Tag Archives: Game

The strange life of festivals…

Yesterday, Freeplay 2012 was announced, and along with it, the news that it will be my last festival. The decision to leave and the launch has got me thinking about the roles of festivals as they relate to other creative realms, to me personally, and how Freeplay fits into both of those things as well as the surrounding game creation & playing culture and community.

Rambling thoughts follow…

Continue reading The strange life of festivals…

Games, writing, and play

Over at if:Book Australia, there’s a piece I wrote about games, storytelling, and the end of the world.

The significant shift that technology gave games has little to do with the graphics or the input technology, nor is it necessarily part of the maturation of the form – it is something far more fundamental in how we experience play and storytelling, and that is that we far more easily connect and engage with experiences that are conversational and continuous.

At a writer goes on a journey, the official news site of the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, I wrote a piece on the What, Why, and How of being a games writer.

[A games writer] might also find themselves doing pure design work, which might output a written document, but whose underlying structure is built on something quite different. Rather than trading in the intangible connective tissue of stories and characters, you’re dealing with the underlying components of games – rules, systems, and goals. You might find yourself wrapping these in a fiction, but the work here is on focusing what the player does, not on who they are or where they are doing it. Some of the skills are transferable, and some aren’t, so it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the medium before you go into it.

And on this site, I’ve published my article from the Emerging Writers’ Festival Reader on play and creativity – Play is the Wrong Word.

Every piece of writing – in fact every act of creation – is an exploration, a mapping of elusive contours of thought, a process of divination and excavation. At the other end, every experience of a piece of writing – or every creative work – is the same: a scrabble through uncharted caves, a handheld guide through an unknown city, a slow resonant unveiling of how things are and how they came to be.

But mention the word play in association with either of these processes and the arguments come at you hard and fast. We are serious writers and thinkers, they say, explorers of uncharted territory. We stalk the wilderness and return with wisdom, heroes of our own creative journey. We are adults struggling against the dark, and we have no time for such trivial things.

Perhaps play is the wrong word then? Or perhaps it’s something that needs reclaiming through reflection and re-examination of how creativity works.

Play is the Wrong Word

This is a piece that originally appeared in the Emerging Writers’ Festival Reader.

Every piece of writing – in fact every act of creation – is an exploration, a mapping of elusive contours of thought, a process of divination and excavation. At the other end, every experience of a piece of writing – or every creative work – is the same: a scrabble through uncharted caves, a handheld guide through an unknown city, a slow resonant unveiling of how things are and how they came to be.

But mention the word play in association with either of these processes and the arguments come at you hard and fast. We are serious writers and thinkers, they say, explorers of uncharted territory. We stalk the wilderness and return with wisdom, heroes of our own creative journey. We are adults struggling against the dark, and we have no time for such trivial things.

Perhaps play is the wrong word then? Or perhaps it’s something that needs reclaiming through reflection and re-examination of how creativity works.

Continue reading Play is the Wrong Word

Sexy Spanking Games and Murder Simulators

From The Age online dated March 11, 2011

Not long before it banned Mortal Kombat, the Board let a sexy spanking game, We Dare, through as PG, despite the game’s own publisher, Ubisoft, recommending it be rated M.

This follows on from Sex game to hit Australian stores and A Wii bit kinky: sexy spanking game rated PG but Mortal Kombat banned.

The decision to ban Mortal Kombat while giving the risqué We Dare a PG rating has revealed some interesting details about the federal government’s morality on censorship. Judging by the decisions, it appears that games promoting spanking, stripping and sexual partner swapping are acceptable for children while hardcore simulated on-screen violence is strictly off-limits.

It also found its way into this rather muddled opinion piece.

We Dare has caused a bit of an uproar generally, but most of it seems to have come from watching the promotional video for the game rather than playing it, a fact that hasn’t been lost on PEGI over in Europe who recently had this to say to eurogamer about the game and its advertising.

“The Committee concludes that the advertisement does NOT accurately reflect the nature and content of the product and it MISLEADS consumers as to its true nature.”

