Creating a video game is a daunting, yet rewarding task. Along with countless hours of research, design and testing, teams can spend a great deal of time putting the pieces together. And being able to walk into a place and get instant feedback on your prototype can only enhance the experience.
“I wanted to find something where I could fit in and belong and I found them online, showed up one day and never stopped coming again,” says Joe Wilson, a video game designer.
Recently at Buffalo Game Space, near the city’s downtown, enthusiasts like Wilson discussed new releases of games, put the finishing touches on a game’s animation, and jotted down the date for an upcoming electronic music class.
The Space, which began as a small group’s quest to find like-minded people, has turned into a support network for independent game designers. The group teaches workshops, offers up its facility for game gurus to create, and every so often hosts a Game Jam.
"They’re 48 hours, usually, hack-a-thons for game development. That's a chance for members to test their skills and also come up with new, interesting ideas,” says P.J. Moskal, a workshop coordinator at Buffalo Game Space.
Life’s a Game
With so many people playing video games, it is no wonder that psychologists have taken a keen interest in what makes the games so compelling. And “gamification,” a buzzword of late, has been working wonders in the workplace and classrooms for years. In the simplest terms, gamification happens when a game-like environment is introduced to drive certain behaviors.
Take the popular social media app Foursquare, for example. It’s motivated millions of users to compete with one another and collect ”badges” each time they visited a place with their mobile phone. Starbucks even piggybacked off the idea and rewarded customers with free coffee whenever they checked in via Foursquare at one of their coffee shops.
Video games have been all the rage for decades. Buffalo Game Space prides itself on being the go-to place in Upstate New York for creators who are ready to level up.
"This is probably the first time in Buffalo that we have this outlet where people can actually present their games to others and get constructive feedback,” says Moskal.
Gamification has taken over our lives, thanks to video games. The Strong in Rochester boasts one of the world’s most comprehensive collections. Stop by the museum’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) and you’ll find more than 55,000 items, including some of the most important arcade video games of all time, every major video game platform that ever existed, and a wide selection of consoles from different countries.
ICHEG Director Jon-Paul Dyson says video games have also played a crucial role in getting people to understand how society works. Still, there’s a feeling in some households that they are nothing but an evil temptation that does more bad than good.
“Video games have been part of this long story going from novels to movies to television to comic books in which people have feared this thing, then eventually accepted and embraced it. The key determinant there in making the change is simple familiarity and generational turnover.”
Gamification a Fad?
While gamification techniques do get people to change their behavior, some are critical of the trend and say the word is misused. They also say there’s been a heavy focus on the incentives, and that could be misleading.
“If you're trying to force something or get people to do something or game elements they don't want to do, it's probably not going to work,” says Dyson.
“I’m personally interested in serious games — games for training, education, health, even for social change. But it shouldn't be mistaken for reward systems. It's really all about motivating people to achieve certain goals, not pushing the rewards onto the player because of some scheme,” says Moskal.
Playing games — whether for fun or otherwise —does show that people of all ages are more than able to attain rewards, solve problems, and work towards a higher goal. But whether play is the best way to experience the world remains to be seen.
Organizers at Buffalo Game Space are always trying to take its gaming services to the next level. Moskal says he’d like the forward-thinking group to focus future efforts on diversifying the roster of developers in the area.
"We have a huge refugee community in Buffalo. I’m an immigrant myself. And it would be really great to reach out to these communities because there's a lot of potential there. People play games in every culture.”
And so far its faithful members have enjoyed having a place to let their creativity flow and fully submerge in video games without apology.
“I fell in love with the Space and I’ve been trying to do everything I can to support them,” says Joe Wilson.