Dabbling in Developing Videogames

Full and transparent disclosure: This piece is about my game(s).

I recently developed and released two videogames:
Fairy Tale is an incremental (clicker) game that includes a simple journey through a forest and a little resource management.
The Icecream Parlour uses icecream as a means to explore issues of sexuality, and was released early in celebration of The Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in favour of marriage equality.

It would be no surprise to anyone that I love stories. I adore stories in all their forms. I enjoy reading and writing stories, watching and analysing stories, and I even love playing stories. I see so much potential in the storytelling power of videogames, so lately I have been dabbling in game development to tap into that potential.

Videogames have always been a massive part of my life. I grew up watching my dad play the Might and Magic franchise, Age of Empires, and Total Annihilation, as well as all sorts of other little arcade games that I used to try my hand at (often failing miserably). I remember dressing up as a wizard once and fighting alongside my dad as he crawled dungeons in Might and Magic VII; hopefully I helped.

I played Crayola games off floppy disks and Blinky Bill games off CD-ROMs, and was so excited when we bought a Gameboy Color because it meant seeing the Tetris blocks and Pokémon in all their pixelly glory. Eventually we bought a secondhand PS2, on which I found my love of the platformer with Jak and Daxter and—a little later—the JRPG with Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. I played strategy games against the guys in my music class in high school and fostered new friendships over first-person-shooters during undergrad.

Now, with a videogame critic and academic for a partner (and access to Steam during the Steam Sales), my game collection has grown in size and diversity, and my exposure to a wide variety of narratives and mechanics across many genres has sparked a deeper interest, beyond simple leisure.

Videogames have so much potential. From the interactive narrative—the ‘choose your own adventure’ for a new generation—to the 200+ hour dynamic world (I’m looking at you, Witcher 3), every game has the ability to explore issues and characters is an entirely unique way. Having your audience become an active participant in your story can create an unrivalled sense of empathy between them and your characters. Games allow you to step into somebody else’s life and see the world as they see it, and this can help promote tolerance, as well as self-acceptance.

I am fascinated by the capacity for games to explore serious and educational themes, hidden behind fun and excitement like vegetables in Spaghetti Bolognese. I love learning, but I know many people find it difficult to broaden their mind when they aren’t enthusiastic about the content or the way it’s being taught. I’ve used games—both physical and digital—in the classroom to sneakily teach unsuspecting students, with great success.

My interactive narrative, The Icecream Parlour, toys with the idea of hiding deeper meaning within what appears to be a superficial premise. It’s considered a ‘serious game’ because it was developed to fulfil a purpose beyond fun or enjoyment. ‘Serious games’ is a field of study that I’ve recently become more involved in; I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on interactive narrative and serious games courses at the University of the Sunshine Coast over the last few months, and was even invited to be on a panel to discuss a group of students’ serious game development projects (which was a very interesting experience). Part of the reason why I developed The Icecream Parlour was for my own education: it was a great way to learn how to use Twine interactive narrative software.

Fairy Tale was also a project mostly embarked on for my own education. I already had familiarity coding websites with HTML and CSS (which I’ve been learning since my Neopets days), but I’d never dabbled in Javascript. I’ve learnt from my own experience that it’s easier to learn a coding language when you have a problem that you want to solve, so I started designing an incremental (clicker) game and learnt the JS along the way. Approximately 1,200 lines of JS later, and this is what I created. I look forward to making longer, more complex videogames using JS in the future.

Expanding my horizons to include the role of ‘game developer’ has been a fantastic experience. It has helped me understand the videogames that I play on a deeper level, analyse existing videogames with a greater knowledge of how they are created, and recognise with more clarity the many spaces that my narratives could occupy. I hope you enjoy the two projects that have come from my dabbling so far—they may be the first, but they certainly won’t be the last.