Global Game Jam 2015 Keynote

I was incredibly honoured to be asked to give one of the keynote talks for the 2015 Global Game Jam this year. Here’s my contribution, and you can see the other keynotes here too. Miniboss’ talk is incredibly important, and a message that should be heeded – and Reiner Knizia’s, meanwhile, is a thing of absolute joy and wonder.

Here is mine, which was a very personal talk for me, so I hope some of you enjoy.

The transcript/write-up is after the jump.

Hi, I’m Mitu.

I’m a programmer, and a designer, and I run what is ostensibly a one-person micro studio, called The Tiniest Shark. I made a game called Redshirt, which is this satirical sci-fi social networking simulation game. I say ostensibly one-person, because I did not make Redshirt alone, of course. I had help from some wonderful artists, without whom it would never have got past the placeholder art stage. And the talented musician, and voice-over artist. And the friends who helped with writing content, when I was knee-deep in making sure the scrollbars worked properly.

And that’s not even mentioning the emotional support of my husband, of my parents, and my friends who understood every time I’d have to rearrange hanging out with them, because something was on fire.

And, unless you are someone with absolutely unprecedented levels of talent AND bottomless emotional strength, no developer is an island.

But, you probably know this. You know this because you are here, at the 2015 Global Game Jam, and you are ready to work with the talented people who are also here.

You know this, because you all showed up, you’re here, on the ground, and really, showing up is half the battle.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly honoured to be one of the keynote speakers for the Global Game Jam. But, because you all showed up, I will be completely truthful when I say, there is probably nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know.

1. “Potential”

I could tell you why games are so important, why they have so much potential, why they belong on the same cultural platforms as movies, and literature, and theatre and visual art. I do these talks to the public, from time to time, because I believe advocacy for games and what they should be is important.

But, you probably believe these things about games too – and, you are awesome, because you have showed up, with this commitment to making a game, to doing something hopefully a bit different — whether this is your first ever game jam and you’ve never made a game before, or whether you’re someone who’s been in the industry for fifteen years.

Again, there’s nothing I can tell you, that you don’t already know.

Let’s leave potential aside though. What I can do is tell you why I love games. In the here, and now, and what games mean to me.

2. Stories

This is where I grew up, ten minutes from the sea. I’ve always loved the sea. When I was very little, the sea meant all of this… possibility; I would dream about all the places it could take me.

I came to realise, later, that this definitely affected the way I think about, and make videogames. That we’re tiny, but we’re all so connected to one another, more than we know. And the things we do, matter. It’s so important to me, to reflect on the ways that we’re connected, the ways we affect each other. And so, a lot – not all, of the games I aspire to make, are about this slow bombardment of opportunities for self-reflection.

Places in videogames have made me feel that way too. Tiny, I mean.

I remember, for instance, the sense of wonder when I played my first MMO, EverQuest. Of being in this huge world which seemed to live and breathe without me, and it was full – absolutely full of people. Of course, there’s no-one here now, but, I have stories.

And really, that’s what it’s about to me. The stories. The connections we make. I grew up playing videogames with my little sisters, and the thing I love is that no matter the game, it is about the unique stories you craft, between you and your friends, or between you and the system, or you with yourself.

Every time we play, there’s some unique story we create, no matter why else we may be playing. Whether it’s about control, or challenge, or inciting some sense of cosmic wonder, or just out of pure kinaesthetic pleasure.

3. Humility and Surrender

I love creating. I have loved making things, digital things, since I was about 10 or 11 years old, and, I taught myself to write HTML. I was hooked on being able to make things, interactive things for my friends to look at and mess about with. There’s something to it that is addictive, and beautiful. Crafting things, spinning things from inert code, which becomes something else – comes alive — on the screen. To me, it feels magical.

And games are the best place for that magic. To express ideas, through the code you’ve spun. My earliest understanding of all this came, I realised, not from Will Wright or Sid Meier, but from early nineties Nickelodeon show, Clarissa Explains It All, in which a 13-year-old girl would, seemingly in just a few hours, make a game to both figure out – and express to others – how to deal with her bratty little brother, Ferguson. I like to think that Clarissa not only paved the way, years and years in advance, for the amazing plethora of indie games about personal experiences that we now see, but also, I think she basically invented Game Jams.

But, I have a confession to make. For a while, as I saw the amazing, beautiful, expressive work that was being done around me, I was honestly, too scared to put my own personal work out there. And so, I’d make these rubbish little barely-finished games, in private, and show them to no-one. Or worse, and far more often, not even build out my ideas, in case by doing so, I’d prove to myself that they were rubbish.

And you know what? It didn’t make me happy.

Now, I’m not a writer, and I never have been, but one of my most seminal moments came a few years ago, when I read this agony aunt column. It’s by a writer, responding to another writer who has been besieged by this all-encompassing sense of creative angst, of the things they feel like they could do, but are too afraid to, because the things they come out with aren’t good enough. Honestly, I think it applies to all creative discplines. Her advice, in her amazing, colourfully-worded column, came down to this: “We get the work done on the ground level.” With humility, and with surrender.

Reading this cemented for me what made me happiest – creating, fully, uninhibitedly, and honestly. Not caring about the outcome, as long as I was creating something. In fact, I’m kind of miserable when I’m not.

And you know what else? Despite this, despite the fact that I create, and care about creating, I’ve had people telling me I’m not a game developer. Not a real one. But you know what? I keep showing up.

But you already know this, because you showed up, and you’re ready to try, and maybe fail, but that’s okay, because you are doing your best.

You’re here, you’re on the ground level. And so, there is nothing I can tell you, but to remind you, that with humility, and with surrender:

“Make games like a motherf***er.”