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Games Personal Development

Books I’ve Read: The Beauty of Games

I don’t remember how I came across this book’s existence, but I put in a request for it at my local library at some point, and then one day I got notification that my book was ready to be picked up.

And it was a delight to read!

The Beauty of Games by Frank Lantz

The Beauty of Games by Frank Lantz, part of the Playful Thinking series from MIT, starts out by ignoring the “Are games art?” question, but then the argument being put forth is still a large undertaking: a grand unified theory of what games are and how they are important.

Lantz argues that games are an aesthetic form, on par with other aesthetic forms such as music, film, and literature. He argues that while “art” implies certain claims, “aesthetic” merely describes. “The aesthetic is a domain, not of a certain kind of objects but of a certain type of activity, an ongoing process of dialogue and discussion, a series of conversations in which we ask ourselves and each other – what is interesting? What is beautiful? What is meaningful? What is important?”

By talking about games as an aesthetic, Lantz avoids needing to worry about needing to define which kinds of games might be considered art, where the borders are. He makes the claim that all games, not just modern computer games or a subset of them, including chess and tennis, belong in the domain of aesthetics.

I’m no academic, and so I wasn’t familiar with any similar arguments about painting, sculpture, dance, music, literature, film, etc. So perhaps The Beauty of Games was a nice intro to the concept of aesthetics, the idea that an aesthetic experience is for its own sake. Lantz compares the work of looking, the need we have to identify threats in the world, recognize familiar people and locations, and notice changes, to the activity of looking at a painting. We don’t need to look at a painting. We don’t look at paintings in service of some other goal. We do it because the purpose of looking at a painting is looking at a painting.

I loved this concept: that an activity, such as looking or listening, that often has a real-world, beneficial purpose, gets applied for its own sake in certain contexts. We do these activities to better understand these activities.

Looking at artworks. Hearing music. Moving our bodies in the form of a dance.

And playing games, which Lantz argues is about thinking and doing for their own sake.

The turn of phrase that I particularly loved was the idea that “games are thought made visible to itself.” Most of our life, we spend it by thinking in order to accomplish something. We think to earn money, we plan our groceries so we can eat during the week, we win arguments, we budget, we schedule our time. But with games, our thinking and our awareness of our thinking is done for its own sake, and it can be entertaining, and it can also be insightful.

I liked that Lantz focused on not just what games could aspire to but also what they currently are. He compared games such as Go and poker, QWOP and Wipeout, and pointed out that these games already help us see the world differently, help us navigate our own minds with new appreciation for how we do it.

It never occurred to me that the probabilistic thinking of poker was so tied to game theory and to contributing to how someone might understand something like quantum mechanics better, but also to understanding how to model the day to day world we navigate.

At one point, Lantz talked about what impact games could have, specifically in terms of systems literacy. Games are very closely related to systems and to software, and so they can help us understand complex systems that exist in our real world.

Systems are dynamic, and they sometimes have side-effects, which are sometimes unintended. Our criminal justice systems, or our political systems, or our economic systems, all need nuanced understanding.

Playing games is about understanding complex systems. Knowing how to balance all of the mechanics in a farming sim doesn’t mean you know how to work on a real farm, but it might help you to understand a little better how the economy works.

Sounds good, but then he points out that if it is true, and if all games have this capacity, then we should already see these kinds of benefits in the world. Instead, he highlights how “in its most prominent forms, gamer culture often seems to demonstrate exactly the opposite – a way of engaging with the world that is stridently anti-intellectual, stubbornly literal-minded, completely inflexible, combining extreme naivete with massive over-confidence, and willfully deaf to the subtleties of systems thinking even as it exhibits a highly effective practical mastery of actual, real-world networked systems.”

It’s a sober passage about how, even if games COULD have so much potential to help us navigate the complex systems in our lives, so far we haven’t taken advantage of them in that way.

And of course, games don’t NEED to teach us. They are for their own sake, after all. But it definitely feels like a miss for our society if we have this amazing capacity to help improve society, to improve our creativity around approaching our society’s various and interlocking systems, and instead we acted like games are only meant to be frivolous (see how the mainstream media treated Willis Gibson after his amazing accomplishment of doing what was once thought of as impossible, getting the killscreen in Tetris) and so our society’s systems are also treated simplistically and suboptimally, that “the most advanced forms of systems literacy in games are ones being applied by product managers and marketing engineers to maximize engagement and not the kind we would want players to develop for themselves.”

