The invention of Kodak's Brownie made photography accessible to everyone, and game researcher-designer Ian Bogost asks
whether the era of user-generated content opens doors for games as 'snapshots.'
Just as Kodak's Brownie Camera simplified the process of making pictures and encouraged people to create personal snapshots, other mediums have accommodated the creative whims of everyday consumers, providing solutions such as easy-to use video editing software for aspiring directors and blogging tools for diarists/writers.
Following this trend (and its commercial success) are several nascent attempts to do for video games what the Brownie did for photography. Big players like Microsoft (Popfly Game Creator), and EA (Sims Carnival) have gotten into the game-maker game, as have start-ups like Metaplace, Gamebrix, PlayCrafter, and Mockingbird.
Each of these products offers users a slightly different way to simplify game creation. Sims Carnival offers three methods: a wizard, an image customizer, and a downloadable visual-scripting tool. PlayCrafter relies on physics, Gamebrix on behaviors, Mockingbird on goals. Popfly uses templates.
As platforms, each tool relies on the formal properties of different sorts of games. Some differences are obvious: Sims Carnival's Wizard and Swapper tools let people create games very easily by changing variables and uploading new art, while PlayCrafter automates physical interactions.
Bogost argues that the most successful snapshot games aren't DIY attempts at mainstream casual games, but enjoyable, personal games with value for their creators and whomever they wish to share their project with -- games about crushes, games celebrating birthdays, or even games poking fun at celebrities.
Sims Carnival's tools make the customization process more like Eastman's "we'll do the rest." It's easy for someone to insert fixed assets like text and images -- the things they already learned how to create easily in previous eras ...
Consider a particularly telling example, Dad's Coffee Shop. The game was created with the Swapper tool, by replacing a few assets from the stock game Fill the Order, a simple cake shop game. The gameplay is identical; the player drags the correct cake to match a passing customer's request.
Dad's Coffee Shop's creator has added occasional photos of her parents, and this important description: 'In loving and respectful memory of my father who never met a stranger.' Like a snapshot, the game has value because of the way it lets its creator preserve and share a sentiment about her family. Likewise, you and I can appreciate it not as the crappy casual game that it is, but as the touching personal snapshot that it also is.
You can read the full feature
on video games as snapshots, which further discusses the value of simple, personal games created with tools like EA's Sims Carnival (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).