“I want to create something unique,” says Jonah Oxenhandler, designer and programmer of the sandbox game Shipyard. This game allows players to design and decorate their own spaceships in a surprisingly versatile and engaging virtual shipyard, as the name implies. When constructing a ship, players must include vital components such as a bridge, engines, and crew quarters in the ship’s interior before shifting their attention to the exterior, where the ship’s appearance can be made less like a pile of mathematically balanced blocks and more like a cohesive vehicle. Finally, the player can add weapons to the ship, which vary in appearance and damage.
And the game’s content does not stop here. Jonah plans to add much more to this game, making it so that players can utilize their ships in an open-world RPG environment. People will be able to fly their ships around a two-dimensional universe, combatting other ships in a turn-based setting. This is still not a complete portrait of what the game will feature, however, and the ideas for the final result of the game are not set in stone. Jonah’s work in progress could go anywhere. “I don’t have a single, primary goal for Shipyard other than to make something fun with a lot of depth behind it,” Jonah says. “Other than that, it’s too early to give specifics on the game.” It appears that Shipyard will primarily follow Jonah’s inspiration, seeing as there is neither a definite goal nor a self-assigned due date. This is a very positive thing, seeing as games with the most depth of gameplay usually remain ongoing projects. A prime example of this is Minecraft, which Jonah says provided some of his ideas along with another less popular game called Kerbal Space Pogram. It will be exciting to see how his own game evolves.
The ideas and concepts for Shipyard first began to formulate in Jonah’s mind last year. It all began in math class one day, when a few simple sketches and a lot of inspiration emerged from what Jonah deems the ultimate reservoir for creativity: boredom. “I was bored and not paying much attention, when suddenly, for reasons unknown, I had an idea for the game,” he says. “As graph paper was readily available, I began sketching ship parts, making tables of stats, and then drawing and calculating stats for whole ships.” The moral of the story here is to stop paying attention in math class. Great things happen when you untie your mind from the bondage of focus and let the teacher’s words blur into white noise. But do keep in mind that this tactic only works if you’re a brilliant programmer like Jonah who is already steps ahead.
Jonah plans to turn his beloved hobby into a lifelong career one day by founding his own game development team. “I have planned to work in the games industry, believe it or not, since before I was allowed to play video games,” he says, with a bit of nostalgia. “But I have never wanted to work for an existing game company. I don’t want to be made a slave of someone else’s vision. I want to take my own ideas and make games that I would want to play, not games that will get me a salary at the end.” It seems that Jonah has already taken the first leaps into the world of the gaming industry as he steadily works on Shipyard. What he has here is more than a career plan; it is a passionate dream. It seems that Jonah, a person who values game design as an outlet for self-expression more than he values it as a successful career, may be considered an artist.
Even so, the general topic of whether or not a game designer can actually be considered an artist is highly debated in today’s society; but Jonah argues that video games can be art as much as painting, literature, or any other commonly accepted art form. “Every medium has its art, and every medium has its thoroughly artless. Any media, games included, becomes art when it represents the creative will of its maker.” Indeed, one of the most important criteria that determines whether or not something is art is its inclusion of the creator’s personal expression. So, if a game designer pours his heart and soul into making a game, why should he not be considered an artist? It angers Jonah how many people refuse to see this simple fact. Through his work, he strives to fight against the negative stereotype of video games in today’s society.
“Video games are often used as a scapegoat for a vast number of problems, but one in particular stands out: homicide,” he says, referring to tragic incidences such as the Columbine Shooting that were blamed, at least partially, on undeserving video games. “When a killer’s life is examined for reasons as to why they committed their crime, it is often discovered that they play video games, especially first-person shooters. Here’s one for you, Mrs. Darrough: that explanation is a perfect example of post hoc ergo propter hoc, or the lack of correlation between cause and effect. There are tens of millions of non-mass-murderers who also play video games, so it should logically follow that other forces were at play in their minds.” Jonah strives not only to make in-depth, enjoyable games but ones that will help video games as a whole earn their place in society as a respectable art form.
One day, people will no longer jump to the conclusion that video games are at fault when it comes to violent incidences. Perhaps, through people like Jonah, people will see that video games have as much potential to be art as several other mediums, many of which were also faced with skepticism in their early stages of development. Jonah is a person who takes video games seriously, striving to remove the disillusioning apprehension that has brought our society to believe that video games may only be used as an unhealthy form of escapism. With a passion and a talent like his, Jonah is certainly an artist in his own right.
If you want to download Shipyard, go to http://www.nerdboy64.com/shipyard/
Do you have your own art or talent you would like to share with the population of SLVHS? If so, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview and have your words published in The Claw. First come first serve!