Video Games as an Art Form

Video games are one of the only forms of media that include all the forms of media I deeply love: programming or software development; interaction design and user experience; writing or literature; animation and computer graphics; music and sound design; fine art, illustration and graphic design. (Film or cinematography if you have the budget.) What an art form. Take that, Hollywood!

Like many who grew up since the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System were available in the 1980’s, making my own video games was what motivated me to learn how to program in the first place.

In the modern world, with decades of software development experience under my belt, I feel like I still have it in me to make a game from scratch, perhaps something fun—but I would turn it into too much work and have a hard time keeping the scope narrow. I still know how to put a game together at a technical level and I think with my vastly improved engineering skills and improved tools like C# or JavaScript and Unity and widely available GPU hardware it would be easy at a technical level to make a high quality low-tech game, but artwork or assets and level design would be a big project.

The issue I have with that type of time investment (unless the kiddos were older or were somehow involved) is that the game market is a mess and the indie game world is saturated and overcrowded, just intensely competitive. Gamers and non-gamers have really high expectations. And the way to make money is to make a game free and then use dark patterns from behavioral psychology and trick people into paying to play a game that is made crummy on purpose, for monetization reasons. What a mess.

The sliver of hope is that there many ways to publish a game and ask an audience to pay for it. One is or Steam, where people pay you directly. The App Store allows this too, but is pretty overflowing with an infinitude of highly-funded games that you have to compete with for attention. There are also streaming platforms like Google Stadia, or Apple Arcade. If you cut a deal with Apple, you can get paid to develop a beautiful and fully true-to-itself game, yet give the full game away “for free” to subscribers so that people can enjoy the whole thing—without being forced to make it worse just to make money (monetization, pay-to-play game mechanics, fishing for whales). I’m pretty sure unless I had some unique new concept I could never catch the attention of Apple Arcade to develop it for them, but that would be quite an honor. Unlikely but it would be amazing.

I really admire when people put something together that is beautiful and inspiring. So there is a part of me that hopes to return to making video games someday.