I enjoy working with my hands. Whether it’s in the garden, the woodshop or on my car, there’s just something intrinsically satisfying about using sweat and tools to make something different than it was when I found it (hopefully for the better), and as much time as I spend playing games, it’s nice sometimes to interact with real-world challenges. I guess it’s my way of reconnecting with the physical world after having gotten lost in the digital.
Yet as capable as I have fooled myself into thinking I am, there are some challenges greater than my abilities. I will never build an amusement park, for example, or a railroad across an entire continent. I have built houses, but I will never build one on top of a mountain, made from obsidian. I have tended a garden, but I have never built a tobacco plantation. And although I have and may again make movies, I will probably never make one starring aliens, set in a videogame.
Videogames, as suits their roles as fertile fantasy grounds for escaping from the ordinary, provide more than passive enjoyment. They can also provide a means for creation far surpassing the opportunities of our natural world. Anything you can imagine can be created in a game, and the fact that it isn’t real takes nothing away from the benefit of the mental exercise. I may not be able to live in any of my Minecraft castles, for example, but the experienced gained from going through the mental motions may serve me later on, when it’s time to build that shed in the yard, or add a room to the house.
Even in smaller ways, the art of creation can be of benefit. I spent the spring of 1998 writing a play, for example, and when I got stuck, I’d take a break to build my civilization in the game of the same name. Something about the strategic nature of that game exercised the parts of my mind that were juggling characters and plotlines, while relaxing the other part that was jamming up the works with its exhaustion. I almost always found that after a few hours of Civ, my questions would be answered and the way forward clear.
All that aside, making things is just plain fun, and a game that can allow you to do so in entertaining and engaging ways is going to eat a lot of your time, whether or not you get any tangible benefit. Because sometimes a hand-rolled, mountain-grown digital cigar is just a piece of game art.
This week we celebrate the fine art of creating things in games with Issue 311 of Escapist Magazine. Tracey John profiles LittleBigPlanet super-fan-turned-dev John Beech, Nick Jewell walks us through the process of making a mod and Andrew Ryan shines a light on the path to becoming a designer of actual games. Enjoy!