000 indie games and was submitted as an IGF entry to bypass the submission fees. Games were being made at GDC and were added to the Pirate Kart compilation on the spot.
  • She calls IGF awards an "absurd and grotesque spectacle." Games don't fit comfortably in an annual format, since games take years to make. The IGF award ceremony itself was so bizarre. Once, Jessica Chobot ran a skit where she made fun of indie developers, not in a laughing-with-them kind of way, but quite viciously.
  • Frank mentions that the awards given at the end of a Global Game Jam event are his least favorite part, but he understands the need that people have for recognition.
  • Anna says that the way that Ludum Dare handles competition is the best. If you participate in the jam, you can get awards and you can give awards. Those that don't participate don't get to vote or win. The awards can be anything; Anna herself got an award for "Best Monsters."
  • "Games industry is haunted by the spectre of monetization."
  • Indie Game the Movie had a weird part in the beginning where game journalists were interviewed. They each gave praise to the games in the movies, ie. "Braid was the best indie game of the year. It made so much money." It's weird that we always want discrete outcomes. We want to be told "This game is quantifiably better than that game." But scores and grades are holding us back as an industry.
  • Anna advocates the creation of games by everyone and anyone. Frank, playing devil's advocate, asks if there is any value to that. If someone who's never listened to music before says, "I have an idea for a great band," it's definitely a fruitless endeavor and the end result would be terrible. Anna argues that we shouldn't fall into video game tropes. Games should be and can be anything.
  • One triple A game that Anna likes is Saints Row 2. The game has the best character customization, where the player can do anything and be any gender. The player can be a masculine guy in a dress or a hot girl with a deep voice. This is closer to the real world where anyone can be any gender as well. Developers shouldn't lock out players from certain choices, whether it be fashion, demeanor, voice, etc., based on the avatar's gender. The developers of Saints Row 2 consciously decided to never gender the player. In one scene of the game, during a heist, an abstracted look of the map layout was shown. All the enemies were shown on the map as an icon of their faces, but the player was shown as a chess piece, thus being genderless.
  • How do you make personal games in a team? As a creator, you have to describe your vision to the team members. It's not bad to merge collaborator's personalities. It becomes a conversation between collaborators. Anna, however, admits that she likes hierarchy and likes to boss her collaborators.
  • There is an expressive power of creation as an act in and of itself. Indie games are more personal and shows more of the author.
  • There is a divide between games made for the player (like Street Fighter or Starcraft) and games made for the creator (like Jason Rohrer's games).
  • Portal antiseptic theme is interesting because it expresses how Valve as a developer makes the game. They put testers in a lab, test the game repeatedly, and change everything that they're doing wrong. This is analogous to Portal's story.
  • Anna previously worked on a multiplayer game called Mindfuck. It's a two-player game where each player has one button. Points increase as long as neither player presses their buttons, but the first person to press it wins all the points. It is a game about gambling and predicting your opponent's moves.
  • Anna is presenting a new game at Babycastles at the Project Secret Robot location. It is a 4 player game where 3 players have cyanide pills and the other player plays as a vampire. The 3 players have to predict who the vampire will attack next. The 3 players wear bras with a button hidden inside them. At the end of the round, if they've pressed the button an odd number of times, they don't take the cyanide pills, but if they've taken it an even number of times, they take the cyanide pills and kill themselves before the vampire gets to them. The point is to overload the vampire with information to confuse him in attacking a suicidal victim.
  • Anna's definition of game is "an experience created by rules." She wants the definition to be broad and all encompassing as much as possible. We shouldn't divide digital games from physical games, entertaining games from those that offer negative emotions.
  • "PAX is a place where the audience and industry meet to confirm that the status quo is good and to keep with the status quo."
  • Anna wants more discussion about gender or about queers in games.
  • She wants games to be more like Youtube. With Youtube, everyone and anyone can make a video. They didn't need film education or knowledge of film history. They just needed a webcam. Although most of Youtube is crap, there are gems that pop up from the sea. We don't know what games would look like at the hands of a large group of creators.

No comments: