The World Without Games

I Will Survive


“If you were legally enjoined from creating games, what would you do instead?”

The Escapist asked this question of many professional game designers in both electronic and tabletop paper-and-dice gaming. Their answers fell into several broad categories.

Good Citizens
(1) Appeal!
(2) Retire and play games.
Steve Jackson

If I couldn’t work on games, I’d probably teach young aspiring game developers. I’ve lectured at DigiPen and Full Sail, and really enjoyed my time with their students. I also might work on non-game software, but I tried quitting the game industry once, and that didn’t last. Teaching would probably be the right answer.
Ellen Guon Beeman

In my case, I’m a designer, writer and web monkey, so I guess I’d design web pages and write books.
Hal Barwood

I also write rulebooks for sports. Between that and coaching (creating new plays), I imagine I wouldn’t end up in a bell tower too soon.
Larry D. Hols, freelance paper game designer

If I hadn’t become a game developer, I probably would have become a plumber. My father, grandfather and even great-grandfather were all plumbers. In many ways my work is similar to that of my dad. Plumbing and programming are both about logic and working solutions. They both have complicated innards, and a polished presentation to the end user. Maybe I’ll come full-circle one day when I finally get around to writing that little game I’ve been thinking about. Called “Hammerhead Jack,” it will star a bullish little plumber blasting through walls, laying pipe.
– Tom Gilleland, BeachWare

Turn to drugs, live on the street and sell myself cheaply to get by.
– Mike Kasprzak, sykhronics entertainment

Subvert from Within
That’s easy. I would become a lawyer.
– John Ebbert, Arkadium, Inc.

I’d play music in seedy bars, and write, and maybe draw cartoons. All the while, I’d secretly develop games, passing them around on illicit CD-Rs, always tempting fate. Sprites would be traded in back alleys with other like-minded ludotraffickers, and I’d be looking up algorithms on a loose network of pirate BBSes that would go up and down. Eventually, my counterculture existence would attract attention, and depending on how the roll of the dice goes, I’d end up raided by the FBI, a martyr to the movement, and a cause celebre; or I’d be vanished, to work for the NSA providing military-grade puzzle games to keep the troops amused.

Or maybe I’d be an accountant.
Raph Koster, Sony Online Entertainment

I’d stop designing games immediately. Then, I’d proceed to start designing, pastimes, sports, challenges, puzzles, contests, interactive activities, simulations, abstractions, etc.
Jeff Siadek, Battlestations board game designer

Given how such prohibitions often increase the demand and the prices paid for the illicit materials, I’d set myself up as the Al Capone of the gaming industry, supplying that demand through black market means. I’d ruthlessly wipe out rivals who tried to smuggle in Canadian games.
Matt Forbeck, writer/paper game designer

A) I’d write fiction about my game worlds, or
B) I’d move to someplace where I could create them legally, or failing that C) Do it over the internet via anonymous means, or
D) Found the militant National Roleplayers Association, or NRA (“You can have my dice when you pry them from my cold, dead hands…”)
– Greg Porter, Blacksburg Tactical Research Center

I’d probably teach. One of the tremendous benefits of gaming is its ability to engage and educate its audience (often subtly and incrementally). So, if some entity were brazen enough to prohibit us from constructing this generation’s greatest new medium, I would translate my game development experience into immersive “lesson plans.” These exercises would teach the intended curriculum, but they would also encourage children to explore their worlds, to challenge their preconceptions, and to “think outside of the box” so that, in the end, they may still create new worlds of their own … and make the one we live in a far more interesting place.
– Jamie Carlson, Sonalysts Combat Simulations

I would begin a high-profile game project in an attempt to get arrested, make a giant splash in the news, and begin the process of overturning the law.
Sandy Petersen, Ensemble Studios

Create a political modeling system where individual politicians are “tested” by simulation on their policy decisions to model their effect on things like economy, freedom, health and education. This rating would then be attached like a tag to every statement by every politician so that their quality/competence could be judged immediately by the eBay generation.

