Recently I went along to the Freeplay Independent Games Festival in Melbourne. Now, I wouldn’t typify myself as a geek – although I use technology for communications, my specialty is writing and strategy rather than tech. However, I do spend most of my days attached to technology and am an ‘early adopter’. In the past five years I’ve also started to play video games. Snicker not, dear reader. I was initially suckered into game play by my niece’s pink Playstation 2. The marketing team Sony certainly did their job right with its gimmicky design, which soon had me playing Kingdom Hearts, God of War and Resident Evil 4 through the hot afternoons of a Summer holiday.
On my way to Freeplay in as much pink as possible, to match my fuschia Playstation 2.
I discovered that some of these games were much more than I expected – more than merely a diversion from daily chores. Games such as Bioshock and Unchartered truly moved me with their unexpected plot twists, beautiful art direction and intelligent writing – just as much as a sophisticated movie or piece of literature. Other games I tried repelled me so intensely I returned them. Just like any creative medium, games have the capacity to inspire, cheer, disgust and delight. I look forward to working with Melbourne devs on the content, strategy and dialogue for upcoming indie games – so watch this space!
My excitement about the gaming genre led me to Freeplay – where I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be hardcore geeks in emo outfits talking about code? Certainly, there were a few of those there. The crowd was mostly male. But there were colorful ladies throughout, some of whom stood out in bustiers and brightly colored ‘manga’ style coiffs. Game development and design is more than just ‘geekery’ and the hardcore nuts-and-bolts of the build. It takes creative minds, illustrators, designers, actors, voice artists, writers, financiers and more to bring another reality to life in the game world. Freeplay offered an array of conference talks to appeal to the diversity of the attending crowd. Today’s Ruby Slipper blog covers off on a couple of the most notable talks.
The theme of Freeplay was ‘Chaos and Grace’, which Mare Sheppard (@maresheppard inset above) from Metanet Software in Toronto spoke eloquently on in her keynote talk. Mare spoke on the theme of indie creatives collaborating and relying on one another’s expertise, specific to the games industry – but equally applicable across any creative community. She is involved in Toronto’s Hand Eye Society, which provides an environment for indie developers to test their games (no matter how basic or rough) and the support to spread indie low-budget games throughout their city. It’s messy, it involves lots of beer and chips. But it is nascent, exciting creativity at its best – which is something that speaks directly to me.
- Is empathizing as a game player with a character the same as empathizing with an actor on stage?
- Do game developers/players take on the role of a meta-director by manipulating their avatars through games?
- The audience of game play. Is the player a protagonist or a viewer? Is game play the ultimate in societal control and removal from public expression of creativity?
Ruth discussed a play called Sayonara (image inset, above) which uses an android as one of its key protagonists. The storyline is disturbing – a young girl with a terminal illness is left to be nursed and cared for by a poetry-speaking android robot. The girl and the robot have a strange kind of one-way dialogue – and eventually the girl passes away. The robot is then taken to mourn for the dead in Fukushima, where mourning is too dangerous for humans to undertake due to nuclear fallout. Heavy stuff. Professor Ishiguru (the man who created the android for the theatre piece) identifies that in Japan, robots are not seen as dangerous or frightening to humanity. The West have an ongoing distrust and unease about robotic ‘life’. For Ishiguru, the robot as placebo helps facilitate a discussion around what being human actually is.
In a later session on Games and Writing, I learned about a game called Don’t Look Back. A retro-styled platform game, it is an uncomfortable mash of high and low culture with a haunting aesthetic. It re-tells the fated story of Orpheus and Eurydice, a narrative connection which is discovered by most players only at the game’s tragic end. It is interesting see ancient myths and themes of mortality, humanity etc. re-imagined in the gaming world, and this reiterated to me that the technology and execution of the art is secondary to the power of the tale told. Other disturbing (but not violent) games we discussed in this vein include the experimental, experiential game Dear Esther which uses prose and poetry as a game advancement device, and Grim Fandango.