I’m back from Sweden, and recovering from the hectic rush of my last few days overseas. At the start it felt like our little game dev retreat would go on forever. The weeks passed slowly, with steady progress on my game. Then, one week, it felt like I would never have enough time to finish my goals. I spent the last couple weeks in crunch mode, trying to get a playable demo ready for the closing ceremony in Stockholm.
I didn’t achieve my original plan for the demo, but I did create a short level that uses the basic elements of the hacking system. The demo wasn’t very user-friendly so I had to stand by to coach players through it step-by-step. I’m glad I did, though, because I had a wonderful experience talking to attendees. The closing ceremony was at the National Museum of Science and Technology, where a wide range of people filled the audience, including sponsors, other indie developers, parents, children, and every mixture of these.
Never underestimate the value in testing your game with a wide range of people, including “non-gamers”. I think it’s easy for us as devs to fall into a comfort zone where we only interact with people who are tech savvy and play games all the time. We can see “non-gamers” as people who are too much effort to deal with, instead of seeing them as potential new fans.
The line between gamer and non-gamer isn’t as clear as we’d like to believe, especially when it comes to women and girls. Women are often gamers in deed but not in word, because of the various ways we are pushed out of online play and the “gamer” scene. We are a group of people who love games and want to be included—and often try to be included until the backlash knocks us down.
It was with this awareness in mind that I tried to handle my presence thoughtfully. The hacking gameplay I had on display looked very complicated and technical, and I could tell a lot of people were intimidated right off the bat because of it. With a little encouragement, however, people were hacking and feeling badass in no time.
Here are some of the varied and surprising interactions I had while showing the Sunshine demo:
- Several girls obviously wanted to try Sunshine but kept a nervous distance. I encouraged them to try it out and coached them through a bit of anxiety about what they were supposed to do. By the end they were “hacking” pros.
- One boy reassured me that “This could probably go somewhere. You should keep it up.” My confidence bolstered, I remain an indie dev to this day.
- I had several conversations with young kids about learning programming and encouraged them to stick with it.
- I got my own assumption-making checked hard by a mom who I assumed would need help with the game, but instead was a Linux pro that gave me useful feedback on how I can improve the in-game console. Rock on, sysadmom.
- An older woman who approached hesitantly told me she wasn’t really a gamer. I asked her if she played any of the games on display and she shook her head, looking kind of down. She told me the games looked too complicated. I suggested she try Mark Backler’s game The Last Word, which was much more approachable than mine. About a half-hour later she passed by my table again, all smiles, and told me she tried out the game and enjoyed it. She then told me a story about how playing helped her remember that, back in the 90’s, she had helped a couple guy friends with a videogame they were making. How cool! I wanted to scream with joy.
In general people seemed to really enjoy the hacking gameplay. The experience left me wanting to attend more industry events and conventions. I’ve avoided them because of my aversion to crowds and a general feeling of not fitting in. While the crowd at the museum wasn’t representative of most conventions (in a good way, I think) I still think it would be worthwhile to push myself to have more of a presence at events.