On moving on.

Trying to write about leaving is incredibly hard. Each time I’ve sat down to do it since we made our decision earlier this year, I’ve found myself questioning what it is I want to say. Seeking inspiration, I read accounts of people leaving Australia and their own perspectives, but none quite connected with me. Giving in to self-indulgence, I tried to place the 13 years of living here in some sort of context alongside the evolution of Australian and international game development, but it became unwieldy even as it revealed things I’d never quite articulated.  Trying to separate out the personal, I reflected on the recent stories about Australia’s games brain drain and how government funding aims to change that. Then finally, I explored my own relationship to making things, digging into the swing of my own bouts of ambivalence towards games and the ways that it broadened my perspectives towards writing and teaching, led me to Freeplay, and expanded the horizons of what it meant for me to not only make games, but to be a creative and cultural citizen of a city.

But each draft, focusing on one thing over another, emphasising something and deemphasising another, in their own way all felt smaller than the sum of their parts. Then, when I tried to include everything, they became unwieldy, self-indulgent, and ultimately too imprecise.

So I went back and forth, and as I did, the drafts kept spiralling back around to the same point. As I fought against it and tried to say more, the drafting process did what it was supposed to and pared things back, revealing more accurately what was sitting at the heart of everything.

I arrived in Melbourne on November 23, 2000, but the actual decision to move came much, much earlier. I’d left my first games job after leaving university and found myself inside what was unknown to me at the time the first of many periods of ambivalence about my relationship to making games. This led into taking a break, flirting with alternatives like web development or interactive design. That path never felt quite right though, and I found myself drifting back to games and the possibility of making them. They had been a part of my life for so long that as the distance from difficulty grew, I realized more and more that I still had questions about what we meant to each other.

Then, quickly, those questions were joined by others. I found myself wondering about an existence with less of a safety net. I wondered how I would cope without friends and family nearby. I wondered if I could build new networks and new opportunities on my own. I wondered about how a big change would change me.

These questions can be boiled down though. In fact, they all can, into something much simpler. It’s only in reflecting on the past 13 years, looking back from 2013 on the move made in 2000, that I realised what these questions were really about: who am I – and who do I become – if I do these things?

Over the years, these same questions – about games, about making them, about doing other things – have swung through now-familiar arcs. As my interest has waned, I took time away from games and tried writing and teaching, then as my curiosity and enthusiasm reasserted themselves, I became a freelancer and worked on a games festival, bringing back with me new thoughts and ideas informed by what I’d learned elsewhere. Far from being a detriment to my own understanding of my career or interests, these changes have strengthened my resolve to make games. They are where I have always ended up, even if I might have needed some occasional time and space away.

But that’s a fairly recent realisation.

At the opening of this year, the ambivalence had poked and prodded and broken the surface once again. A mixture of personal and professional events left me with two paths. The first was to stay in Melbourne but get out of game development; the second was to stay in games and move on from Melbourne.

Both were difficult choices to dwell on. One involved leaving my home of 13 years; the other, the career that I’d pursued for much, much longer than that. For months I went back and forth between them, testing my own ideas on the future, speaking with friends and people I’d worked with, thinking seriously about what I’d give up or gain from following either path.

I should have known where I would end up though. Even as I entertained alternatives, I discovered that I still had questions about making videogames – questions about scale, cultural engagement, and platforms; questions about my own ambitions and their coiling shape; questions about precisely what sort of games I want to make; questions about my career up until now and its future trajectory; and finally questions about the changing energy of game development in Australia and how I fit with it and how it fits with me. Together, these set the path to follow – a path that will lead back to the UK later this year.

I will very much miss Australia and Melbourne. I will miss being a part of its creative and cultural life. I will miss, most of all, the people I have met here, friends and inspiration all. I have been incredibly lucky to meet people – makers, writers, critics, artists, thinkers – who have shown me what the next step might be for me, and I hope that in return, in at least some of the things I have done, I have provided that same small yet vitally important direction, posing the same looping question that I’ve been asking since before I could put it into words – who am I if I do this thing?

I’m looking forward to finding out.

2 thoughts on “On moving on.”

  1. Beautifully put, Paul. In fact you’ve summarised perfectly the cycles I’ve recognised myself passing through, and indeed a very similar journey/question.

    Whether some agree (or would dare to admit it) or not, you have done a huge amount for Australia. Far more than just the games sector, too.

    You have been an enormous inspiration and support to me and my own explorations both personally and professionally and I thank you for that. I’ll miss having you in the same hemisphere (she says, writing this from the UK while you’re still back there!), but know we will continue to cross paths online and off.

    People tell me repeatedly that with reallybigroadtrip I am brave, inspirational and living the dream. I used to worry that ‘brave’ meant I might have missed some huge risk I was hurtling toward; ‘inspirational’ piles on way too much pressure for something I am feeling my way through, rather than fully in control of; and ‘living the dream’ negates the huge amount of hard work and sacrifice, despite appearing to live like a holidaymaker.

    Having said that (and with all the context of my own admissions) I will tell you that I have always seen you as brave, challenging yourself and others around you to be the best maker, the best person you can be in spite of the creative/social/governance/economic conditions around you. Your depth of knowledge and historical context of technical and cultural games spaces inspired me to explore the role of play in the arts (and life!). Your open generosity brings all this together; if anything you give too much of yourself to others. We love you for it but remember to keep some for yourself too sometimes, OK?

    And living the dream? Well… only you know your dreams. If nothing else it’s beautiful to see you reflecting and taking the time to attempt such a lofty goal. I wish you and your dreams well, good friend.

    x

  2. I just want to thank you, Paul. Coming to Freeplay in 2010 completely changed the the trajectory of my life, and entirely for the better. I’ll be forever thankful to you for your hospitality and the three great shows that you put on.

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