The Politics and Poetics of Game Creation Tools
An argument that production tools shape the aesthetics and political economy of games as an expressive medium.
In Making Games, Stefan Werning considers the role of tools (primarily but not exclusively software), their design affordances, and the role they play as sociotechnical actors. Drawing on a wide variety of case studies, Werning argues that production tools shape the aesthetics and political economy of games as an expressive medium. He frames game-making as a (meta)game in itself and shows that tools, like games, have their own “procedural rhetoric” and should not always be conceived simply in terms of optimization and best practices.
Considering tools conceptually rather than examining the function of particular tools, Werning offers a new way to think about game development. He employs an expansive definition of tools, outlining four characteristics: tool use occurs all across the value chain of the digital games industry, not just in game creation; tools are manipulatable and shareable objects; tools shape the relationships between different stakeholders; and tools meaningfully frame the purpose for which they are intended. Werning develops this theoretical framework through a series of “tool essays” that reaffirm the direct connection between playing and making games, covering such topics as metaphors of control, tool fandom, playful appropriation of tools, worldbuilding, and the subversive use of character customization tools. Finally, he calls for evocative tool design, envisioning games not just as products but as a form of expression and reflection.
“With Making Games, Stefan Werning shows us the importance of thinking playfully about the tools used for making games and play. By walking us through the machines and practices that make digital play possible, Werning challenges us to rethink the role of technology in the production of play.”
Miguel Sicart, Associate Professor at the Center for Computer Game Research, IT University Copenhagen; author of Play Matters
“Modern games are blurring the lines between creators and players. Stefan Werning explores this fascinating territory by examining dozens of thoughtful examples from modern game tools. Read this, and you'll never think of games or tools the same way again!”
Jesse Schell, CEO, Schell Games; Distinguished Professor of Entertainment Technology, Carnegie Mellon University
“In Making Games, Stefan Werning invites us to reconsider the trajectory of games—and the medium's expressive limitations—as a result of the tools upon which they are built and distributed. Werning asks us to envision new possibilities for games in the future by reimagining and reconsidering our tools, drawing on software and platform studies to reveal their impact on our play. This intervention offers an important reminder to games scholars and makers to think carefully when choosing the engines that power our work.”
Anastasia Salter, Associate Professor of English, University of Central Florida; coauthor of Flash: Building the Interactive Web