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Posts Tagged ‘Freeplay’

A Shot In The Arm

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

I’ve been watching a lot of Project Runway lately, because I’m totally on the cutting-edge of reality TV, obviously. I watch and I’m transported back to the huge textiles room at my first high school. It smelled of aged georgette and melted wax. Even if no one had used the electric frypans to warm wax for Batik in months, the room still smelled like it. I adored that class. I was always early to it, and only left when kicked out. If there was an opportunity to have my lunch in there and say I needed to borrow an easel or those angled tables to do “sketches” (more like eat my sandwich and drink my prima) I took it instantly. Just being in that room inspired me. I liked being in there. I fed off the surroundings.

My work wasn’t brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved it. I didn’t sketch and work from there, I grabbed materials I thought were cool and worked backwards — much to the despair of my teacher. I’ve always been a bit of a backwards child. So when I saw the clear PVC plastic my eyes lit up. I made this awful long dress out of it, and appliqued purple asterisks all over it. The teacher made me make something else to put under it, because we had to model them and the idea of a 15 year old walking down the runway in a clear plastic dress was obviously something this Anglican all-girl’s school was not willing to partake in. Prudes. I grabbed some magenta satin because it looked pretty and made a long skirt, and a boob tube. It was bloody awful, but I just kept making it. I didn’t hate it, I knew it wasn’t fashion, it definitely wasn’t art. It was just this thing that was kinda ugly and no one would want anything to do with. But I dug it. It was fun to sew, I got good marks for picking a fabric almost impossible to deal with, and it was a learning experience. Plus I had a scar on my finger from when the sewing machine needle broke.

I got to stay in that room for longer than everyone else because it was a more complex design. I got to stay in that space and breathe in all the energy in there. I got to put on the feather boas in the fabrics room when no one was watching and do my Shirley Bassey impression.

It was here I started to become aware of a personality trait of mine. I’m incredibly needy when it comes to inspiration. Insanely so. If I don’t feel inspired, I throw in the towel. I am completely intolerant to not being inspired. It’s why I was a difficult student (especially when maths and sciences were concerned), and why I can be difficult even as an adult when forced to do something I don’t really want to. I need inspiration to keep going. More than a pin-board full of inspirational quotes or a stuffed toy on my work desk that makes me smile. I need the constant inspiration provided only by surrounding yourself with amazing people who are passionate about what they do, and I’m okay with that.

I’ve been to a few panels at the Emerging Writer’s Festival this year and it was amazing to see people walking away with huge grins on their faces, tweeting amazing light-bulb moments, and being energized to go and make stuff. I even overheard a woman after the last panel I went to say “It’s just common sense a lot of what they’re saying, but just hearing it from such amazing creators is inspiring, it means I know what they know”. To some extent she’s right. Hearing something you know is good advice, that you probably have heard before, but having it framed by someone you admire and look up to, is like dipping it in gold. If you’re wandering off the path it grabs you by both shoulders and convinces you that you were on the right track to begin with, dumdum.

I walked away ecstatic. I tweeted “I loved seeing people inspired and excited at #EWF12 and thinking to myself “They’re feeling what I feel at Freeplay” <3”. Freeplay to me is the big textiles room of my adulthood. Except it doesn’t just let me make a shitty dress. It beckons me to do better, to keep trying, and to absolutely nail it. Emerging Writers was the same. Just DO it, but do it well. Do it gracefully. Do it right. Be more excellent to each other.

For me, the most important thing I can do to continue to be a creator (and avoid plastic and magenta dresses) is to surround myself with people who give a damn. The support network I surround myself with, the festivals I go to, the community I immerse myself in, they’re the doctor I need to go see when my creative side is queasy.

I’ll never get tired of gathering together in person with large groups of like-minded people, all passionate about their field. There’s an electric energy that takes hold and makes you want to start verbing all over the place, but it’s coupled with this warm, loving, bosomy embrace that says “I’ll be here if anything bad happens, but I’ll try my hardest to make sure that it doesn’t”.

We all have those moments where we’re in need of that booby-hug, and there’s nothing wrong with being okay with that. You don’t create in a vacuum, so don’t feel like you have to go though all this on your own. Festivals and gatherings and events are ways to go get your booster shots. How’s your immunity going? Take this referral and go see Dr. E. W. Festival. Stat.

Jam-packed yet slack.

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

I hate it when blogs start with a “I haven’t blogged in ages” type apology, so I’m glad I’m not doing that. Moving right along.

Stuff has been going on, yo! (Everywhere except here.) These last few months have seen a lot of change, and I’m feeling quite adrenalized, to be honest. I was lucky enough to have some great fun these last few months, and I see it spilling over into next year all things going well. Warning, I’m going to talk a bit about the things I’ve been fortunate enough to experience over the last 6 months or so, and how they’re shaping me as a person and where my creative direction will lie in 2012. It’s probably narcissistic, self-indulgent and trite but it’s cathartic so *raspberry*. List incoming, take cover!

