In this week’s installment of people shouting at one another for very little reason, YouTuber TotalBiscuit got himself into trouble over this tweet, published December 23:
I should check out this new version of Twine. The idea of being able to make a game of sorts without any talent or skills is tempting.
— TotalBiscuit (@Totalbiscuit) December 23, 2014
For those of you who aren’t aware, Twine is a platform not dissimilar to Ren’py and other simple, visual scripting programs which allow interactive stories to be created in a browser. What it seems like TotalBiscuit was trying to say was that it was tempting to be able to make a game without needing any coding talent or skill. Of course, this doesn’t come across terribly well in a very short form medium like Twitter, and he’s duly been jumped on by some. I suspect many people saw it as another shot in that rather annoying and endless debate about what is and isn’t a game, with the interpretation of his comments that he was mocking interactive fiction or saying people who make them are in general talentless.
I’m not quite sure that that is what was meant, nor am I certain that yelling at him is the best response if he was. But once you’ve all calmed down (I mean really, it’s Christmas – no need to get so angry) let’s split this article into two parts, beginning with the hypothesis that he was making fun of Twine.
Part 1: Bawling at Twine
Every medium occasionally goes through the phase where the widening of the creative franchise is seen by some as heralding its death. The invention of home word processing, the widespread acquisition of cameras and the ability for anyone to create videos were all seen as taking creative ability away from experts who knew what they were doing, and flooding the market with chaff. And it’s undeniable that there is chaff – a cursory glance at YouTube, DeviantArt or the Kindle Store can illustrate as much – but on the whole, widening the pie means that even if the slice considered artistic or worthwhile is shrunk as a proportion, it is bigger numerically. So it is with Twine. There may only be a few games which emerge from it smelling of roses and many more which grate, frustrate or bewilder prospective players. But to dismiss a creative format on the basis of its ease of use presaging poor quality is both patronising and damages the prospect of progress.
More practically, if nobody is allowed to play the game, they necessarily cannot improve. Like chicks leaving the nest, emerging creators and programmers need to understand story flow, pacing and how best to structure decision making for a player. The self-confidence gained from actually having made a game – even a short, simple interactive story – may spur them on to greater and more ambitious things, including learning traditional programming techniques. Every prospective designer put off by any public running down of a medium is a loss to the industry, and equals dozens of wonderful ideas that now may never be explored. As every sharpshooter needed to get their eye in, so every creative may take a few strokes of the brush before they create true beauty.
At this point I’d like to move on to the second part of our article, and proceed with the idea in our heads that TotalBiscuit wasn’t in fact mocking Twine but just making a remark which was interpreted badly.
Part 2: A Cacophony of Birdsong
Sometimes it’s possible to upset people inadvertantly. We’ve all done it at some point – a misplaced letter in a text message, a drunk Facebook post or an accidental subtweet. The permanent and public nature of the internet necessarily amplifies whatever happens, as networks of people find themselves drawn into controversy which is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. This mostly goes out to the people who were angered by TotalBiscuit, or who agreed with their outrage. It’s often very wise to clarify someone’s meaning before you fly off the handle at them. As stated earlier, it’s entirely possible – and I’d go as far as to say probable – that no harm or controversy was meant in his statement, beyond “I’d like to make a game”. Twitter is an especially important one to approach calmly and kindly. Remember that anything you send can be shared, and might not necessarily be in context or make you look like the good guy you felt at the time you sent it. Dialogue and a cool-headed exchange of ideas are the way problems are solved, something which the entire games industry would have been well advised to learn this past year.
As a wider statement, remember this. There are no monsters. There are seven billion scared hyper-evolved apes clinging to a rock flying through a void. Dividing up into unyielding, dialogue-free sides helps nobody and hinders everybody, because it shuts down the exchange of ideas. More pertinently to this storm in a teacup, it leads to people assuming ill faith of those not on what they consider their “side” with the result that they have their Christmas ruined by being yelled at on Twitter. Sometimes people accuse me of hypocrisy because I am a member of a political party and thereby come across as locked into one set of ideas – but actually, it is dialogue and discussion with friends of different viewpoints which gave my views and ideas a solid grounding because they no longer existed in a vacuum. An echo chamber is a useless thing, as is an unthinking cacophony – the only way forward is respectful dialogue and constant testing and evaluation of views.
I don’t normally set homework, but here I think it’s important that we come away from this mini-scandal with something positive to show for it. I’d like you all to go onto Twitter right now. Find someone out there with whom you disagree vehemently on an issue to do with video games, and follow them. Don’t tweet them, don’t yell at them, but read the things they publish and then use it to assess your own ideas and make sure they still add up. If everyone did that, I think we might have a kinder, more intelligent level of political and video gaming debate in this world.