Lantz points out evidence of gamer intelligence, ways that games change how we think, can be positive. Game players learn about randomness and statistics not in a classroom but by actually practicing it when they participate in MMO raids and when choosing how to bet before the river is revealed in Texas Hold ’em. They can understand the concept of state machines when they kite an AI-controlled enemy or need to lay low to avoid the cops for awhile in Grand Theft Auto games. I especially loved the passage about how game theory came about due to John von Neumann’s fascination with poker’s uncertainty in the face of multiple players all trying to anticipate each other’s moves.

Game theory, while it had far reaching impact, also led to the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, the idea that nuclear powers probably don’t want to launch a nuclear strike first because opposing sides will have enough retaliation capability that everyone suffers unacceptable losses. Lantz points out that the film Dr. Strangelove pokes fun at the idea of game theory, its disconnection from reality and sensibility.

But then he says one of my favorite parts of the book, “But consider for a moment that the opposite might be true. It is possible that, without the cognitive toolset of game theory and its capacity to coldly calculate the unthinkable, humans might have destroyed the planet with nuclear weapons.

Maybe, just maybe, a field of knowledge that came out of a close analysis of Poker saved the world.”

I’m happy that I had access to this book thanks to my local library (did you know you can often request new books, and they will sometimes get them for you?), but I’m sad that the book is due back. I want to add this one to my collection.

Categories
Games Marketing/Business

Winter Sale: Get Toytles: Leaf Raking and Toy Factory Fixer today! #ItchioSale #WinterSale

itch.io is having a Winter Sale from now until January 5th.

Get my leaf-raking business simulation game, Toytles: Leaf Raking for Windows, Mac, and Linux today!

Toytles: Leaf Raking

And you can pay-what-you-want for my toy factory worker management game Toy Factory Fixer, including $0 if you want!

Toy Factory Fixer

Both games give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that there are no ads, no in-app purchases, and no invasions of your privacy.

Learn more about Toytles: Leaf Raking at https://www.gbgames.com/toytles-leaf-raking/.

Learn more about Toy Factory Fixer at https://www.gbgames.com/freshly-squeezed-entertainment/freshly-squeezed-entertainment-toy-factory-fixer/.

itch Winter Sale

Categories
Games Marketing/Business

The 2023 Indie Game Black Friday Sale Has Ended

The reverse sale for my leaf-raking business simulation game, Toytles: Leaf Raking, is now over.

Which means that instead of paying 50% more, you can get the game at its normal price.

It is kinda like a somewhat permanent sale, right?

And even though the sale is over, you can still get Toy Factory Fixer for free, or pay what you want at itch.io.

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Games Marketing/Business

Better Value? Keep My Games Forever vs Only a Month of a Streaming Service?

Are these games a better deal than streaming?
Right now, for less than the cost of most streaming services, you can buy my family-friendly, leaf-raking business simulation game Toytles: Leaf Raking, and you get to keep the game forever.

You can even pay what you want for my family-friendly, toy factory worker management game Toy Factory Fixer:

Now, you’ve probably been aware, but many of the video streaming services seem to be deleting their catalog of shows and movies, which means their value is getting worse, and of course, after a month, you have to pay to continue getting access to their now worse offerings.

Meanwhile, I cannot foresee any reason to make my games worse for the people who want to play them. If you buy the game today, you get to keep it forever, and you get any future updates or feature additions for free.

So, I ask you, which is the better value?

Getting only a month of temporary access to ever worsening video libraries of major billion dollar companies, companies who have shown a desire to avoid paying the creative people who actually create whatever value they do offer in the first place?

Or keeping forever my hand-crafted, artisanal indie games about a leaf-raking turtle learning about entrepreneurship and about a toy factory with a quality control problem that needs addressing?

I’ll let you decide. But the correct answer is here and here.

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Games Marketing/Business

One day left for the 2023 Indie Game Black Friday sale

For the next day, my educational, family-friendly leaf raking business simulation Toytles: Leaf Raking continues to be on reverse sale:

Remember: when you purchase the game, it is yours to keep forever. Even with the temporarily increased price, that’s a lot of value compared to a cup of coffee you drink once or only a month of a streaming service.

