We the Giants

“In everyday things the law of sacrifice takes the form of positive duty.”

– James Anthony Froude

We the Giants is a simple flash game that will not take much of your time, but I highly recommend you play it.

In fact, go play it now before reading on.

Last time I talked about how the independent scene was producing games that represented different narratives to that of the Straight White Male power fantasy. We the Giants is a really interesting example of such a game.

“A man must be sacrificed now and again To provide for the next generation of men.”

– Amy Lowell

In the game you play as a rectangular cyclops. You can move using the arrow keys and pressing the shift key affords you a view of the entire map.

So far so standard. You are asked to carry out three rituals, the first two being movement and viewing the entire level. The third is something profound.

You are asked to sacrifice yourself and leave a helping of wisdom, in the form of a short message, to provide a foundation to future generations of giants. Once you have sacrificed yourself, you can never play the game again. You can only watch the progress of future generations of players as they too sacrifice themselves in the name of progress.

This simple game speaks to something very deep within the human experience, the drive to sacrifice for the benefit of others. It may be as simple as a parent devoting their life to raising and supporting a child, or it may be a soldier sacrificing their life for the stability of their country and way of life.

It is something that even games like rogue-likes, with their permadeath, cannot touch. After all, you are still allowed to play those games, just as a new character and starting from scratch.

The power is in our hands to create games that speak to the experiences we face in daily life, or the thought experiments that we wish to bring to life. If you want to make a more “traditional” game in line with Triple A games, that is fine, too. But with the ability to have your voice published for others to experience, you can do much more if you choose.

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An off white narrative

I am not white and I will never be.

It may be something that does not come across the minds of people I have only met online, most knowing me either by a handle or by my first name. It has, however, got me thinking about an article I read a while back called Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. The article got me thinking that Straight White Male is also the default difficulty setting and the default narrative path through the game of life. Perhaps the game analogy falls down a little, but when people do not know much about you other than words on a screen, what do they picture you as? A Straight White Male or an, albeit, Straight Indian Male?

Looking to media and I can see a lot of Straight White Men being the protagonist and very few characters of differing skin colour, ethnicity, sex, gender, and any other distinction that I may have left out due to ignorance on my part. The Bechdel Test, something already much covered by much more qualified writers highlights a problem of representation in media. It is a little sad, really.

I recently picked up a copy of Anna Anthropy’s book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form, available here for Kindle, and was enthralled by the idea of video game as zine, self-published chronicles of whatever the author wishes to share with their readership. That Triple A Video Games (A quality video game expected to sell well, typically with a higher budget than budget software) cost so much to make and represent such a narrow viewpoint is disconcerting to say the least. In Hollywood you get the big blockbuster action movies, but you also get the comedies, the romance films, the dramas, and there are healthy scenes for film outside of the mainstream. Distribution may still be difficult to come by, but many films do get to see an audience.

In the Video Game space, there seems to be a rise in the popularity of indie games. Indie Game: The Movie came out last year and served as an, at times, heart rending primer on the indie development scene. Its reach was necessarily small in order to adequately profile the stories it chose to tell, but there is only so much one film can do.

In addition, sites such as Pixel Prospector, indiegames.com, indiestatik.com, and others, shine a spotlight on the indie game scene. Indie game developers are becoming Rock Stars in their own right. Jonathan Blow’s charming platformer, Braid was wildly successful. Hotline Miami, as of 12/12/2012, has sold 130, 000 copies, and is a favourite among some of the staff over at Gamespot, among other video game publications. (Hell, I bought three copies of the game myself).

The success of the indie scene is a wonderful thing to see. And branching off from this success, it would be even more amazing to see games that chronicle additional experiences to become more known to the public. We, as people other than Straight White Men (and I have nothing against Straight White Men), have something to say to the world, and the medium of video games has become increasingly open to outside perspectives. Software such as Game Maker and Constuct 2 allow those of us who are code-illiterate to create video games without the hassle of learning code.

For those of us who do know how to program, there are a multitude of solutions out there to suit our needs, from Unity to LOVE2D, UDK to even CryEngine 3 allow individuals and teams to realise their visions and release them for general consumption.

I have no idea which solution is best for me as I cannot code or script to save my life. I am currently learning Lua and Python, and am planning to experiment with LOVE2D and Pygame at some point in the future.

I have a story that I wish to tell, a view of the world that I need to allow others to see. I will no longer be content to remain silent in an age that democratises media creation.

The basic idea is of a boy of Indian origin being troubled by being the odd one out in his surroundings, wishing he were more white, and dealing with alienation and the nightmare that is early high school. It will be based on things I have experienced, though necessarily abstracted to allow for ludic engagement. It is something that bothers me to this day. Every time I gaze at myself in the mirror or in a photograph, I catch myself saying “Damnit, I am still Indian”. I am scared of getting to know people, or even attempting to find a mate because I rationalise that no one would want to know me, for I am Indian.

I forget what I am from time to time, and those are my happiest moments. I am no longer human, I am no longer male, and more importantly, I no longer have a body with a skin tone that used to make me stand out from the crowd. I am nobody, I am nothing.

It may not be healthy to feel that way, and I am hoping that this project will help me work through this issue as well as bring an experience, and maybe some understanding, to others who may not have considered what it would be like.

I may have to collaborate with someone more knowledgeable than I, but that is a necessary evil in a quest to bring about a greater good.

So far, this article may end up depressing people more than it gives them insight into the fact that someone can take up the challenge to make their voice heard. What happened to me in my past has defined how I interact with people and how I live my life, and I want to share with anyone willing to listen that even the most insignificant of actions can have far reaching consequences.

Now I could recommend that you read Anna Anthropy’s book (it is an interesting read), but that costs money, and money is not something all of us have in abundance. I’d like to suggest you pick up a free version of Stencyl or Game Maker and have your voices be heard.

We may be lost in a sea of bombastic advertising and big budget launch events, but we will be content in the knowledge that someone out there will have the option of listening to our stories if they so choose. The world will be a worse place for our inaction.