Social game devs rail against divisiveness, armchair designers, and s*** crayons

As a response to frequent use of social games as punching bags by the rest of the industry, a group of Facebook, mobile, and otherwise social game-identified creators took part in a series of short "rants" during GDC. During this event, a social game was happening in real time: coins were handed out, and attendees were encouraged to collect coins from each other, with the person who was able to get the most invited up for a mini-rant. The winner's rant turned out to be about the positive mental and developmental effects of games.

Longtime game designer and Loot Drop founder Brenda Brathwaite opened with an impassioned refutation of the division of social gamers from other gamers. People told her she was "ruining games" back when she was working on Wizardry, for making an RPG that could be played alone, implying that this attitude was as harmful as the dismissal of social games now. "We stood together," she said, when games like Mortal Kombat came under attack from government and other groups, and when "hot coffee" came to be known not as a "steaming hot beverage but a steaming pile of shit". She urged that game fans stand together now "because we love games." A transcript of Brathwaite's rant has since been posted on her blog.

Brian Reynolds from Zynga appeared next, in a Facebook t-shirt, with a defense (of course) of Facebook games. His message was simple: that social games can be fun, and they can connect people, so they're worthwhile.

Adventure game legend Steve Meretzky, currently of Playdom, delivered his rant at executives who think they have the right and the skill to intervene with game design -- or even to try to go without a designer. He referenced Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, which states that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to be an expert on something -- he has more than 60,000 hours in game design, he said, and is still learning.

SpyParty creator Chris Hecker compared games to a Velasquez painting, noting that games are only able to elicit a small portion of the emotion that many other great works of art can. To remedy this, he suggested (the admittedly awkward) "lifification" of games, focusing more on simple, human-scale interactions in order to engage emotionally with players. He then showed the hand-holding mechanic in Ico, and forum posts about Red Dead Redemption players' attachment to their in-game horses, as examples of the effectiveness of even simple interactions.

Playdom designer (and ex-Joystiqer!) Scott Jon Siegel delivered a spirited rant at almost all social game designers: "You're Doing It Wrong." He said that since the success of Farm Town, social games have been shunted down the path of emulating this successful game, which has stifled innovation and creativity. Siegel posted a transcript, along with the slides, here -- even if you're not a social games fan, it's worth the few minutes.

EA founder and Digital Chocolate CEO Trip Hawkins directed his rant at an unexpected party: Nintendo, circa 1983. The company's licensing structure became a de facto part of the industry, which led to the rise of closed platforms -- including the iOS App Store. In keeping with this precedent, Apple takes a big cut of app developers' revenue. As a remedy, Hawkins directed developers to browsers, which are open development environments and utterly ubiquitous. "The browser will set you free."

Ian Bogost used his social game parody Cow Clicker to discuss the notion of the "magic crayon," which is supposed to enable player creativity. But when something that doesn't really have the capacity for player expression inspires it anyway despite strict constraints -- like Cow Clicker did on the part of both Bogost and fans -- it's less of a "magic crayon" and more of, well, a "shit crayon." He compared expressing oneself in Farmville to Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka's toilet-paper poetry written in prison. The idea is that creativity can rise out of restrictive media, but that doesn't make the media worthwhile.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.