And you can still name your price for my family-friendly game Toy Factory Fixer:

$0 is a perfectly valid price for the game, too. Seriously!

For both games, have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that there are no ads, no in-app purchases, and no invasions of your privacy.

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Games Marketing/Business

Creator Day is Over, but the Indie Game Black Friday Sale Continues

The itch.io Black Friday Creator Day is over, but the Black Friday sale continues until November 28th.

So you can still name your price for my family-friendly game Toy Factory Fixer:

And the educational, family-friendly leaf raking business simulation Toytles: Leaf Raking is still on reverse sale:

Categories
Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Why itch’s Creator Day is so Important

itch.io is a very indie-friendly platform, featuring a “collection of some of the most unique, interesting, and independent creations you’ll find on the web.”

Today is itch.io’s 2023 Black Friday Creator Day, which kicks off their Black Friday sale this weekend.

itch.io Creator Day

It’s not the first Creator Day they had this year, but each time they hold one, it’s a helpful boost to the indie game developers who sell their games on the site since itch.io will take no cut of all sales for 24 hours.

That extra cash translates into more support towards the indie game developers. Unlike major game publishers and developers, indie game developers are usually not flush with cash, and taking home just a bit more on each sale is significant for the indie.

It could mean as much as allowing that indie game developer to have a better chance at a sustainable business, and also as much as perhaps just paying for some of their groceries this week.

Personally, as an indie game developer myself, I am definitely not flush with cash nor am I making a sustainable living with my game development efforts, but itch.io’s Creator Day sales do give me an opportunity to talk about the games I sell on there, and so far most of my very few sales this year have come from Creator Day sales on their platform.

Here’s my shameless plug for my own games:

Here’s Toytles: Leaf Raking, which is on reverse sale:

And you can name your own price for Toy Factory Fixer:

And I would strongly encourage you to check out other games, too.

So if you are planning on getting any games, either for yourself or your loved ones, get them today at itch.io. You can find some very unique games and make a major difference in the lives of those who make them.

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Games Marketing/Business

2023 Family-Friendly Indie Game Black Friday Guide

It’s Black Friday, the indie-friendly platform itch.io is having a Creator Day sale, and if you want to find family-friendly indie games, let me recommend some to you!

Here are five games you can get today:

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Yes, this is my own game. Inspired by games such as Lemonade Stand and The Oregon Trail, Toytles: Leaf Raking puts you in the role of a young turtle who wants to earn enough money to get The Ultimate Item(tm).

You’ll run your own leaf-raking business, and during the 90 days before winter, you’ll:

  • Seek out neighbors who need your services and turn them into paying clients.
  • Make key purchasing decisions, such as which types of rakes to buy and how many yard bags to keep in your inventory.
  • Balance your energy and your time as you seek to keep your clients happy without overextending yourself.
  • Visit the kitchen to ask your parents for their advice and wisdom.
  • Learn about personal responsibility and the importance of keeping your promises.

It features NO ADS, NO IN-APP PURCHASES, AND NO VIOLENCE, so you can have peace of mind with an ad-free, safe game.

Get it at https://gbgamesllc.itch.io/toytles-leaf-raking.

Hidden Folks

Hidden Folks on itch

If you’re familiar with the Where’s Waldo? series of books, this is a much richer, interactive experience in the same vein.

Search for hidden folks in hand-drawn, interactive, miniature landscapes. Unfurl tent flaps, cut through bushes, slam doors, and poke some crocodiles! Rooooaaaarrrr!!!!!

A strip of targets shows you what to look for. Click on a target for a hint, and find enough to unlock the next area.

It features:
– 32 hand-drawn areas.
– 300+ targets to find.
– 2000+ mouth-originated sound effects.
– 500+ unique interactions.
– 3 color modes: normal, sepia, and night mode.
– 22 languages (translated by the community).
– supports mouse and keyboard, controller, and touch input.

Get it at https://adriaan.itch.io/hidden-folks.

Round Ogre

Round Ogre on itch

If you like puzzle games, Round Ogre is here for you. It has simple controls, yet fiendishly challenging puzzles to solve.

