A Tetris dress. A pair of Grim Fandango-themed shoes. Hearthstone pillows. We’ve all stumbled into curiosities like these on the internet before. We pass them around, post them on Facebook and Twitter and then move on, for the most part. But while most of us keep our crafting confined to our game world of choice, there’s a growing trend for people to break through the pixelated wall and create videogame-related crafts off-screen. If you’ve ever wished you were that talented and wondered how (and why) they do it, you’re not alone.
Some of these creators are life-long crafters and gamers, such as Charlene Gey. “I started making art as soon as I could in life. I’ve always done it,” she says. Her work, which includes Perler bead Zelda coasters and framed Pac-Man cross-stitch has a definite retro flavor, and so does her taste in games. “I started with an old-school Sega Genesis, so I’m partial to Sonic; it’s what my sister and I always played. Street Fighter, Beavis & Butthead, Crackdown, and Tetris-like games are also old favorites,” she says, along with Mortal Kombat, Pac-Man and Mario Kart. A self-professed artistic jack-of-all-trades, Charlene cites fabric as her medium of choice, although she’s learning how to work with metal and glass.
North Carolina resident Nikki S. (known primarily by her preferred nickname, “Nelia”) has been a artist since youth, but is also a recent convert to geek crafting. “I began sculpting a year ago due to my own love for gaming,” she says. Inspired by one of her favorite games, Silent Hill, she purchased some Sculpey (a clay-like substance) and went to work. “I began making little ‘items’ from the games, and it just went from there.” Nelia’s Silent Hill charms took off instantly and led to the creation of her shop, Ordinary Vanity, on Etsy. “A friend suggested I start selling them, and as more people became interested, the variety in my shop grew,” she says.
Gey, too, decided to sell her wares on Etsy by forming Argenta Collaborative with a friend in early 2009. “The art sales have been relatively recent in the scheme of things,” she says. “The selling experience was a little slow to start, but I’d say overall that it’s worked to our favor.” During the first week of December, the shop broke its year-end sales goal, and earlier that fall it was featured in the ’80s themed “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” roundup on Etsy’s official blog, The Storque.
Nelia and Gey’s commercial efforts raise an obvious question: Is it even legal to profit from another company’s IP? Gey reports Argenta Collaborative hasn’t run into any difficulties with the copyright police yet. “Nintendo is really lax with the whole idea of letting crafters make accessories for them. They’re a cultural icon, and they know we’re not trying to steal their thunder, but celebrate their gifts to us.”
For its part, online craft marketplace Etsy takes a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to enforcing copyright. Etsy’s Adam Brown notes the policy is due to the open nature of the site, where it is impossible to know beforehand what items will appear in each individual shop. Occasionally complaints do occur, and at that point a representative from Etsy contacts the seller to address the situation. “It doesn’t happen as much with videogames,” Brown observes. “From what I’ve heard, Nintendo is really into fan art. They see it as an addition to the game ‘culture.'”
Although some companies look the other way, not all game publishers are friendly to commercial fan art, handcrafted or otherwise. One company that has been cracking down noticeably on community profiteering is Blizzard. “We are constantly amazed by the level of artistic talent our players exhibit,” says Public Relations Coordinator Kacy Dishon. “When it comes to projects like these, Blizzard Entertainment does reserve the right to control the commercial use of our products, characters, trademarks, etc. We do encourage and provide ways for our players to share their creativity with the world via our various contests through the year.”
Unfortunately, company approval remains a grey area for individual crafters, and not everyone has been so fortunate as to escape notice, even from companies who are theoretically sympathetic toward fan efforts. “I had over a half a dozen Pokemon listings that were removed when the U.S. licensing head sent Etsy an email and demanded they be removed,” Nelia says. Like most crafters, she took it in stride. “It didn’t cost me anything, I wasn’t sued, and it’s not really that big of a deal,” she says. Pokemon themed items are still available on Etsy, but the number of listings is small. It appears you can stop sales, but you can’t put a cease and desist on creativity.
In the meantime, videogame crafting overall is on the rise. According to Brown, the number of Etsy listings with the tag “video game” (and several close variants) increased by 87 percent in 2009 – and those are just the items up for sale. It’s rare a week goes by that I don’t see a new “handmade” game-related craft making the rounds across blogs and social media sites. “There’s a really high demand for one-of-a-kind geek crafts, and if you find that little ‘niche,’ you’ll find others who love geekery just as much as you do,” Nelia says.
One place that celebrates this rapidly growing subculture is Geek Crafts. Columnist Renee Asher says that she’s consistently stunned by videogame crafters’ creativity. “My favorite is easily the Pac-Man Source Code illustration done by artist Ben Fry,” she says. Celebrating two years of documenting the best game-related curios, the videogaming category is currently as popular as movies on Geek Crafts. “There aren’t many people out there as dedicated to their hobbies as geeks and crafters,” notes Asher. “There is so much great stuff out there.”
Other communities stay specific to individual games rather than geek crafts as a whole. World of WarCrafts, for example, features the amateur handiwork of fans of Blizzard’s MMOG. Columnist Lisa Poisso cites the community’s enthusiasm as the key factor that keeps her (and fellow geek crafting aficionados) intrigued. “It’s easy to get excited about some of the more polished submissions we’ve received,” she says. “I’m equally interested in the efforts of fans that are so enthralled with WoW that it spills over into something totally new or something they’re not so perfect at executing. It’s all about the love and the energy.”
Crafting is contagious, and fortunately for those with even a tiny bit of skill, other people have done the hard work for them by making their geeky patterns available to the public. After seeing an adorable stuffed Day of the Tentacle figure, Amy Burgoyne created a couple herself and eventually released her Amigurumi pattern for others to use. Videogame crafting isn’t just decorative – it can also be practical. This functional Magnetic Katamari can help find your wayward keys lost in the haze of an all night gaming session, and this Mega Man helmet and pair of Mario wrist warmers undoubtedly provide frost resistance from the winter chill. With a bit of modeling clay and practice, it’s even possible to go from painting miniatures to crafting your own.
“I think everyone starts out with some amount of artistic inclination as a child, but so many lose interest in it as they get older,” says Gey. “The handmade world is not Wal-Mart … it is not immediate, and it is worth waiting for.”
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead, put down the game for a bit and pick up that paintbrush or those knitting needles to create your own game-related craft (or throw your points into Charisma and get someone to make something for you). However you roll, your loot is guaranteed to be unique.
Nova Barlow has a non-digital crafty side she levels up in when she isn’t writing about the creative side of gamers.