“It was correct to give the game a 12 rating,” PEGI said. “The content of the game and the interaction that the game itself implies do not warrant a higher rating.

“Marketing may have implied something else, but PEGI does not rate advertising, it rates game content. If people play the game, they will see that there is nothing inappropriate for ages 12 and older.”

There’s a conversation to be had about ratings, classification, sexual content, and their place in videogames, but We Dare is no more a ‘sexy spanking game’ than Call of Duty is a ‘murder simulator’ and maybe, just maybe, the classification board are doing their job.

And maybe, just maybe, employing the same sort of moral outrage tactics as critics of videogames do is perhaps not the smartest tack to take.

[Edit- clarified ‘game critics’]

Some thoughts on analysis and insight…and a proposal

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen me post this recently:

Thinking out loud: if someone started a smart, adult, critical site for writing about local gaming, would anyone write for it? Read it?

While I was only thinking out loud in response to this reactionary article from The Age (and yes, I know I shouldn’t read mainstream games coverage), I think it’s worth exploring, as much for my benefit as anything else, what I meant.

So, what did I mean?

Other creative sectors have a plurality of voices that run the gamut from news, reviews, criticism, and analysis, but for whatever reason (and I might not be looking in the right places), there seems to be a dearth of critical analysis and insight in the games space.

To illustrate, some of what I’d like to see in response to various events / articles are:

  • A deconstruction of the recent 60Sox / ISIS numbers and whether or not they’re truly reflective of the state of things and whether or not a meaningful comparison can be drawn with previous studies
  • A deeper look at state and federal funding decisions and the subsequent trajectories of both the projects and the studios
  • An examination of the recent Australia Council Arts and Creative Industries report from a games perspective
  • A breakdown of Canada’s development infrastructure before the tax breaks were introduced and whether or not the same conditions exist here
  • Something like this 2010 summary of the games sector in Scotland

Some of these I’d like to write, others I’d like to hear other perspectives on, and others I know I’m not qualified to do, but I’d like to read all of them as part of picking apart some of the long held beliefs about local game development – industrial, indie, and cultural – and seeing whether or not they hold water as well as responding with a greater degree of insight when new issues arise.

Is there enough there? And is there an audience?

I don’t know, and I have questions around whether there are enough people interested in writing or reading content like this or would those sorts of articles actually find a constructive audience or would it degenerate into comment flame-wars.

Where does it belong?

Somebody on twitter suggested that this might be the place for that and I should ask guests along. I don’t think that model works  because I (occasionally) like talking about other things here, deconstructing games, posting half-formed thoughts, sometimes about my writing, so I think it should be a completely new space. There’s also the question of responsibility – if someone says something contentious, I’d rather not be held entirely responsible for that. Happy to take the lumps for my own thoughts; others not so much.

Funding…?

This doesn’t feel like the sort of thing that would bring in vast amounts of wealth for contributors, but I also know having written some fairly substantial pieces that the ability to be paid for them makes a huge difference to their quality. I’d suggest a mix of short pieces that were unpaid, punctuated with far longer and more in-depth pieces that would be paid.

Raising the money is trickier, but I’m really interested in the Pozible model that New Matilda used to relaunch. I’m not sure how much would be needed, but it’s worth thinking about as a way of proving not only that there’s an audience out there, but that it’s an engaged and interested audience.

The question of time.

Freeplay is my main focus, but I’d like to see something like this happen perhaps as a contributor or as part of an editorial team, but I suspect if I tried to drive it I would burn myself out more than I already do with trying to build and grow a festival.

What next…?

These are really just thoughts of something I’d like to see rather than a manifesto or a detailed structure. The first step in building something new is to figure out what the hell it is and this provides us with a bit more space than Twitter to talk about that.

 

Arts and creative industries

The Australia Council for the Arts late last month published a report on Arts and creative industries. I’m only part way through reading it, but it’s worth reading because games are a fairly significant part of the first section and it continues what feels to me like is a broader conversation which is going on just outside of the games establishment and which could be easily missed.

