2013 ends as far from it began as I think it is possible to be. It began as a year of consolidation and ended as a year of big changes. What follows isn’t everything, it’s just what has stuck with me the most as I’ve pored back through my notes & calendar entries from the year.
Freeplay’s submission to the Screen Australia Games Fund
This was the culmination of everything Freeplay did under my direction – every thought about how games had changed, every piece of research about how things were overseas, every discussion with people from students to artists to studios. It was also an attempt to fill in the gaps that I felt were missing from the original option paper’s historical framing of game development in Australia which glossed over the years since the ABS stats from 2007. I was still having conversations about it – the fund & this submission’s perspective on it – in December, and with the changes in government and hopefully more politically aware developers, it’ll be interesting from the other side of the world to see how those conversations evolve in 2014. You can read it here, along with the much shorter response to the draft guidelines.
National Screenwriters’ Conference
This was my third time speaking at the conference, and, as with many other things on this list, a chance to reflect on the changes since the previous biannual event. Videogames have a tricky relationship to film in Australia. Much of the discussion around cultural legitimacy – and the government & financial visibility – is based on film-responsive arguments (they get support so why shouldn’t we; games are an evolution of film), and so with screenwriting audiences my intent is always to break that – to highlight the differences from film & unique affordances of the medium, while still showing how they tell stories. It’s also a chance to expose people to projects they might never have seen such as Dys4ia, Unmanned, and Dear Esther, and to open their eyes to videogames’ independent scene.
The Children’s Book Festival
Over the years, I’ve done a fair amount of education projects with students at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. It’s been an unspoken (until a later piece of writing which I’ll get to) tenet of mine that to fully support a vibrant game development scene – one that will outlast your own influence – you need to inspire and empower kids. It’s a fairly recent (but absolutely inevitable) development that highly accessible tools have become available and championed for making games, which as much as it might upset gatekeepers of development culture, allows far more diverse voices to take part – and which lets you run workshops where kids create interactive stories in Twine as part of the Children’s Book Festival. This was a boisterous day, but incredible to see kids and families making games together.
As with the Screenwriters’ Conference, this was a chance to show a new audience what contemporary videogames looked like. Unlike the Screenwriters’ Conference, this was a completely new audience for me – teacher librarians & authors speaking about young adult fiction – and one in which I was definitely the odd one out. I chose similar games to the NSC – Dys4ia, Unmanned – but added in Proteus (inspired by this project), and Depression Quest, which, in the aftermath of my panel and talk became one of the most inspiring moments of my year. More than any other talk – more than any other game – people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for introducing them to Depression Quest, sharing their own stories, asking about mine, and wondering about how it might help or support others.
In July, I stepped down from the board of Freeplay, ending my official role with the festival and its organisation. After four years of running the festival, I knew that it was time to do something else, and I knew that the conversations about what it meant to be an Australian game developer – independent or otherwise – was changing. This year’s festival – with new directors Harry Lee and Katie Williams – was most exciting when it showed what that new conversation looked like. From Erin Robinson’s Keynote to Stephen Swift & Goldie Bartlett’s amazing lecture; from the pervasive and foregrounded discussion of inclusion & gender & diversity to Katharine Neil’s call to question who stands to profit from the status quo; from the discussions that followed to the way I left the festival inspired and optimistic, Freeplay 2013 was my first in a long time as an audience member, and one that I’m enormously glad I was able to attend.
I was far less public about Australian games & games culture in 2013 than I was in the past, but in the middle of the year I felt the need to add my voice to what I believe to be one of the most important (and at the time weirdly divisive) conversations that came to the fore in 2013 – the way we deal with diversity and inclusion across all parts of our development culture. I wrote this post discussing my personal approach to Freeplay in 2012 (which also touches on some ideas I have about education), and this post attempting to frame some wider research on gender diversity in the workplace, but also to point out the need for leadership in these areas – even if that comes against opposition.
I made Sunshine with Pachinko Pictures as part of the LA Game Space kickstarter pack, and I’m really proud of it. It’s small and weird but has so many ideas, and is in its own way incredibly expressive of our collective thoughts and feelings, that no matter what other people think of it (which in the main seems to be positive), I will always enjoy it.
Peleda is quite different to Sunshine. A writing project that saw me dip in and out of its development across around 2 years, but one that’s no less personal – to me at least – in terms of the ideas I explored, the directions the rest of the team pushed me in, and what survived through that process. You can play it over at the ABC3 website.
Much of the above took place with the knowledge that we were moving from Melbourne to London at the end of the year. That coloured things, but in hindsight, even without the move, 2013 was always going to feel like a transition year. The move simply gave that a bit more structure. I’m still working through the questions of the decision – and the new questions that have arisen now that we’re here – and I suspect will be for a little bit longer, as this new city in this new and old country adds its colour and texture to the days, weeks, and months of 2014.