Before writing this blog post reflecting on the talks & articles I’ve written this year, I felt as though I’d only really had a single idea this year and that I’d endlessly explored and reiterated it through everything I’d written and said – the notion that the way we locally talk about the games industry is perhaps not the best model for all types of creative endeavor we might want to undertake or explore and that we should be looking for other lenses through which to view the world.
I certainly did talk a lot about that, but in reading through my other thoughts, and trying to construct some sort of yearly narrative, something unexpected is in there too – something still aligned with that single idea (there was no escaping it), but one that makes me feel slightly better about drawing repeatedly from that well.
The strength of industrial rhetoric is that it tends towards the rational, towards the easily measurable, to metrics of volume and money. We sold X units. We funded Y projects. We have Z Studios and so many employees. These are quickly identified, understood, quantified, and compared, and lead to something I’ve heard a few times this year – the line that videogames have ‘won’. They make more money than movies, millions of people play them, the biggest entertainment opening in history belongs to a videogame. If you only care about those things, then sure, videogames have ‘won’. Yay videogames! And yay us for picking the winning side.
The measurable only goes so far. With all art, entertainment, cultural product, a huge part of it is the unquantifiable, the unknown, the weird, visceral, and personal responses to a piece of work. All the statistics in the world can’t change the way a novel or theatre or music or game tells a story about our world and how it works, and all the statements about how many people play videogames, how old they are, and how much money the industry makes, can’t sway those who view them as at best a waste of time or a cultural ghetto and at worst actively destroying our children and corrupting our society, no matter how ill-informed or cliché-ridden those thoughts and criticisms might be.
Looking back through everything I’ve thought & spoken about & written, I’ve realised that it wasn’t entirely about the false dichotomy of these various extremes, it wasn’t about the issues with industrial rhetoric or about presenting arguments about criticisms towards the form, it was more about trying to find the middle ground and what games could learn from other art-forms and what other art-forms might be able to learn from games.
Towards the end of the year, I saw Tom Stoppard interviewed by Alison Croggon at the Atheneum Theatre – video here – and in discussing his opinions on writing & his job as a writer, he talked about having to find ways – through the words themselves and with the actors – to meet the audience halfway. If he didn’t cast the work far enough, the audience had to work too hard to connect with the work; too far and the audience didn’t need to do enough and would become bored. By meeting in the middle, the audience, writer, actors, directors, and everyone involved became collaborators in the creation of meaning of the piece.
2011 was the first year where I personally felt that there was a real interest in games from a cultural perspective in ways that hadn’t existed before – Freeplay continued to grow at the State Library of Victoria, worked with the National Gallery of Victoria, and partnered with the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I wrote pieces for writers’ centres, the Australia Council for the Arts, The Australian Writers’ Guild, Kill Your Darlings, and Meanjin. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development ran a year long research project into games, development, and virtual worlds which I was lucky enough to be part of, and ACMI announced their Game Masters exhibition coming in 2012.
But for all these anecdotal shifts, and for every reasoned and articulate piece about videogames, there has also been the continuation of pieces in mainstream media about the horrors of videogames – including appalling attempts to connect the tragedy in Oslo to local classification reform – or half-hearted, poorly written defences, cliched critiques of people who play video games, as well as almost unintelligible opinion pieces about games based on chinese whispers.
There may well be ways of looking at the world in which videogames have won something, streaking ahead over a finishing line or building a tower so tall that it will be decades before it can be toppled, but in other ways of looking at the world, there are still long roads to follow to properly map the place where things meet.
So with that as framing of sorts, here, with no doubt some omissions and oversights, is a bunch of stuff that I wrote and talked about in 2011 covering games, writing, culture, industry, and maybe some of the spaces in between. Hopefully 2012 will be as diverse.
- Arts and Creative Industries
- Transmedia Victoria and the Global Game Jam
- Sexy Spanking Games and Murder Simulators
- Screenplay and Screen Australia
- The Thin Measure of Success
- We are not legion
- Thoughts and notes from GCAP
- National Cultural Policy and Games
- The What, Why, and How of being a games writer at a writer goes on a journey, the official news site of the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association,
- Games, storytelling, and the end of the world at if:Book Australia. Also available as an ebook – Hand Made High Tech
- A series of blog posts on Connecting: Arts Audiences Online for the Australia Council for the Arts.
- A series of blog posts as part of Brisbane City Council’s ibrary project on games & writing. This one about Another World, Deus Ex, and Shadow of the Colossus is my favourite.
- A piece on Novelty, Escape, Boredom, and Hope at Kill Your Darlings based on the Pecha Kucha slide night we did at Freeplay.
- Freeplay’s submission to Australia’s National Cultural Policy.
- Two posts at the Edge Queensland Blog – one called These words mean just what I choose them to mean looking at the language of game development and the other called Beyond the edge of the screen exploring the troublesome nature of the screen metaphor
- The Reader – Play is the Wrong Word (online version)
- June 2011 Edition of the Australian Writers’ Guild Newswrite Magazine – Games & Storytelling
- August 2011 Edition of the NSW Writers’ Centre Newswrite Magazine – Games & Storytelling
- Meanjin Quarterly Volume 70 Number 3 – Video Gaming: Have we seen it all (online version)