A variant would extend to lobbyists and lawyers …
– Andrew McLennan, Slam Games Limited

Get Out
– Daniel Kinney, Solari Studios

Well, I’m already an expat, but if developing games were illegal where I lived [Thailand], I’d move somewhere else. If games were illegal where most games are sold and the legal market was wrecked, then I guess I’d become super-rich, since as we all know, the main benefit of any contraband is that prices go way up! And I’d be all over that black market. “Psst… hey you… wanna match three? Swap jewels? Psst! Yeah, you… 50 dolla…”
– Steve Verreault, Twilight Games

Pay No Attention
Make games. Just try to stop me.
Who cares?
– James C. Smith, Reflexive Entertainment

Write, paint, draw, make music, make movies … all the forms of creative expression that go into a game besides actual game making! But since I can’t make a living with my skills in those areas, I’d also flip burgers. But secretly at night I’d join James’ underground indie cabal.
– Mike Hommel, Hamumu Software

Put it this way: If the government suddenly made selling games illegal, and anyone caught selling games would be summarily executed by beheading with a large traditional katana, I would still be making games – just giving them away for free.
– Dan MacDonald, Rainfall Studios

Write and run more RPG scenarios.
Write more fanfic.
And, of course, make games anyway, just more quietly.
– Georgina Bensley, Hanako Games

I’d do the same thing I do because I’m legally enjoined from smoking pot – I’d create games illegally.
Steve Meretzky, Floodgate Entertainment

+5 Interesting
I would build another exciting and fun business: a trading company selling high-density polypropylene plastic T-shirt bags to mom-and-pop grocery stores.
– Steven Zhao, Blue Tea Games

I’d invest heavily in law enforcement equipment and arms trading. When all the psychos who currently use videogames as an outlet for their murderous impulses no longer have games, there’ll be nothing left for them but the real thing. I’d step up to be the principal arms supplier to both the police and the rocket whores.
– Darren Pye, Vorax Games

I’d start a high-end sex party business near a major city (LA, Chicago, Houston, or NYC). It would offer anonymity via cloth masks and would be very expensive. It’s a way to watch the rich play their games and take away a lot of money in the process. Who knows? Maybe I’d take a week off and participate sometime. That’s what the masks are for!
Don Perrin

Stick it to the Man! Power to the People!
I’m not really sure. Try to take over the world for real, I guess.
– Dustin Sacks, Sillysoft Games

There’s plenty of other creative things I would happily do, so I’d probably do them instead. Except I wouldn’t. Because if games were illegal, I’d have to make illegal games, just on principle. Take my s*** underground, yo.

Hey, it might even be better that way.
– Anthony Flack, Squashy Software

I hope I would have abandoned such a silly enterprise as making games to participate in the struggle against evil, well before such an injunction appeared.
– Mike Bennighof, Avalanche Press

I would suddenly find myself involved in a very individual war. It’d be Me vs. Them, and I’d hate to be Them. If I’m not allowed to create my own worlds, then the next available world for sculpting as I see fit is the one they inhabit. Is that what they want? To set a game designer loose upon the comfortable and familiar fabric of real life? They wouldn’t be so bold …
– Tim Scheiman, Indie Madness

If I were legally prevented from making games, I would probably foment revolution a bit more intently than I do now, due to my current lack of free time.
– Matthew Ford, Auran

I would dedicate my life to overthrowing the government, destroying corporations and writing evil viruses. The fact that I have moved to Bulgaria may help me in this endeavor.
– Julian Gollop, Codo Technologies (Sofia, Bulgaria)

It’s a ludicrous supposition. The “anti-game activists” aren’t trying to ban games entirely… they’re just trying to ban the games they don’t like (or at least criminalize the sale of such games to minors).

A far more interesting question would be, What are you, dear game developer, doing to prevent further constraints on your creative freedom? Do you write letters to the editor, your congressmen, the IGDA, ESA, ESRB, etc., expressing your views? Do you vote for candidates who support freedom of expression in all media? Have you considered running for office yourself? How about a game industry PAC doing what every other big industry does: make contributions to those politicians willing to let you write the legislation that benefits your industry. That’s a strategy that seems to work pretty well.

Playing games is older, deeper and more fundamental to human nature than storytelling, and I am confident games will endure.
David Wessman, Backbone Entertainment

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay, and Looking Glass.

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