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People are not numbers

People are not numbers
« on: October 30, 2012, 01:09:50 pm »

When did people become numbers?

I remember making art online in the nineties with not much concern for whom it would appeal to or how many there would be. I did my best to make a beautiful thing and I took great care to make it accessible and easy to use. And then I put it out there, knowing that anyone on the internet could see it. It was very exciting. Some people would see it and they would email me. And we would have a conversation. Because, mostly, they were also making online art and we enjoyed each other's work. Or somebody would link to it from their website. And then you knew that they had looked at and enjoyed your work. Because they took pride in the links that they offered to their visitors. They were part of their own online identity.

With Web 2.0, and our move towards videogames, things changed. In the beginning it felt mostly the same. Our focus was on making things. We didn't know exactly who for. But after some recognition in the games industry and very little outside of it, it became clear who our audience was. We reluctantly adapted. And it is only now that this is starting to bother me. I chose to work with digital media because they allowed me to reach a wider audience (as opposed to galleries and museums). But now I find myself stuck again in the narrow audience of gamers.

And not only that but in a small margin of this niche, fighting hard every day for the right to make what we make. Knowing full well that there are interested people outside of it that we don't know how to reach.

I find myself caring about numbers now. Asking questions like what's the point of making a piece that only a few hundred people will play. I didn't used to care about that. And my audience was probably not bigger. But I felt much more connected to them. The people who enjoyed my work were people, not numbers. Out of the entire offer to humanity, they selected my piece. And if they enjoyed it, a bond was forged. A bond of peers! Not of fans and creators. But of fellow human beings.

And I find myself thinking that perhaps this is a design problem. Before I used a platform that already served as a connection between people (the world wide web, the internet). So we already shared a space. And then within this space, we enjoyed each other's work. Videogames don't live in such a space.
(One could imagine that Facebook offers something similar now. But Facebook is too in your face commercial. And far from neutral. And, well, not everybody uses it. And many only reluctantly.)

I'm thinking that perhaps there is a different way to design games. A way in which every player becomes an asset, an important part of the game. Not just of the particular instance of the game running on their computer, but of the game as a project, as a world perhaps. Especially with relation to me, its creator (not necessarily to the other players).

A way for each player to become precious again. Or at least the players who choose to fill that role. A way for them, perhaps, to make their mark on the world, a mark that says "I enjoy this. I make it part of who I am." I don't necessarily need to know who they are. Only what they choose to be within the world of the game. I need to know that they are human. And that they understand and appreciate the work I have made. I want to know that a bond has been forged.

I don't want fan videos on YouTube, or fan drawings on DeviantArt, or Likes on Facebook or Retweets or Reblogs. That's all nice and flattering. But it's so empty, so facelees. And it turns people into numbers. And then I find myself only caring about the numbers. We have over 3000 followers today. Hooray! Do I know who they are? No. And I don't even care. It's sad. I don't care because I don't know them. Or at least I don't know what my work means to them. Why they are here. It's vicious.

I want to make art for people. For people that I can have sympathy for, and feel a bond with.

Not just for my ego. But to feel more motivated as a creator. Numbers don't motivate me. In fact, they scare me. There can never be enough fans/likers/followers and yet they always seem too numerous. I guess mobs frighten me. Even friendly mobs. I want to be able to release a piece and know that it will make some people feel, and think, and understand, and connect.

And I want to know that this feeling and thinking and understanding and connecting is happening. And I want to get to know this through the piece itself. If only I could record people's emotional responses, collect their tears and make them part of the game. Not as some kind of statistic. But individual. Real.

And then, maybe, when we can all be ourselves, people, not numbers, we can build something together, celebrate, as a community, a village, a "we". We don't need the masses, we don't need high numbers of fans/sales/whatever. We need to be with the ones we love, the ones who love us. To embrace life as we find it, together, knowing that what we have in common is strong.

Even if I could make a single game that provides such a platform.

Actually, The Endless Forest comes close. Because of performance limitations in the client, we do not want the number of players to grow. The game would become too slow. There is a constant coming and going of players, but the total amount of regular players remains the same. That's a great way to stop caring about numbers. The problem with The Endless Forest is that many players are children. And I'm not looking to forge bonds with children. I love them, they're adorable. But they can't satisfy my emotional needs as an adult. Maybe, however, it is possible to create a game like this for grown-ups.

Maybe I'm just being silly weak. And I should be strong and stoic and just continue The Work.

But to make a game that can only have a limited amount of players sounds very attractive.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2012, 01:11:47 pm by Michaël Samyn »
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