We sold our house in May. More stressful than it sounds. I also had pneumonia which was enough to knock me around for a month or so. Only really getting my groove back now, in December. I don’t recommend getting pneumonia if you’re considering it — takes a lung, lung time to recover.

I had a trip over to AVCon in Adelaide in July to check out the Indie Games Room and the great work associated there. It was an amazing weekend and I had an absolute blast. AVCon is one of the better organised conventions Australia has to offer and it was obvious in many ways, particularly the work done by the captain running the very tight ship – Dustin Wilson. I loved the indie games room being right next to the main convention so people just had to roam on in to have a look, was great seeing local indie games being showcased to the masses like that, Ben Kilsby did a great job. I did a few interviews there and spoke to some very talented developers and I hope to put those videos up sometime soon. It’s been ages but other things got in the way…

Like Freeplay. Oh freeeeeplay. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (Spoiler: ALL of the ways). Last year’s Freeplay Independent Games Festival was a life changer and this year’s was no different. Almost makes me fear what the hell next year’s is going to to do me. I was lucky enough this year to be an Associate Producer at Freeplay 2011, and that left me in charge of one night of the Playful Program which ran in the days preceding the festival proper this August. We put on an evening of Lemon Joust club, featuring a street game involving wooden spoons and lemons, set up like a (playful, and deliciously silly) night of Fight Club. Along with lots of scotch and some belly laughs, it was a learning experience. I’ll write more on what I learned at Lemon Joust Club another time. It was fantastic to be involved in Freeplay 2011 and I’m antsy as hell to start working on 2012. Paul Callaghan is foolishly letting me help out again next year*.

In September I popped in to the State Library of Victoria to check out a pride of primary and secondary school students presenting the games they’d made, run by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It was truly amazing to see how smart these kids were and the insights they had on game development and creativity, some as young as 6 years old. Also a little jarring to be confronted with some misconceptions about our industry normally associated being a particularly adult state of mind – indicating just how deep-seeded some of our issues are that even children are spouting the same rhetoric. I walked away feeling positive about it though, and with a knowledge of some great tools available for our younger game developers, such as the Kudo game lab.

In October I was lucky to be asked to be on a panel at Cherchez La Femme (a salon-style discussion night with a feminist frame) on an evening discussing Women in Gaming, along with Clem Bastow, Moran Paldi, and Ben McKenzie, hosted by the glorious Karen Pickering (on whom I have all the crushes). With “women in games” being an issue many people wanted to discuss throughout the year, it came to a rapid boil enough to warrant a night to talk about it disassociated from any official gaming collective. I think having the issue on its own and with no one scared of speaking “on behalf” of anything really helped to address the state of women in games as it stands, both in the games themselves and the industry creating them. Once you have a good look at how it stands you can then start to sort out what needs to change and why. Only from there can you start to ponder the “how”.

November saw a very very lucky me attending GCAP 2011, the Game Connect Asia Pacfic conference put together by the Game Developer’s Association of Australia. It was a very different beast to Freeplay, with more of an industry focus than a cultural one, so it was the yin to my Freeplay yang, so to speak. Experiencing both certainly left me with a pretty well-rounded look at what our local games dev scene has to offer, and what it needs to work on. At GCAP there were some fascinating talks about Serious Games (something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to previously) and how they can be used for training and retention of knowledge in industries such as defense, law enforcement, healthcare and education. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Randy Pargman of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (yep, that FBI) on how the Bureau uses games and simulations for training modules. He crowdsourced the order in which he talked about each topic he wanted to cover, leaving it in the audience’s hands through the AudienceStar web application. Changed the way I looked at attending a lecture or talk, it isn’t just a talking head at the front of the room anymore. We engage now more than ever in these environments. The entire conference had great little tidbits to take away about game development and building a brand, and the people I met were fantastic. Was great to meet (and thrash at Raskulls at the Mana Bar!) Mike Acton from Insomniac (and behind the #AltDevBlogADay blog), and meet the likes of Tracey Lien, Tim Best, Amir Rao from Supergiant, Shainiel Deo from Halfbrick, and Dr Jens Schroeder from QANTM, among glorious others. Really was spoiled for company over those 3 days, and made some strapping realisations.

Which brings us to December. Where I currently sit. This month saw us buying a house, a meeting about Freeplay 2012, an IGDA Christmas party, way too much scotch, a Christmas, way too much wine, a Boxing Day, and … this blog post!