500 puzzles across 31 worlds will entertain you for hours!

Start of a new world? A brand new mechanic to explore! This makes the game easy to learn, yet varied and challenging.

Solving a complete world grants you an optional bonus world, with the toughest testing puzzles.

Guide her to the cave exit to reunite her with Square Ogre. But to do so, you’ll have to think creatively and always see all the possibilities …

Get it at https://pandaqi.itch.io/round-ogre.

Toy Factory Fixer

Toy Factory Fixer

The toy factory had an accident after one of the worker elves tried to automate the assembly of toys.
Now all of the toys are put together wrong, and you need to put the toys together correctly in time for the delivery deadline!

This is another of my own games. For this Black Friday sale, you can pay what you want, name your own price, and get this toy factory worker management game for yourself or a loved one.

Features:

  • 4 levels, each with an easy work shift and a challenging work shift, for 8 total levels.
  • The option to set a hard deadline for an added challenge
  • 3 worker types, each with unique abilities, requiring you to think strategically to make the most of them
  • 2 toy types in 2 sizes, Small and Large, that can come down the conveyor belt in multiple potentially large production runs and require your good judgment to handle them
  • Turn-based game play, allowing for more thinking and not quick-reflexes, including Stop and Go buttons that allow you to play at your own speed

Plus:

  • In-game how-to that describes how to play the game in case you need help or some tips
  • The ability to toggle music and sound effects on or off, allowing you flexibility to listen to your own music or podcast or just enjoy the silence

Get it at https://gbgamesllc.itch.io/toy-factory-fixer.

Mountain

Mountain on itch

This calm and surreal simulation puts you in the role of a mountain floating in space.

You don’t really seem to have any agency, but there is something soothing about the music, the visuals, and the periodic messages that seem to be meditative in nature.

Time passes, and things crash into you from space. Many of these things are bizarre.

It’s quite the experience.

Get it at https://davidoreilly.itch.io/mountain.

Do any of these games catch your eye? What game are you looking forward to playing? Or who do you plan on gifting a game to this holiday season? Let me know by commenting below.

Categories
Games Marketing/Business

Announcing the Black Friday Creator Day 2023 and Reverse Sale

From now until November 28th, you can get my leaf-raking business simulation game, Toytles: Leaf Raking for Windows, Mac, and Linux and pay 50% more than usual. And you can pay-what-you-want for my toy factory worker management game Toy Factory Fixer.

In either case, if you are going to do so, please do so within the next 24 hours!

Toytles: Leaf Raking

The indie-friendly platform itch.io is having another Creator Day, so for the next 24 hours, they won’t take a cut of any sales that occur. That means the creators get to keep more of the proceeds.

While many developers are having a sale to celebrate, and you should definitely check them out, as usual I’m holding a reverse sale instead.

I think the game’s original price is more than generous, and a temporary increase still puts it under the cost for a movie ticket or a monthly subscription to a streaming service.

Also, you can get my first Freshly Squeezed Game, the turn-based toy factory management game Toy Factory Fixer, at itch.io. Pay what you want for it (even $0!), and for the next 24 hours, I will be able to keep the full amount of anything you contribute.

If you do end up paying for access to Toytles: Leaf Raking or Toy Factory Fixer, know that I appreciate it, and I appreciate all of the itch.io creators who make itch.io amazing!

Categories
Games Marketing/Business

WARNING: Tomorrow’s Black Friday Creator Day 2023 and Reverse Sale

Between November 24th and November 28th, I’ll be increasing the price of my family-friendly game Toytles: Leaf Raking by 50% to take part in itch.io’s Black Friday Creator Day sale.

I think the game’s original price is more than generous, and a temporary increase still puts it under the cost for a movie ticket or a monthly subscription to a streaming service.

But if you would rather not spend more, then think of today as your last chance for a sale price. Pretend this normal price is actually a discount, and know that tomorrow the game will cost 50% more. Buy now!

Tomorrow is also a Creator Day at itch.io, which means all sales go straight to the creators of the games, and itch.io will not take a cut. So if you REALLY want to support indie game developers such as myself, then save your money for tomorrow.

Either way, know that I am thankful for your support!