Fearing the hipster developer
Gamers – that is to say hardcore fans of traditional games who participate in community behaviours online, rather than those who would include games on a list of many preferred activities – have not been known to tolerate culture changes well.
It seems like only yesterday we witnessed them get up in arms over a perceived invasion of ‘casual’ gamers, or resisting the DLC and microtransaction age. And it was even quite recently that a clutch of them undertook a jawdropping campaign of harassment against one of BioWare’s story-writing female employees for expressing her gaming preferences.
It happens no matter what age we’re in: this group, accustomed to being marginalised as ‘geeks’, wants to keep its club pristine. Fans of computers, science fiction, fantasy and such have never been seen as ‘the cool kids’. They had to develop their own society with its own laws in order to feel safe and empowered. Now here we are in the democratic Internet age, an info-overloaded digital world where anybody and everybody gets access to everything and anything, and the boundaries of a secret world get harder and harder to draw.
What’s funny, though, is that the culture of game development is experiencing a sea change, and communities of industry veterans seem as resistant to this culture shift as a gamer might be to finding out that their mum plays the same iPhone games they do.
I can tell because we’re having that stupid hipster conversation on Twitter, in bars and on blogs. Although the hipster conversation has been going on in music, in literature and in the visual art world forever, games haven’t really been known to consider it till now.
What I mean by ‘hipster conversation’ is that inevitable and largely fruitless ‘What is a hipster?’ discussion – you know, the one that surfaces after people have been calling other people hipsters. For most intents and purposes, the hipster is supposedly that aloof young person who believes his or her taste to be superior to others. By advanced definition, it’s a person more concerned with swathing themselves in symbols that will identify them as ‘cool’ than with the substance and nature of what the symbols represent.
Although the concept of a hipster is purportedly about values, you can apparently identify one by looking. Under this definition, the hipster gets closely correlated with the culture of ‘cool’ neighbourhoods in ‘important’ cities – New York’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or San Francisco’s Mission district, for example. They supposedly wear plaid, ride fixed-gear bikes, have beards and thick glasses, and colonise the service industry with ‘trendy’ boredom while they toil insistently at some creative dream rather than at some vast career.
Hipster is a concept that probably doesn’t exist. Sure, there are tons of people out there who think they are cooler than you are, or who are ignorant about whatever it is they’re being snobby about. But you can’t identify them by their fashion choices, or by whether or not they have tattoos and ride bikes, or whatever. They’re everywhere. It has nothing to do with youth or coolness – perceived or otherwise.
What’s weird is that I heard the word loads at this year’s GDC. I read it in people’s tweets about parties and I heard it in discussions about young people’s work. Even within the context of well-intentioned and positive discussion, I realised that veterans of the game development community feel their field is being taken over by young hipsters.
There’s a documentary in Sundance about being an indie game designer. It’s becoming a rebellious art form, even an attractive thing to do. The result of all of this new creative blood – people who would have just gone and been some other kind of artist a generation ago – is that games are getting more interesting. This year’s Independent Games Festival saw more entrants than ever, and a higher quality bar, and it’s just going to keep getting higher. We can all agree that’s good for everyone, right?
Yes, more diversity in design forms, more creativity, and more experimentation is obviously healthy for our medium, particularly in a long console cycle where traditional retail avenues are bearing diminishing fruits. And the unintentional side effect is that games are cool now. Isn’t that what so many of you wished for back when you were kids?
Why, then, this weird and judgmental resentment toward this industry’s influx of new blood? Is it so bad if fashionable young people are bringing a shot of creative weirdness to our space? These aren’t aloof cultural vampires we’re talking about; quite the opposite. No one here is a hipster. When I hear people calling other people hipsters, I think those people probably feel threatened or worried about their own relevance. I think they fear not being ‘with it’ any more.
And if that’s how the hipster fingerpointers actually feel, then rather than being judgmental, it’s probably a better expenditure of their energy to look at the work of the new cultures that are coming to the design table, and the new audiences that are springing up to receive that work. Change is hard, but it’s inevitable. It’s even good, if you can believe that. Stay ‘with it’.