The realisations made over the last few months have left me facing a different direction creatively. A few months ago I was offered the role of editing the latest Gamebook Adventure — Temple of the Spider God — by Tin Man Games. Seeing my name in the credits for a game was exhilarating and the experience of actually doing the editing was surprising amounts of fun. The tools Neil and Ben have developed, and their experience in the Gamebook genre (this being their 7th title) both ensured smooth passage in an unfamiliar landscape for me, and I firmly believe it wouldn’t have been as fun or as enriching an experience with anyone else behind the helm. I’m going to be working with them again in the future and feel so incredibly lucky to have that opportunity. I’m currently writing something that I can’t talk about just yet, but through editing the Gamebook and starting this project, I came to the realisation that actually making stuff was much more rewarding to me personally than writing about the things other people are lucky enough to make. So for now I seem to be going in more of a game dev direction than writing about games themselves. I’ll still feel the need to vent I’m sure, and there will be the occasional article flying around but right now I’m having a blast writing for games instead of about them.

So it looks like 2012 will be an exciting year toward a new direction. A goal is to work on 4 more games at least, start a few projects of my own, launch a website I’ve been meaning to launch for over 12 months, and keep blogging. Oh, and a vegetable garden. There’s something relaxing about watching tomatoes level up until they’re ripe and ready to be eaten.

2011 was a year of paralysing self-doubt that stopped me expressing myself adequately, which definitely has ongoing affects on the psyche. I was too scared to write. After hearing many writers (curators, creators, artisans, teachers alike) all say that it’s part of the writer’s journey, I feel like I have now surrounded myself with enough support, love, positivity, and a collective of erudite people with amazing levels of experience that I don’t feel like it’s such a lonely journey anymore. 2012 will be different. It’s going to be lead by a phrase that once told to me changed my life:

“Self-doubt is the price you pay for getting to do cool shit”

Bring it on, 2012!

*Thank you Paul. Not enough words. Honestly. Not enough words. Not enough good ones anyway.

Life After Freeplay

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The delicate bouquet of Eau-de-Nerd still lingers in the air of the State Library of Victoria as the custodial staff quietly sweep away the scattered remains of litter, lanyards, and feedback forms. Paul Callaghan and Eve Penford-Dennis fall into a heap for a well-earned rest, as game designers walk away with a motivating force to get their idea out of their heads and into the ether. For this was the weekend that was. This weekend saw this year’s installment of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival. Over 60 speakers from far and wide came to discuss every element to games making, from programming and art to design and gaming culture, under the theme “Play Is Everywhere”. A conscious effort was often made to avoid the discussions (outside the workshops) getting too technical or centered on just video games but to try and focus on the broader notion of “Play”. By understanding our fundamental need for play and where that comes from we can get a better appreciation of what it is about games that strikes a chord. Knowing precisely where your “fun button” is (you disgust me) means you can hit it more frequently and with greater ease, leading to more a more fulfilled, happy life.

During the sessions I attended I had a few “Neo moments” that took me by surprise. I went along thinking I was there to learn more about video game development (specifically writing). How someone takes an idea and sculpts it into something living and interactive. It fast became evident that the focus was on the user, the experience presented to the person playing – and how ‘play’ is such a fundamental part of existence. Adam Saltsman explored the notion of play as being completely independent of species, something not exclusive to humanity. Puppies play tug-of-war and wrestle with an inherent set of rules by which to abide. Cats jump into boxes, and hide around corners to give their siblings a fright. This innate desire to play and learn through play is found everywhere. Javier Candeira was fascinating with his contention that play is more than just a leisure activity, play can be even used to dictate societal behaviour. Whoa. Play as crime prevention? Whaaaat?! Play as a way to nudge citizens to do the right thing? Mind… blown… He cited a sequence of speed bumps in Japan that when travelled over at the right speed resonate a certain melody, where play is used to make people obey the speed limit by means more interesting and engaging than being lectured at. Looking at our water use targets and aiming for a “score” turns water saving into a game, spurring our competitive urges. Play can make the world a better place. I couldn’t get enough.

‘Neoteny’ is the retention of juvenile characteristics in the adult, most of the time looked down upon as unrefined or immature. Adult gamers are frequently branded as stunted or immature for this reason, because our need to play (something normally associated with children) is still intact. Being in a concentration of other people that find themselves fueled by the demand to play and seeing the fruits of their labour first hand was inspiring, invigorating, and left me with a sense of family and belonging. Hell, I’m not even a game developer and I left inspired to make something out of nothing! I felt like this theme was saying “Embrace your lust for play, and do something with it”. I always say that games are a massive part of my life, but really I should be saying that play is a massive part of my life. Whatever form it takes, I crave play. Whether it’s through a structured medium such as a video or board game, or making sure I don’t step on the cracks on the pavement. I frolic through the world looking for ways to be playful, and I hope I never ever grow out of it. I went in trying to learn about the making of games and found myself unexpectedly thrust into a zen state pondering the bigger picture. Thank you Freeplay for further exploring the notion of play, your uplifting and electrifying speakers, and for underscoring the heart-warming sense of community and common ground we all have under the umbrella of “Play-er”. I look forward to next year and hope the theme is equally satisfying brain food.

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