What this raises for me in particular in a half-formed sort of way is: where do game developers fit into this conversation? Is it an industrial issue? Is it an audience issue? Is it the weird space in between those two?  Or is it something new entirely?

I don’t know, but I was struck by a comment from Miranda Sawyer over on The Guardian’s piece Is the age of the critic over?

The point is that most people – especially those outside the high-culture capital of London – are involved in culture of their own choice, often of their own making. Professional critics spend their time whizzing between private screenings and secret gigs, opening nights and exclusive playbacks. Everyone else just does stuff they like, with people who like it too.

In my half-formed world, it seems to me it should be the people who just do the stuff they like. I suspect though that they’re a bit like I’m learning to become and are focused on just making the things they want to make. I do wonder though what value could be gained from injecting some of their voices into this discussion.

My thoughts on the R18+ discussion

Well, I guess Amnesia Month is well and truly over…

I wasn’t going to weigh in to the R18+ issue largely because for a long time I’ve maintained that it didn’t really affect developers, and there was already a well-motivated and very vocal contingent of gamers who had the time and the energy for the fight. I also couldn’t find a way to add anything more to the argument than has already been stated elsewhere.

But now I think I can.

…if the latest surveys about the average gamer being a 32-year-old single male who sits at home and plays games all day are correct, then what I am proposing is not going to have much impact at all.

From Gamespot.

Continue reading My thoughts on the R18+ discussion

Industry, Suits, and Audience

The Six Steps from Scott Mcloud’s Understanding Comics.

MTV’s Multiplayer Blog recently interviewed Trey Smith, Creative Director at Electronic Arts working on NBA Jam.  In it, there was the following exchange:

What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?

I think there are a number of problems we have with the way games are being developed today, but honestly, I think one of the biggest problems right now is the actions and attitude of some of the gamers out there. You know who they are. If they spent less time spewing ignorant hate on the boards and in online games, and more time rallying behind the great games they love and helping to build a thriving community that welcomes everyone that shows up to play with them – everybody wins. Nothing wrong with a little smack talk here and there, just wish gamers respected each other more. I just got back from PAX Prime down in Seattle. I am of the opinion that if the people of PAX ran the world, it would be a much better place. Costumes optional.

The Age’s Screenplay blog picked this up and, significantly I think, changed the emphasis:

What’s the biggest problem facing the games industry today?

According to NBA Jam’s Creative Director Trey Smith, who just put the finishing touches on the slapstick sports game for Electronic Arts, one of the biggest problems right now is “the actions and attitude of some of the gamers out there”.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing the games industry today?

I’ve already written about this use of ‘industry‘ as a defining metaphor, and this is a perfect example of that.  Trey points out that there are issues with how games are developed, certainly an industry issue, but his chief complaint is as actually quite removed from industry – it’s about a small part of the audience that exists in the wider gaming culture.

But this hasn’t stopped it being picked up by some local blogs.  On GameTaco, Smoolander wrote:

I would like to respond to this sentiment by stating that this is not the biggest problem facing the games industry. The internet is synonymous with idiots, and this does not just restrict itself to gaming, but the internet as a whole. Hell, just step outside during the day, or night, and you’ll find your share of selfish idiots wandering around.

No, the biggest problem facing the games industry at the moment is suits. Corporate suits. Worn by people whose first thought is to their shareholders above anything else.

And in response, Fraser Allison on RedKingsDream wrote:

That’s what’s wrong with the games industry. Not the suits: they’d disappear in a month if we stopped supporting them. Not the angry ranty geeks: for all their lack of social graces, they often reserve their passion for the things that deserve to be supported. No, it’s the ordinary people who keep handing over their money for overproduced, soulless shit that doesn’t need to exist, either because they don’t know any better, or worse: even though they do.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

As Trey pointed out, there is a lot wrong with how we develop games.  No disagreements there.  But, I do disagree with the framing of suits and audience because I think, even when they apply to ‘industry’, they’re not necessarily a useful abstraction – and that’s where Scott Mcloud comes in.

