Nagademo is National Game Development Month. It alleges to be styled around the spirit of National Novel Writing Month.
I think National Game Development Month is a good idea.
I think that as it stands, right now, National Game Development Month (NaGaDeMo) is not in the same spirit of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) nor is it close. It is exclusive and off putting.
I don’t attribute this to malice, I attribute it to a lack of consideration. Something easily done and something easily remedied.
It is partly an issue of tone. It is partly more than an issue of tone. It’s something I find unsurprising, but also massively disappointing because I want people to make games and I believe NaGaDeMo currently only speaks to and for those who already do.
Let’s start by visiting National Novel Writing Month’s website and see what lies at the end of this particular rainbow.
“At NaNoWriMo you can:
Write a novel in a month!
Track your progress.
Get pep talks and support.
Meet fellow writers online and in person.”
Wahey, doesn’t that sound great? I *can* write a novel in a month. There’s a way for me to keep track? GREAT! People are supportive? Excellent! And there’s other people out there like me? Who just want to write a book? Amazing!
“Ready to Write a Novel? You’ve come to the right place”
EXCELLENT. I AM READY. MY LORD, TAKE MY BODY. I WISH TO WRITE.
From the about page…
“Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.”
NaNoWriMo goes to great lengths to stress that it’s inclusive, to stress it’s for everyone. From the very first second you hit the page, you know that NaNoWriMo is for you. Yes, you. Whoever you are. You the person who harboured the desire to write a book, you who just wants to see if you can or whatever. It is understandable, it is approachable, it is inviting. The message is clear: You want to write a book? COME HERE, WE’LL HELP YOU. EVERYONE IS DOING IT. NO WORRIES.
The shift in tone between the novel writing month and the game development month is stark.
“With the rise of Global Game Jam and other similar-minded events, more people are making more games than ever before. That’s fantastic! For some people, though, devoting a weekend so completely to a solid game development sprint is too much to ask. In such a compressed environment, you can lose the deeper insights that come from a game marinating in the back of your brain over time.”
Bang! Lost from the off. What are they talking about? What’s a Global Game Jam and what is it to me, who just wants to write a game? Oh, it’s for people who are already writing a game? Not me who is game curious? Oh.
Thus, in the same spirit as National Novel Writing Month, June is hereby declared as National Game Development Month. Heeding Chris Hecker’s call, there should be an emphasis on actually producing a finished game within the allotted time. “Small, but complete” is much more satisfying than “ambitious and broken
But this isn’t in the spirit of NaNoWriMo. It’s an event sharing a similar name, it’s sharing a timespan but it couldn’t possibly be further from “the spirit” of NaNoWriMo.
NaGaDeMo is about grinding a month to complete a project (something that could and has been levelled at NaNoWriMo also but…) It’s about listening to who the heck is that guy anyway and what is he to me that makes him so important that I should be heeding his call to finish a game and making it small but complete when I just want to make a game too and that’s more troubling*.
This is not about collective support, this is not about bringing people together to make something they may have only dreamed of prior, this is about finishing a game in a way someone else dictates. It’s a work ethic imposed. It’s not about the spirit of doing, it’s not about achieving something you’ve always wanted to achieve (which is a major sell of NaNoWriMo), it’s about committing yourself to someone else’s ideals. To someone else’s idea of right and wrong and what could and should be done. It’s an imposition.
This is not the spirit of National Novel Writing Month in any discernible way. This is scaring people with the time and effort required to finish. Because it’s someone else’s idea of finished.
A similar tone runs throughout the entire site. The wording is often careless, cumbersome, unintelligible to human beings who are not coders. It’s limited and limiting from the off. It isn’t encouraging. It isn’t empowering. It’s bollocks talk as only coders know how.
Go to the FAQ and there’s a definition of a game. Anyone who wants to write a game, they don’t need a definition imposing upon them as a first point of order. A small thing but needless and discouraging thing to begin with. Content wasted on vaguely technical things where it could be encouraging folks. Bore them first, eh?
This spirit of discouraging people continues when the site describes board games/card games being “second class citizens” with regards to the event.
They’re harder to share with the wider world, though, which sadly makes them kind of second-class citizens for an event like this one. But hey, who are we to stop you?
This is 2012, we have internet. There’s many ways of sharing board and card games now so they’re only second class citizens because they’ve been defined as such. Photographs, mock ups of the board, sharing the rules, sharing the cards… all these things can be done via internet so why are they second class citizens again? Because no coding? Either accept them or not but let’s have no “second class citizens”.
Then there’s the matter of “winners”. NaNoWriMo offers a certificate for those who manage to write 50,000 words over the course of the month.
