by Lindsey Bieda
I, like most Americans at this point, grew up playing video games. The ESA released a demographics report in 2014 that noted that women and men have almost reached parity as far as video game players go. However, an IDGA survey from the same year noted that women only make up 22% of video game developers. So my practice of building games as a hobbyist is statistically unlikely. I always saw games more as a visual and interactive art (which, by the way, has way more women).
Art has always been really important to me. My sketchbook has been my best friend since I was in 4th grade. My teacher gave each of us a sketchbook that year, and my mind opened up. I was always a struggling student, but once I was able to put down the material in drawings and doodles, my brain was able to process it. I was finally able to pay attention and retain information. I was never the best artist, but it really helped me process the world around me. While I don’t lean on my sketchbook as heavily as I did as a student anymore I still find huge value in creating art.
When I was first getting into computers I would always try and create cool images and move my art into the digital realm. I could write simple text C programs. I could build websites. I wanted to create graphics on the screen, but at my young age it was pretty hard to find anything I could understand.
Things took an interesting turn one Christmas when I received The Sims. The Sims was a game made to simulate real lives with the people getting jobs and getting frustrated as they burned their kitchen down trying to make breakfast. Naturally, I wanted to create someone that looked more like myself in the game. I had no idea how easy it was to create and modify my own content in the game until I started looking it up, and it was like an entirely new world opened up for me–just clicking and dragging files around and modifying them in pirated graphics software.
It wouldn’t be until college that I finally learned how to use OpenGL and started creating my own little games. In fact, if you went around my undergrad computer science department and asked each of the students there why they went into CS, many of them would say that they wanted to make games. Though, when it came time for me to take the game design class, there were only nine of us.
I made a number of games while at college. Many of them were small games that were completed in 24 hours without sleep, during competitions we held as undergrads. Others were started, but never completely finished, as I tried to hone my craft. I had a bunch of half formed ideas or really terrible placeholder art. My sound effects were often recordings of my friends shouting words into the microphone. I built games to build games, but I never could quite feel passionate enough about what I was building to put in the effort to actually finish. I would quickly run out of steam and just stop caring about what I was working on.
A few years ago I decided to start learning Lua and try building games with LÖVE. The name doesn’t feel coincidental at all, as it was the first time I played with a framework for building games that I truly enjoyed. LÖVE was the first game library that I played with that managed to find a balance between doing enough and not doing too much to make it useful. Its documentation is extremely useful, and the site just invokes happiness with its pastel colors, adorable illustrations, and hearts.
I tinkered with it a bit, again without coming up with anything really substantial, until one lonely snowy day I decided to sit down and code something. I had moved away from a city I had lived in for nine years and didn’t have a friend to turn to. At the time, I was feeling completely isolated, as I was stuck in a suburban area as a nondriver. When I sat down to write a game that day I let my melancholy feelings drive the creative process, something I had never done in the past. It felt like a completely intimate process of creating a game where I was putting so much of myself into it. I ended up creating As The Crow Flies, which was the first game that I’ve released to the public (after much encouragement from friends). It is not a perfect game, nor really spectacular gameplay-wise, but the process of its creation was super important to opening up my game design approach.
My formal approach to programming had always been very top down. I would decide what I wanted to build, what features it needed to have, and build each of those pieces to completion. It was all very structured and didn’t allow for much playing with how I approached each feature. I might add more features or remove some, but each piece was planned from start to end. Allowing coding to take on more of a creative process, I was able to allow my games to grow organically.
Just like being handed my first sketchbook, working on that game in a free form manner allowed me to tap into the aesthetics of the game and focus on creating something that was, in very many ways, exposing my emotional state at the moment of making it. It wasn’t finished in that single day, but the core idea had become clear to me through the process of playing and modifying the code to get just the right feeling, like slowly layering new colors of paint down. I had finally figured out how to make something I could actually take to completion, and it would dictate how I approached future works.
I had taken a lot of art classes growing up, both in actually making art as well as appreciating it, and I grew up with a fairly large fondness for surrealism. I jokingly suggested one day that I would make a tea-making simulator game, and eventually decided that I could actually make it. I tried to let the game take me where it would, and I ended up adding more and more surrealistic elements to the game. Ultimately I ended up reducing some to keep it from being an entirely unapproachable game, but they’re still there. Some have even commented on it calling it a horror game, a genre that seems to use surrealism without any misgivings. I was working on the game almost every single day for over a month to get it to completion. Cuppa Tea ended up being probably the most satisfying game I have completed, both from an artistic and emotional perspective.
I’d love to explore more how we can approach games with similar techniques and styles to painting. How we can mix the two mediums and push both genres beyond what they are often thought of as being. How we can take the tools that make it increasingly easier to make games and put them into the hands of artists that have only previously worked in traditional media. If we can shift the approach of games, we might be able to see the game makers themselves finally look more like the same group of people who are actually playing and consuming the games that are made.
Lindsey is a software engineer and a hobbyist game developer.