In his book, Understanding Comics – which if you haven’t read, you should – attempts to decipher the essentials of the creative process, breaking it down into 6 stages:

  1. Idea / Purpose
  2. Form
  3. Idiom
  4. Structure
  5. Craft
  6. Surface

In becoming an artist – in any form – Scott puts forward the argument that an artist works backwards from 6 – first mimicking the surface aspects of the work, then learning craft, experimenting with structure, then underlying genre & possibility, before leaning on the essential strengths of the medium or exploring the breadth of their own ideas.

At each of these stages during the descent, people fall away.  The number of people sitting on the surface level is larger than those at craft, is larger than…well, you get the idea.

This applies to both our audience and our creatives.  A tiny little fraction of people who choose a specific form will dig all the way down to Idea / Purpose – and a tiny fraction of an art form’s audience will be interested in exploring work that does.

The same goes for those who provide the financial stake in the ‘industrial’ aspects of games – the suits.  The majority of them will sit with their understanding at the surface level, a smaller number at craft, and so on, and so on.

What these blog posts seem to be railing against is essential human nature, not some abstract money-man, or an audience that fails to appreciate creative work, but something fundamental in the way we develop as creatives, and in the way creative industries develop alongside that.  Like quality, community, platforms, and projects, this is fractal in nature.  Our ability to dig through those 6 stages as individuals is mirrored all the way through our gaming industry and culture – and not just ours, but every single creative industry & associated culture too.

So, how to address, really address, the root of this question of ‘audience’ and ‘suits’?

It appears to me that this is about the type and range and creativity of the projects that are made, not only by the industrial style of production, but the engagement of the independent sector audience as well.  But in order for that independent sector to exist, there needs to be a critical mass of gamers – gamers who inevitably engage with the superficial aspects of the work, but who, sometimes, feel the need to dig deeper and deeper.  Somewhere in the world, Halo: Reach will be a somebody’s first introduction to the world of video games, and if we’re lucky they’ll find something there to engage in, and if we’re even luckier, they’ll be drawn into the possibiltiy of the medium and want to learn more.

Since GCAP, I’ve been thinking a lot about community and the ecosystem that needs to exist in order for a creative industry and the associated culture to function.  While the language we use is important – no scratch that, essential – in capturing the various facets of what we create, it shouldn’t be used to create divisions and artificial boundaries between ‘suits’ and ‘creatives’ between ‘developers’ and ‘audience’.

In reality, all of these parts need to exist, sharing a symbiotic relationship, enabling more people to make more things, which in the end is the only way to increase the number and ability of the people who dig all the way down to Scott’s core levels.  This is simply the price to be paid, and I for one am mostly okay with that.

Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t continue to try & improve development practices, we shouldn’t stop trying to better educate our audiences, and we shouldn’t stop trying to be more creative developers, because we should.

But we also need to start digging deeper into all of those things to get to the core of why they happen rather than our arguments simply skimming the Surface.

GCAP – Quality, Community, Fractals

One of the things I noticed post Freeplay is the uniquely personal experience of conferences and festivals.  Every one who attends the traces a unique path through the content, and as such it’s difficult to plan before the event what the ideal experience is and post the event figure out whether it hit those.  The best you can do is to hope there’s enough interesting content that everyone finds something in their path that connects with them.

This year’s GCAP did that for me.

And disclaimer: as part of the board, I helped program it, but compared to something like Freeplay, my involvement was minimal. Continue reading GCAP – Quality, Community, Fractals

A clockwork mountain

This post is a little old now.  I wrote it immediately before Freeplay and then let it sit there while I wondered what to do with it.  I’m reposting it because it helps to frame my thoughts on GCAP, which I’ll get up in the next few days.

So.

Freeplay 2010 was built around the theme of  ‘Play is Everywhere’ and we approached it as a way of looking at the fundamentals of the creative process.  As a result I ended up thinking a huge amount about the design of things – including a festival (and in light of GCAP, a conference too).  Some of this is a little out of date where I’ve explored it in more detail since, but what the hell?  It’s free content, right?

Continue reading A clockwork mountain