It was the year 2003, I think, and a few buddies of mine — Shawn Johnson and Jesus “Chuy” Quintero — were working as Resident Advisors for the USF Upward Bound Summer Program. For six weeks, we lived in a college dorm with a bunch of high school/aspiring college students taking classes at the university, but that’s not the important part. We had a weekend off so, we decided to create an activity around a newly discovered guilty pleasure: video games. We rented a bunch of games from Blockbuster Video (remember them), brought our game systems to the dorms, hooked them up to a bunch of televisions in one room and PLAYED ALL DAY.
At the time, we were still single and chasing women. We wanted to keep the video game thing a secret so we came up with a nickname. We called them Crack. Yes, sounding like we were discussing an illegal drug was somehow better than saying video game, but there it is. We used the name Crack because we thought a good video game was one that you couldn’t put down. A good video game was addictive like an awesome book. Thus, a good video game was like Crack, and our little event, which soon became a tradition, was our “Crack Session” where we “Cracked Out.”
We did our little events for only two more years but we stayed friends. Chuy bought his first console, got married and drove his wife crazy with his brand new hobby. Shawn worked for a year as a tester and hated it. A few years later, I did a stint as a video game journalist. To this day we still use the same words to describe video games. Actually, over the years we came up with a completely new lexicon because A) we were admittedly nuts and B) we absolutely hated how nearly everyone that wrote about games was white, male and geek. I was a Black dude from poor, working class San Francisco. Shawn was a brotha from Oakland. Chuy was a Mexican-American who grew up picking peaches in rural Yuba City, California. The way people talked about games on IGN or Kotaku just didn’t vibe with us.
A few months ago, I started teaching a class on principles of video game design with a small group of youth. I’ve learned a few things since the summer of 2003. During the first lecture, I talked to them about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, his Theory of Flow and it’s influence on video games. His theory, as I explained to my class, is the reason why a good game is like crack. I explained it. They totally got it. I had come full circle.
A few weeks later that small group of young people created a concept for a video game, called LUCiD, a game about dealing with grief. They used Little Big Planet 2 to create a concept demo and Weebly to create a website around it with character profiles, concept art and a YouTube video. And, they call themselves The Crackheads. On Moday, they submitted their game to the ESA LOFT Video Game Innovation Fellowship. No word on the results just yet, but I couldn’t be more proud of this small band of Black, Yemini and Latino youth.
Ain’t it funny how ideas develop?