The goal: For everyone in the Capital Region to make a video game

TVGS interactive showcase

A TVGS interactive showcase earlier this year. / photo courtesy of Jamey Stevenson.

The recently-launched Tech Valley Game Space in Troy has a goal: For everyone in the Capital Region to make at least one game.

Like, every everyone? Yep, everyone.

"It doesn't take long [to learn] if people feel like they're in an atmosphere where there's someone who knows to guide them," TVGS founder Jamey Stevenson told us recently. "There are few things more fun or exciting to me to see people get surprised. It happens during the first hour of doing it."

Toward that goal, TVGS -- which also serves as co-working space for small startup games studios -- is offering a series of classes and events aimed at getting a wide range of people involved: artists, designers, programmers, women, men, kids, introverts, extroverts. One of the events is coming up this weekend at the Arts Center of the Capital Region: River Jam, a free learn-to-make-a-game event for game makers who identify as women.

Stevenson is clearly passionate both about video games, and opening up the process of making them.

Here are a few clips from a conversation with him about learning to make games, the need for diversity in the industry, games as art, and his favorite games...

Jamey Stevenson grew up in Nassau in Rensselaer County and went to Columbia High School. After going to college for game design in Florida he returned to the area to work at 1st Playable in Troy, and later moved to Scotland to work for a games studio there. He returned to the Capital Region a year ago and is now working on both TVGS and his own independent studio, Spoony Bird.

About seeing game design as a career

I always played games growing up. So it's the kind of very typical story. I started on, like, the Nintendo Entertainment System when I was five years old, so I got hooked at a very young age.

For my parents it took them a while to grasp that this is an actual feasible career goal to have. I think it's getting better now, but at certain point to say to your parents, 'I want to be a game developer,' was kind of on that line as I want to be a rock star or I want to be Spider-Man or whatever. It's just something that parents didn't think seriously. I think mine just weren't familiar with what the chances were.

For my parents it took them a while to grasp that this is an actual feasible career goal to have. I think it's getting better now, but at certain point to say to your parents, 'I want to be a game developer,' was kind of on that line as I want to be a rock star or I want to be Spide-Man or whatever.

I just knew intuitively, at least as a kid, that people are making these. You'd finish a game and there'd be a big list of credits. So, OK, there are people working on this, presumably.

About games as a way for people, especially kids, to learn new skills

I view games as one of the best portals both into introducing kids to certain STEM disciplines, especially computer science -- there's no better way to get kids into programming than games. That was the only reason I learned programming in the first place was because I wanted to make a game. This is how you do it -- OK, now I'm motivated. And I've found that to be the case when I go into talk to students. I don't have to do a lot try to get kids excited about it if I'm talking about games.

It's not just STEM. Games are the most collaborative media that I've been involved with. Games involve digital arts skills, whether it's 3D modeling or 2D digital art creation. They involve programming. They often involve writing. You need audio for your games, so they involve music and sounds. So I see game development as something that can fit into a lot of different places in school. ...

I view games as one of the best portals both into introducing kids to certain STEM disciplines, especially computer science -- there's no better way to get kids into programming than games. That was the only reason I learned programming in the first place was because I wanted to make a game.

To give one example: You have to understand a lot about probability if your designing any kind of game that has a chance element. You have to figure out the probability of different outcomes and things. When I was just learning probability in math class, I was more into applied math than theoretical math, and I think if it was in that context it's more real somehow. Just the classic kids saying, 'Oh, why is math relevant to me?' That's one of many potential answers. ...

I got started in high school because I went to Columbia High School, which had programming classes. And I don't know how common that is. I feel like it should be a thing that's available at all high schools. Programming is just a more and more relevant skill. ...

