It’s December: Make Hackable Games!

Happy Holidays! We’re especially psyched about the holiday season this year because we we’re off and running with the much anticipated Game On competition.

We want to invite all of you to follow our blog here for special updates on the competition and so much more gamelicious content. For the next three months, we’re going to be exploring  three themes in game design and the open web: Hackable Games, Web-Only Games, and Cross-Device games. (Of course, these are our contest categories too, so we hope this will be food for thought!).

Expect guest posts, videos and interviews with some of our favorite game peeps and the judges of the competition.

All excited? Great, let’s get started with December; Hackable Games month here on Game On.

What’s a Hackable Game?

So, you probably LOVE games if you are reading this blog. You know that games fuel our imagination in unique ways and often have players explore and create new worlds. So it comes as a surprise that games in their majority are closed systems; they are not exactly inviting players to also be makers of their game world.

In recent years, massive hits like Little Big Planet and Minecraft have embraced open-ended, creative world-bulding as a core gameplay concept . Our friends at the Institute of Play made this great video with the folks at Media Molecule  who explain the process of making a game that is all about having players create their own games.

Hackable Games are Open Systems

What if we looked at the web as a canvas for these types of experiences?
What if we built games that let their players customize assets and fork the code in order to create new games?
What if we built experiences that—like the web itself—are hackable by design?

There’s a long tradition of modding on various platforms, and LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft show that creativity can be a very satisfying gameplay concept. People already make and share their own peronalized islands on social media like Facebook and Instagram. How can we bring these phenomena together?

What kinds of “hackable” games are only possible on the web?

Hackable Games are Learning Vehicles

If  you play games you might also have a hunch about what great  learning  vehicles they  can be; Skyrim might seem like it’s just about  killing  dragons, but if you look closer it requires some serious systems thinking  in order to make strategic decisions in the game.

By  default when playing a game you have to master certain skills in  order  to advance. Moreover games have their players fail multiple times  in  order to master such skills through experimentation and tinkering.

Now  if you think about it that process is quite similar to the way we  learn how to code games. We come up with ideas very often building on existing mechanics and games we love, we prototype and iterate, probably  write a bunch of  nonfunctional code, play test and iterate again and  eventually master a programming language and make a game we re quite proud about.

Game editors, map editors, and other similar experiences are a great gateway into this kind of thinking. World-famous JavaScript hacker Max Ogden put it this way:

“I actually got hooked [on programming] by playing Starcraft back in 1999. The custom  level editor has elements of event-driven asynchronous programming and I  started geeking out on custom Starcraft maps. And then realized that  programming is just Starcraft without the space aliens.”

Hackable Games are Empowering

“Hacking” a game is an empowering concept. By hacking a game,  a player becomes a designer, and learns a bit about design, systems thinking and even code. Players might shape the game experience into something even more tailored for them— and as a result we might see  games that are truer and more representative of what players like and who they are.

Games might become more diverse and representative. A great example of this is Torontonian Mike Hoye’s story of hacking Zelda so that Link is a girl character and not a boy. “I’m not having my daughter growing up  thinking girls don’t get  to be the hero and rescue their little brothers,” he says.

Anna Anthropy in her lovely interview titled “Don’t start a band: why everyone should be making video games” also talks about why having more people making games will eventually lead to democratizing and diversifying games.

Get Involved

If  you’re excited about the potential of hackable games, submit a game prototype to the competition! You have until February 24th to submit a game.

You can also join us in one of our upcoming Game Jams or run your own
using our lovingly prepared Game Jam Kit.

And follow us @mozgames to get involved in this conversation—there’s some interesting hacking ahead!