I’ve had a terrific fourteen months running Game On here at Crikey. It’s been a privilege to write about videogames for Crikey’s informed, generalist audience, but the time has come to move on. Apart from the regular freelancing that I do, I’ll be shifting my online home for my writing over to ABC Arts, where some exciting things are happening.
By way of saying goodbye to Crikey and Game On, I thought I’d do a bit of a recap of the moments and the articles that I feel like have defined my time here. I hope you’ll forgive a bit of self-indulgence.
I’d like to thank my editors at Crikey—Luke Buckmaster, Sophie Black, and Jason Whittaker—for taking a chance on a videogames blog and my writing, and all of Game On’s readers for being swell. This will be my last post at Game On.
The thing that I’m most grateful for in my time at Crikey is that I’ve had the latitude to explore the politics of videogame culture in a generalist publication. This is unfortunately still quite unusual, and I’m still surprised that my editors at Crikey gave me a chance to prove that taking videogames seriously in this way was not just worth a shot, but was absolutely necessary in developing the media’s engagement with games and conversations about games culture in Australia.
There is still far too little engagement by games journalists with things like the National Cultural Policy and the way that videogames work in the broader cultural and political sphere. The same could be said of journalists generally and videogames, though I feel like that at least is improving gradually. It’s not good enough, and it needs to change fast.
Early this year, Screen Australia engaged in public consultation about their $20 million Games Fund. I spoke to some developers and commentators to get a picture of how the fund was being received. Christian McCrea told me that he hoped for “a project or two to bring home the terrifying reality that videogames aren’t maturing or developing, but that they’re already culturally dominant. That they constitute Australian cultural life in a rudimentary, vernacular—but widespread—way.”
In November last year I reported that Australian console gamers can now gamble in a fairly unregulated way on videogames like FIFA 13, and that no Australian regulatory body seems interested in the situation. “Gambling on videogames is now not only possible, but easy, integrated and encouraged,” I wrote. The situation is still unchanged.
Sexism is still a huge issue in videogame culture, and it’s seemingly not going away. In June last year, I wrote that “the deepest irony about videogames culture is that as much as popular gaming stereotypes are decried and challenged, much of videogame culture does in fact live up to the cliche … The violence, the sexism, the racism, the homophobia: it’s all there. Gamers have brought this upon themselves.”
I also wrote about the R18+ classification, and how the unchanged rhetoric of the debate—of protecting children from a dangerous medium—indicated that little had been gained through the debate. “The serious question is about on whose terms the debate has really been conducted and settled,” I said. “It is difficult not to conclude that this victory is less than it seems.”
The R18+ processes in parliament also provided latitude for Australian politicians to publicly speak about videogames, which was fun to track. My favourite was Ewan Jones, MP for Herbert, who used the opportunity to comment on Australia’s wildlife: “I was driving to Ayr recently and for only the second time since I have been in Townsville I saw a brolga, Townsville’s emblem. It is a beautiful flighted bird; it is the largest flighted bird in Australia. I looked out the window and said, ‘Look, kids—a brolga.’ They were all just sitting there gaming away. Anything could have happened. So, look out the window, go and kick a ball, go and throw something, go and play with someone, go for a swim, do something with your lives other than just gaming.”
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed being able to focus on is the increasing public presence that videogame culture has through events, exhibitions and conferences. There have been some really incredible successes over the last year.
I really enjoyed Robin Hunicke’s playthrough of her own game—Journey—at ACMI. Hunicke’s depth of intelligence and ability to articulate what the Journey team’s goals were as well as the problems with contemporary videogame culture was breathtaking: “‘People can love one another through this mediated interface,’ she said. ‘They can feel connected. The world doesn’t have to be about dying and killing. You can actually love one another.’”
The annual Freeplay Independent Games Festival remains the most reliable highlight of the Australian games calendar, and in 2012 put on one of its strongest programs yet. “At Freeplay,” I wrote, “conversations seemed less focussed on the surface comparisons we often make between media, and instead were interested in the deeper dialogues that encompass all creative forms.”
My time at Game On also saw the launch of Game Masters, ACMI’s impressive exhibition of videogames and the people who make them. The world class exhibition is now touring the world, and is currently at Te Papa in Wellington. “Far from feeling out of place with these more traditional institutional attractions,” I wrote in my review, “Game Masters is the natural progression for a city interested in culture as a living and changing entity.”
As well as the successes, there have also been some deeply problematic videogame events while I’ve been writing at Crikey. The standout here has to be the first Australian Games For Change conference. At the time, I said that “As long as events like Games For Change continue to emulsify such disparate threads under a single brand, it will remain a dead-zone: too establishmentarian for progressive politics, and too hollow for game-makers.”
I also remain skeptical about the approaching Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) Australia, of which I said last week: “PAX Australia shares their brand with people who actively do damage to videogame culture.” I remain hopeful, however, that the local context, as well as sponsors iGEA and GDAA can present “these groups with the opportunity to prove that they are less tolerant of the exclusionism and harassment that has recently defined Penny Arcade and its related projects.”
Reviews, interviews, and editorials
I won’t inflate my own writings any further in this already self-indulgent exercise, but I would like to simply list some of the other pieces of writing for Game On—reviews, interviews, and editorials—that I really enjoyed writing and that in my memory define my time here.
- And finally, my interview with Bill Gardner, the design director on the deeply flawed BioShock Infinite
So, thanks for reading my work here at Crikey, and for indulging me in this final post. It’s been a great year.