You may not have heard of Anna Anthropy, but she’s made a big stir in the world of small videogames, where lone auteurs are pushing the limits of video games. Her range of work is broad enough to include an autobiographical game about her experience with hormone therapy, and a satirical revamp of an old-school shoot-em-up she called Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars. Now Seven Stories adds a straightforward, old-fashioned book to her portfolio, called Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amauers, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-Outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form. The Tip Sheet spoke to Anthropy over e-mail (natch) to find out what the mainstream is missing when it comes to gaming’s bleeding edge.
Career-wise and artist-wise you're primarily a video game designer. Why a book?
It was actually my editor Jeanne Thornton's idea: she felt the time was right for a book about why small, self-published games were important, and that I was the person to write it. Her confidence was super flattering, but when people in the mainstream and the media talk about video games, they talk about big publishers, big budgets, blockbuster successes. That's not what video games are—or, rather, it's ONE of the things video games are. But they're also these small, interesting, personal experiences by hobbyist authors. People don't talk about that aspect of games enough—Zinesters exists to be a kind of ambassador for that idea of what video games can be.
For those whose experience with video games starts at Pac-Man and ends at, say, Tetris, can you explain the significance of the “zine” game model?
The video game industry is an absurd money-maker—it generates more money than Hollywood, last time i checked. When a game requires a multi-million dollar budget to be made, it has to sell millions in order to make a profit. As a result, game publishers are only interested in making games in established models that have already proven successful. In doing so, they cultivate an audience that expects—and demands—the same kind of games they've already seen, and a body of work that's almost entirely monolithic.
Publishing costs lots of money—it's next to impossible to get games on shelves without producers and marketers, who will always clamor for a more conservative product. But the existence of the internet and game-making tools for non-programmers has given THE LAY PERSON a tremendous avenue for self-publishing. These game zines—small, non-commercial, self-distributed games—aren't beholden to publishers or traditional commercial audiences. Game zinesters are free to make games however and about whatever subjects they want. That means that they have tremendous potential to make the monolithic perspective of video games far more diverse and more reflective of the diversity of human experience.
Who out there is doing the most successful at pushing video game narrative toward the literary?
I think Stephen Lavelle is doing a great job of making games that are the equivalent of short stories or, in some cases, prose poems—games that are succinct, that star a single strong idea or image. C.E.J. Pacian, who in fact writes mostly text-only games, has been doing a really good job of rescuing traditional "text adventures" from being about confusing puzzles and scavenger hunts and transforming them into real interactive short stories.
Do you expect video games to surpass books in any of the genres where it currently dominates—say, lit fic, character study, memoir, biography, history, romance?
I don't think video games have to replace books, or any other form. they're not competing: games are well-suited for certain things, the written word is well-suited for others, film is suited for entirely different things. Because they're made of rules the player actually engages with, games are especially suited to exploring systems and dynamics. That's why I made a game about my experiences with hormone therapy: it was an experience characterized by frustration, and games give me the ability to actually make my audience experience that frustration. But there are a million different ways to tell that story, and a different artist will pick the form that best fits her vision.
Bonus round: Gabe Habash looks at a new video game "all book lovers should play."