The Power of Play

Running as fast as I can through the arena, I scale walls with ease and hop over obstacles like they’re not even there. My opponent, surrounded by a reddish glow, does the same. This battle can only end one of two ways, and either way its going to be tense and bloody to the end.

This epic setup is mostly my way of reimagining my utter failure at playing Greek game developer Traptics’ Moribund, a multiplayer brawler. That’s right, we’re talking about games now.

…Half of my (already small) readership leaves…

Hello and thank you to those that are still here because we’re about to get into some nerdy shit.

Moribund is a fast-paced yet tactical brawler (in the vein of Towerfall) that’s easy to pick up and difficult to master. It was one of the many games I got to play at Athens first GROW Games Expo, a showcase for Greek developers that lets Greek gamers interact with developers. It also provided me with one of the best moments of this entire trip.

I was playing with the three members of Traptics’ development in a 2v2 battle to the death. They paired me with the games lead designer, Mike Papagathangelou, to account for my considerable lack of experience and skill, for which I apologized to no end. Ten seconds before the match started my teammate informed me that friendly fire was on and that I should refrain from shooting my (very patient) teammate in the face.

Just for the record: I tried. I really tried. But it seemed like every time I fired my gun, my comrade in blue found himself on the receiving end of some not-so-friendly fire. Despite my best efforts, we won. Mike was patient and we laughed about the whole thing after we were done cheering and high-fiving over our (read: Mike’s) victory. It was the first of many reminders that play is a powerful tool for bringing people together, even complete strangers who don’t speak the same language.

All them business cards

The games expo was an amazing opportunity for me to see and play the games that these small, hardworking teams are producing, often without financing from publishers and without any guarantee that people will play it. There were only about 20 teams at the expo, most of which were composed of only three to five people. These are truly independent studios that use creativity to make up for a lack of resources, funding and staff. It’s creativity born out of necessity and crisis, but the act of creating something is enough for a lot of these developers, even though many of them do view game development as their full-time job and lifelong passion.

I hope that I can do these extraordinarily creative and hardworking people justice in the story I end up writing. But I also can’t help but feel like I’m getting just as much if not more out of this experience than they are. Going to the GROW Games Expo really reinforced that games journalism is what I want to do. A lot of people (including some on this trip) probably see it as frivolous, and I would be stupid to argue that an industry built on fun and games isn’t, in part, about just having fun. But for me it’s so much more than that. Games and the act of play can bring people together, elicit powerful emotions, educate people about world issues and, yes, provide truly joyous, entertaining experiences. Play doesn’t have to be light and airy; it can be serious and purposeful, and the same goes for games.

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