When I stated that I’d start the year nearly 365 days ago with a promise to blog about every game in the Rami Ismail-led, 350+ developer initiative that was the Meditation Games project, I had some idea of how it might go, but no clue as to how playing 365 or so little bite-sized games was going to turn out. I didn’t really know if I could keep up with a unique project that only made the games available for at most a day, or, as I can confess more readily now, if I could even accomplish doing it, especially with a self-imposed restriction of spending no more time on a post than the games experiences I was writing about (5-6 minutes). But here, at the end of the year, I am proud to say that I was able to do so, and I’m glad I decided to do it, because I learned so much more about games, about writing, and about my own style of thinking and communicating.
First, some stats. In 2019, according to WordPress:
- I wrote 142,258 words over 341 posts (I skipped games that weren’t working for the day) about Meditation Games, with an average word count of 417.
- I wrote as many as 803 words in a single post and as few as 318.
- My most wordy month was May, with 14,847 words written, and I was most reticent in July, where I only wrote 8,192.
For context, the average fiction novel in my favorite genre, sci-fi/fantasy, is apparently between 100,000 – 115,000 words. That’s some pretty interesting stuff, and aside from telling me that I probably could have spent the year writing an actual first draft of a novel, here’s a small subset (of many things) I learned from blogging about this unique and interesting gamedev project:
The diversity of the game development community is so much wider and larger than I was aware.
I have the advantage of actually working in the industry, but as with anything where you gain knowledge, there’s always something more to learn. Over the course of writing about Meditation Games, I’ve seen developers with both large and small followings, with many years or only a couple of years of experience, with projects both known and obscure under their belts. There was so much variety in the games experiences and the game developers that created them that at times it seemed dizzying. We sometimes get caught up in thinking about games studios and their employees as the companies they work for, or as giant monoliths which we attribute and often-improper label of generic “devs” to. But as I wrote about developers who I’d both knew well by name, or others I’d never heard about, and took the opportunity to look at and experience the other games they were making, I was exposed to so much more about how each of them molded game experiences and communicated and shared those experiences with others. I would have never been able to see that were I not to have blogged about the Meditation Games project.
Limiting my writing time presented a huge challenge.
The reason behind limiting my writing time to 5-6 minutes was twofold.
First, it was to reflect the experience that the games themselves were intended to elicit – you were supposed to download the game from the launcher, play it for no more than a few minutes, and then put it away. I wanted to play the games and write the posts for that long because it helped better frame the limitation that the games themselves were given to present a message, a theme, or a thought to the people playing them. It was also a good way to keep things fresh for posting, since I would typically write a post as soon as I was finished with the game. It also allowed me to match what was written with how long the developers intended on presenting the experiences. Meditation, after all, is by definition a process that doesn’t take a terribly huge amount of time and is meant to give you clear focus and mind. To do that, it needs to be short (no longer than 5-10 minutes, less if you can manage it).
Second, it was to give myself writing exercise. Much like I push myself in my regular physical workouts to build cardio and challenge my own limits, so too was writing in such short bursts of time meant as a way to exercise and stimulate my brain into putting out what was on my mind onto an (electronic) page. If I’m being honest, this had mixed results. On the one hand, I was forced to conceptualize, think about, and write about both my thoughts about playing an individual game quickly, but on the other, it was pretty apparent that many of the entries I wrote seemed to stop in the middle to my tastes, or perhaps even not meet standards of quality that I’d normally set for myself. I’ve always been a stickler for reviewing and re-reviewing posts before publish, and not being able to do that took a little getting used to. Overall, though, I feel much more confident about my ability to write off-the-cuff and quickly, and that’s not a bad thing to have in your writer’s toolbox, when it’s needed.
Because I was used to categorizing and mentally filing away games into genres, standard mechanics, and presentation of elements such as story and characters, having to write about the sheer multitude of methods that the developers in the Meditation Games project used in order to have players get the message or in some cases, come to their own conclusions about what was presented without any kind of preamble or guidance, was a bit of a jarring experience, in a good way. Over the course of the year, I operated a smartphone to take pictures of cosplayers, made a pizza, petted and comforted a dog, went on quests to gather items, experienced pain and happiness and depression and mental struggles and contentment and reflection. There were so many ways in which the developers pushed buttons and threw levers to show the players something they’d put together and stimulate thought about them that I’m sure if I went back and played them again, I’d probably learn or see something new that I hadn’t the first time. Such different experiences are things I wish we saw more of in games development, rather than the somewhat dogmatic, slightly trope-y way we see things shown in some of the most popular of games today. But considering how large the game dev community is, I have a feeling I won’t have to worry about that.
Oftentimes as someone who works in community management in games, I hear all the reasons why people believe developers make games, both correct and incorrect. But I think that more than anything, writing about the games in the Meditation Games project has confirmed for me something I already know from working a decade in the industry – that developers and everyone who works on games, from indie to AAA, from not well known to famous, from small time to big honkin’ studios, cares about and enjoys making them. Regardless of the motivation behind making and sharing such games, the people in this project, and certainly beyond it, have displayed a passion and an emotional investment in making games that invests them in continuing to make them. The future is uncertain, and there are times when you can feel as if being cynical about game development might seem to be the pervading attitude, but I do think that we can both be aware of the challenges and things that need to be fixed and overcome in the games industry but yet also appreciate the clear and present motivation and passion for making games that is apparent. The project’s developers showed this to me every day for a year, and I think players would do well to realize this even during the times that a game that a developer makes frustrates or angers them. Nobody sets out to make gamers feel unhappy or frustrated about games, and everyone who is involved in making them, whether that is QA or Community or Design or Balance or Programming or Ops or even in teams as small as one developer on their own, does everything they can to make sure the experience is both enjoyable and an expression of their investment into a project they both love, and want to share with others.
Thank you to all of you involved with the Meditations Games project for a year-long experience of game development and why you do what you do, and for sharing that with all of us.