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Rami Ismail and Michael Brough wrote some super interesting and insightful things about indies and curation and (i’m gonna say it even though they didn’t) virality this morning. I really like where they’re going, and I wanted to point out what I think is at least the next (if not final) step in this logical chain.
To (badly?) summarize their arguments, Rami points out that there is a kind of inherent conflict of interest when indie game makers help to curate for services that they themselves depend on for commercial viability. I have definitely felt this myself, and am hesitate to push projects toward Apple that don’t mean some weird fuzzy “standard” that I made up.
Michael continued this thread, pointing out that even if there wasn’t a financial conflict of interest, the basic human fact that people tend to only promote things that they’re personally interested in can have a chilling effect on the propagation of new or otherwise innovative works. We all have our pet interests, and we tend to get excited about, and thus accidentally promote, specifically those things. And of course these things tend to be based on pre-existing notions and so on.
I know this is a thing that happens a lot, but I also think that there are people out there who are desperate for something new, no matter what it is, and will champion it for the sake of pushing boundaries. Those people are, understandably, in the minority, and I think Michael is right that we would all be better served in the long term if we were more willing to push hard on games that we don’t personally enjoy but that we can still somehow understand our worthwhile and positive contributions.
The thing I wanted to add to this, that I think is very important to mention, is that this idea exposes the cyclical nature of curators and fans and platforms and this whole system. This gets kind of hard to write about so I wanted to give an example:
Earlier this year Emily Short and her compatriots at Linden Labs released a super amazing interactive fiction platform called VERSU for iPad. It’s a flawed app, and the pioneering sample pieces that come with it do not fully explore the potential of the platform (which is of course completely natural and expected). VERSU was one of the only major “game” launches this year that I actually cared about, and I talked about it on Twitter pretty regularly for a while.
The thing is, nobody who follows me on Twitter really seemed to care. I remember one or two people latching on to it and getting interested (Bennett Foddy among them I think?). Otherwise, dead air. For a platform that I think is essential to the maturation and growth of the medium! That’s crazy.
On Twitter, more people retweeted and favorited a joke about wolverines that I wrote last night than all of my VERSU tweets combined.
From this, I draw two more insights, in addition to Rami’s financial conflict-of-interest concerns, and Michael’s worries about our own sort of preference-driven quasi-censorship. I think there is a design problem - things designed for mass appeal spread more easily, and mass appeal is partly based on familiarity. Social media platforms are a part of this issue; if you can’t ascertain the value of a thing in 10 seconds your window for virality closes fast. And piling the pressure of instant mass appeal onto a crazy new thing is an enormous burden for people already boldly pioneering unexplored territory.
But there is also a fan problem. Even when I do find something special and unique and new and weird that resonates with me, and I can see why it matters both in the short and long term, and I climb up on my soapbox and shout about it to anyone nearby… if nobody is willing to listen, then to me it feels like it was a waste of time, why bother?
To end on a hopeful note, I wanted to present the idea that it might be ok if weird new things aren’t universally championed and pushed to the front of the line. It might be ok for some games to really be for other game makers, or only for literature buffs, and not the general public. It’s ok for some things to spread slowly, to wait for the moment when suddenly we are ready for them to amaze us.