The Durty Durham artist collective has been writing a column for the Clarion Content that allows us to share in their ground level, primary source position at the center of the Durham scene.
Here one of the co-founders of Durty Durham, the fabulous singer and Durham bon vivant, Lisa Keaton, interviews video game designer, Matthew Everhart and dishes on gaming culture in our city.
Questing to Live the Dream: a Brief Parley with Local Video Game Designer, Matthew Everhart
by: Lisa Keaton
With the advent of the returning – and now WEEKLY – Community Game Night, at the Social Gameroom & Tap, Wednesdays from 7:30 pm – 12:30am, at 1007 W. Main Street, DURTY wanted to present some broader perspectives on the whys and hows of video game production in the ever busy, ever shifting, 21st century landscape.
Who else could we go to for answers but its King Lord Organizer at-large, our affable ambassador to the many worlds of gaming, the one and only Matthew Everhart?
Of Everhart, DURTY whisperer Lauren Goodnight states, “He will listen and find out what it is that can engage you and connect you to games…he helps you find value in the time you spend engaged in games as opposed to ‘wasting time’.”
Personally, I find Ms. Goodnight’s statements cut to the core of Game Night’s popularity and the value added, to the Durham community thanks to Everhart’s idea.
It is no wonder that Everhart has such a good knack for engaging the wider community with discussion about why the games are fun to play, which ones they like best and for what reason – he is a professional video game designer.
For those of you who have never been to a Game Night at the Social, one of the key components is engaging the community interactively. Everhart and his crew of expert players are around and easily identifiable so that you can learn how to play video games, feel welcome to ask questions, and be led to the games that might best fit your interests or level of skill. As a female who always felt out of place in those living rooms full of boys with chart-topping scores and invisibly fast thumbs, I instantly took to the idea of game night. And, not only does Everhart bring video games into a sphere where they can be presented and learned about, rather than looked at from the outside, but board games, card games, and other non-technological forms of play are also available, helping us remember the cross-cultural roots of play that made gaming a culture in the first place.
This is a central starting point when we zoom in on how and why video games in particular are produced today: they are forms of play. What every kid (inside us) wants is a way to close her eyes and escape from a maternal voice that won’t quit nagging, the homework still waiting inside the ole knapsack, and the time it will take to deal with that everlasting heap of dirty clothes that keeps tripping us every morning. For inside the mind, that kid can imagine opening padlocked doors, a chance to blink once and suddenly be transported onto some windy shipwrecked deck, or floating atop a planet full of new-worldly machine apes and alchemical treasures. Imagine the ticking bombs and feline wiles that may lie in wait, baiting her in the Emperor’s hanging gardens.
In that cool darkness surrounding any of our imagination’s offerings, there is something glittery enough to surprise us, fluttering in and out of our viewfinder, something that could command and direct our attention. Spy a tiny blue-winged mini furbie dragon, who seems friendly enough? Approach and her big lightbulb eyes glow with the invitation to a new challenge, nay, a quest! Requiring our help puzzling though all the unknowns, or an exploration of mysterious lands for the good of the people – and perhaps along the way, we may earn the team a fantastic array of strange new artillery and tools worthy of bragging about.
Despite being that girl who felt it would be a bother to ask how to play, and could only observe the pros from the corner, quietly decoding the ways to gain advantage and not get trapped in one level, it is the inviting experience I have always understood about video games – and the thing I think everyone can understand. You step into the dark closet or the cardboard box as a kid, and it is easy to envision all kinds of things. Now, the programmers and designers have the artistic capability of using colored pixels to fill in the more miniscule gaps of the mind’s eye – oh and then place everything inside a gleaming box complex enough to project it for others to see, too. Nowadays there are projectors and flat screens in living rooms. We can team up with friends we’ve never met, maybe living halfway across the world to obtain the newest weaponry, beat the last best time on the track, and improvise banter across headsets as we defeat the enemy. You can go as far down the rabbit hole as you like.
I asked Everhart so how do programmers keep up with what the imagination can do across cultures? How do they make it more and more refined? What are the trends he sees? As format of play is both technologically and capitalistically driven, I learned that lately it comes down to narrative and mechanics more than it does to style or aesthetic design.
Everhart says that while aesthetic design typically stays the same between larger companies on a “Call of Duty” kind of scale, it also sets smaller companies apart from each other from each other, defining niches of marketability.
For instance, one small two-man company in Holland releases great games with even greater rapidity – an almost unheard of monthly release rate, on average, Everhart estimates. The aesthetic is nothing special, nothing that sets them apart, although it does remain the same between games: a cutesy, cartoonish kind of style. But the key is the unique operative strategies of their games, which in turn make the narratives that much more fascinating. One game takes place on a fishing boat. The player dives down to collect fishing hooks, has to race back up to the boat, then after catching the fish, they must throw the fish up in the air and shoot their catch with a rifle.
“Now that isn’t something that people typically do,” says Everhart, “but the narrative is something at least vaguely conceivable and a really, really fun concept!”
Narrative esotericism is also a growing trend, with small-time designers taking risks to appeal to the smaller communities that might want to explore games for a different cross-cultural communicative purposes. Anna Anthropy, a well-known American transgender video game designer, has created a free online “old-school” style game, dys4ia, that takes the player on a journey to discovery and understanding toward what it means to be transitioning, and in doing so makes bold strides towards empathic exchange with/from the player.
As evidenced by Anna Anthropy’s exploration of gaming culture as a mode of interactive art, the small time designers (like Everhart himself) are finding themselves in a still young and burgeoning industry where there is business advantage in working for yourself, if you can afford it. And where the narratives and imaginative techniques can go from here remains to be seen…
Our imaginations are limitless.
For more information, intrigue, and interactive discussion, visit Everhart and the rest of the DURTY crewe at Community Game Night, every Wednesday, from 7:30pm – 12:30am, at the Social Gameroom & Tap, #1007 W. Main Street (with $4 local drafts!).