“9.25) If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We’ll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November.
There are some obvious objections to 50,000 words in a month but still, it’s a fairly non judgemental metric to work towards. You can go under and you’ll still have a novel just no certificate, you can go over and you’ll probably have War & Peace: Peace Hardest or something. It’s a choice that the author gets to make, the focus remains on the “writing a novel part” though.
NaGaDeMo’s “winners” are, well, they’re more awkward.
“A finished game should have no temporary graphics or audio, a complete (even if brief) set of content, and a few rounds of testing behind it. In short, the game should be ready for someone to play without the developer standing behind them.
I know defining “finished” on a game is hard given most get filed under “thrown out into the world” but y’know, you’re defining what it should contain in a more concrete, less abstract way than the arbitrary length that NaNoWriMo brings. What if I want to make a game I have to be standing behind someone to play? WHY ARE YOU OPPRESSING ME?
I suspect that in the case of games and in the face of the difficulty in defining an acceptable “amount of finished”, it’d likely be wiser to lose the idea of winners entirely or expand the concept to anyone who finishes a game, this is something that should be celebrated. Finishing a game is an achievement all by itself and worthy of celebration.
The resources page is even less inviting. Opening with an inspiration section that includes Eno’s Oblique Strategies, a set of cards designed to “jog the mind” makes you wonder who this is aimed at. By putting Oblique Strategies up front, by suggesting a shonky web version of a £30 set of cards by an ambient musician is the first place you might want to be looking for inspiration rather than, say, suggesting that nothing is out of bounds (something done wonderfully in Chapter 6 p137-p139 of Anna’s Rise Of The Videogame Zinesters which comes heartily recommended from me)… well, yeah. That’s weird, right?
And it gets more strange when you consider the tutorials.
Imagine confronting someone who just wants to write a book with an entire tutorial on how to write like James Joyce.
That’s NeHe Open GL Tutorials. Git Basics? What? “Catch The Clown” in Gamemaker is vastly more use to people than any of those. A short guide on level editing VVVVVV would offer more insight into useful design as would a guide to the Knytt Stories editor. If someone has but a month to write a game and they’re not a coder, an OpenGL tutorial in bollocksese and a tutorial on source control (more bollocksese) is massively uninviting and impractical. It does little to empower the wannabe game maker and far more to send the message that coding is full of hard things and bullshit. Great.
That’s sure to hook people in.
Is NaGaDeMo about making a game in a month or learning to code and following someone’s idea of best practices? The two things don’t have to go hand in hand, this is 2012. We have technology. If this is truly about writing a game in a month, then let’s make it so.
Let’s not have segments that could be used to help people who want to get a game out of their head wasted on bullshit. Why not tell people the tools in order of skill required, show them that they can just grab Twine to explore the details of a story, tell them that if their computer can support it, Klik And Play is an entry point, tell them GM can be done mainly with drag and drop with little or no code required. Tell them useful information, relevant to the reader, the reader who wants to make a game who like most people on the planet, does not understand a word of the bollocksese that coders speak.
NaGaDeMo has the potential to be a great thing. To bring people in who might not make games prior, to be an event that’s more open and accepting than even Glorious Trainwrecks. That shares some of the soul of what it dearly wants to call its spiritual cousin. But that will never be whilst it talks coder. Whilst it discusses terms of writing games as laid down by a coder. Whilst it subscribes to someone else’s idea of what a game should be and whilst it is little more than “a game jam that’s a month instead of a weekend so you can finish up your stuff and not rush, fellow game jammers”.
And I hope that it will be that great thing. Because that’d be really great. A yearly recognised time when people can gather round and make games, even if they’ve never made one before? To be encouraged and to have that encouragement as an integral part of what NaGaDeMo is? To speak to them in human not coder terms? And to help them get those ideas from head to screen? That’d be amazing.
For that to happen though, it has to stop imposing someone else’s idea of what a game should be and it has to talk to people as people and not just talk to coders as coders. It has to be accepting. Right now, it’s a long, long way from that. But it’s not too late to turn it around. And that’s why I’m putting this here, to ask them to consider changing the tone and the intent and to implore them to understand that right now, they’re so far from the spirit of NaNoWriMo, it’s disappointing. And it doesn’t have to be like this. It can change.
Hopefully, one day, the front page will be able to proudly proclaim, in the style of NaNoWriMo
“Ready to Write a Game? You’ve come to the right place
And all will be well in the world.
*obviously I know who Chris Hecker is and I’m fine with his opinion. But that’s an opinion that sits uneasy with the NaNoWriMo ethic.
(this is an edited and rejigged version of an email I fired across to the organisers noting my concerns)