Well, you know the drill by now. Although this will be an article about art, comics and writing, I’m going to have to start by talking about a seemingly irrelevant topic (eg: computer and video games) for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious in the second half of this article.
A few months ago, I was randomly watching old “Extra Creditz” videos on Youtube. These are a long-running series of animated videos about video game design and they’re absolutely fascinating.
Anyway, in one of them, they mentioned something about playing something from the current generation of computer and video games. It was then that I realised that I didn’t really have anything that’s from the current generation. This wasn’t a huge shock to me – throughout my entire life there have only ever been a few relatively short times where I was even vaguely up to date with the games I played.
When I was younger, I often played slightly older games. These days, I play 1990s retro games, some games from the last decade and the occasional obscure low-budget modern game (eg: hidden object games, the occasional indie freeware game etc…).
Sure, when I’ve met people with more modern games, I’d played them for a while. I’ve also seen countless Youtube videos about modern games too. So, I’m not totally ignorant about current mainstream gaming.
Still, I sometimes feel a little bit wary about calling myself a “gamer”, unless I preface it with the word “retro”. When I watch Youtube videos about computer and video games, I feel like I did when I read games magazines as a kid – as someone just slightly on the outside, looking in.
Again, I’m fine with that. I love retro games from the 1990s and the early-mid 00s and I’m also glad that I was sort of up to date with games during some of gaming’s greatest eras.
Even so, it made me wonder about the barriers to entry when it comes to gaming. Theoretically, you could just download a few freeware games (I’d recommend this one, this one or this one) onto the computer you’re viewing this article on and you could yourself a gamer. Technically speaking, you would be a gamer. Likewise, if you have one of those newfangled smartphones, you’ve probably got a few games on there too. If you play them, then you’re a gamer too.
However, in order to get into what the mainstream media considers to be “gaming”, you need to invest quite a lot. You need to buy expensive modern gaming consoles and expensive modern games. You need to buy the latest souped-up gaming PC or spend a lot of time and money upgrading your current computer. In other words, in order to be able to directly participate in current mainstream gaming culture, you need to invest a lot financially.
Now, let’s look at another entertainment medium – literature. Financially speaking, there isn’t quite as much of a barrier to entry. Even buying the latest bestseller in hardback at full price on release day will still only cost you less than half of what you’d pay for a new copy of the latest mega-budget videogame. Likewise, if you can read and understand this article, then you already have all of the skills you need to read a bestselling novel.
However, with books, the main things that you have to invest are time and attention. Even if you’re a fast reader, it’ll still take you more than twice as long to read an average novel as it would take you to watch an average movie. Likewise, unlike things like TV, you have to give a book your full attention when you’re using it. So, you can’t multi-task when you’re reading a book.
So, before reading a book, the audience is likely to wonder whether they should invest a significant amount of time and attention in it. This is why, for example, things like an interesting opening sentence or a fascinating cover design and blurb are so important.
Likewise, you need to use a narrative voice which will grab your audience and make them want to invest some of their time and attention. Even if you’re posting stories online for free, you have to make sure that your work sells itself in some way.
With comics and art, this is a bit less of an issue since you only have to glance at a picture for a second in order to understand it. Likewise, good dialogue in comics is usually relatively concise and easy to understand quickly (without being patronising).
As such, unless your art is hanging in a gallery or you’re selling print copies of your comic, there’s relatively little investment involved on the part of the audience. It’s easy for audiences to jump into webcomics and online art galleries without a second thought. However, whilst it’s easy to get your audience to make an initial small investment of time and attention, you have to work hard to keep it.
This means that, if you’re making a webcomic, you need to update it regularly. If you’re making a narrative comic, then you can’t have too many filler pages. If you’re posting art online then you either need to do it regularly (so that your audience can expect more on a regular basis and doesn’t have to wait too long if they don’t like one piece of your artwork), you need to find something that makes your art distinctive and/or you need to focus on quality.
This may all seem like a very coldly mechanical and transactional way of looking at things that deal primarily with creativity and imagination but, if you think carefully about whether your work is a worthwhile investment for your audience (even if you’re posting it online for free), then you might end up making better things as a result.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