So when I try to encapsulate our goal [at] Tech Valley Game Space into a concise, little soundbite, that's why I say our goal is to get everyone in the Capital Region to make at least one game at some point. Most people who go through public school or whatever will write a story at some point or might write a poem, they'll do these certain things, but not everybody makes a game. And it's accessible now, even more so than when I was in high school. There are all these tools that are very intuitive, you don't need a technical background. I teach kids how to do this in five hours. I don't think there's a lot of excuse for people not to get a chance to try this out at some point. And I think that if kids do get try it out, consistently across the board -- all students, all genders -- I think that will help a little bit.

About why he's interested in opening up games to a wider range of people

I'll tell you why it was initially important to me: I'm obsessed with different things being made and diversity of output. So, it's kind of an embarrassing thing for me to say, it started for me not no so much from a humanistic perspective as I just wanted interesting stuff. And the output of traditional game studios became so homogenous at a certain point -- and still is to an extent in the larger budget ranges -- it was very stifling as someone who worked in the game industry. So it seemed kind of obvious to me, and slightly naive, to say I want a wider variety of stuff, so probably the best way I can support that is to support a wider variety of creators.

The game industry still very much skews male. That's just sad. It's sad to work in an environment that's so dominated by people from the same background. And it's boring, as well.

The game industry still very much skews male. That's just sad. It's sad to work in an environment that's so dominated by people from the same background. And it's boring, as well.

So it was kind of fundamentally selfish on a lot of levels the thing that led me to this thing that seems a little more altruistic. ...

Another thing, it was a little more personal to me. I'd been together with my partner in Scotland for the past six years, and she decided to go back to school while we were together and she decided to go back to school for game development. And she found that she really loved it. And she's just an amazing, naturally talented programmer it turns out and it's something that she loves to do. So she opened her own game studio in Scotland. So all that was awesome to me and so exciting to see that happen. But she's written some stuff about things that had discouraged her from trying that previously, even though she might have liked to earlier. So that was very influential to me to see that process.

On people are hesitant to try because it might seem too technical

I know, I've been there, it can feel daunting. That's why we're trying to offer so many classes. It doesn't take long if people feel like they're in an atmosphere where there's someone who knows to guide them. There are few things more fun or exciting to me to see people get surprised. It happens during the first hour of doing it. You'd be amazed at how much you can get done quickly and easily with some of these tools.

About games as art

Games are a medium that you have to interact with at some level to understand what makes them special and what's unique about them as an art form. There are more and more examples everyday of games that qualify as art by my own subjective definition... games that have made me understand another person's perspective more, to have more empathy towards people, which is big component of the value of art for me. And games that I've had an experience with that was as emotional or intellectually engaging as any novel that I've read or movie I've seen. ...

There are more and more examples everyday of games that qualify as art by my own subjective definition... games that have made me understand another person's perspective more, to have more empathy towards people, which is big component of the value of art for me.

There's a game I love called Dys4ia by Anna Anthropy. It's kind of steeped in a tradition of other games that are more wacky. She took the vocabulary of these games -- particularly a game called WarioWare, which was a Nintendo game and was a series of basically little interactive vignettes, so this very hyperactive game. So Dys4ia takes this style, but re-contextualizes all the vignettes that you're playing and they're all about the creator's experience of going through hormone replacement therapy as part of a gender transition. So there are all these little slices of life, about different aspects of this experience. But you're doing one with this little interaction and text, and then you're onto the next. For me, as someone who's never gone through that experience, that was a very memorable example of the way she expressed that. ...

Would that have been as effective as a poem or a story or whatever? I don't know. But for me it was more effective. Particularly being familiar with this other game, and seeing how the creator repurposed that vocabulary into this much more personal narrative was great.

On his favorite games of all time

Shadow of the Colossus: "One of the most flat-out fun games ever. But also incredibly daring in its design. And every design decision in it is both going against grain of accepted wisdom and done for a very specific reason to achieve a very specific effect."

Super Smash Brother Melee: "It's the best fighting game ever made. Both the most accessible, and the deepest."

These interview clips have been edited and condensed.

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