Normally around this time – when it becomes necessary to announce that Freeplay is actually happening – we take a look back and reflect on the changes since the very first Freeplay and try to place what’s happening around us in some sort of context.
We don’t want to do that this year.
Instead, we want to look around at the moment we’re in now, reflect on that, see how it’s informed the festival, and then turn our eyes towards the future. Six months isn’t that long away, but beyond that there will be another six, and then another six, and then another, and that’s where the amazing stuff lives, not in the past, but in the future – and where we think the 2012 Freeplay festival theme fits into that.
But before we do, just a little bit of the past, and a little bit of the present.
First off, our shift in dates. Freeplay has always been in August, but in 2011, it was clear that the month was getting a little busy with events here and around the world. We took a look at all of that and tried to find a gap. September is relatively free, and was available, so we bumped there. We think it’ll be a good fit for us going forward.
Secondly, as you may have heard, we’re saying goodbye to our outgoing co-director Eve Penford-Dennis who is moving on from her position at the festival. Without her, Freeplay simply wouldn’t exist. It was her initial phone call and subsequent suggestion that we take it on that set the wheels in motion that have seen the event grow far beyond anything we could have considered back then. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude, and we hope that we can do her work justice. Here’s what she has to say in her own words:
“The Freeplay Independent Games Festival has been an enormously exciting event to run, and I feel very privileged to have been its co-director.
“It’s always been important to me to promote, through Freeplay, the talent, and sheer ingenuity that people display when unencumbered by the weight of conformity in mainstream game development. It has been both humbling and inspiring to work for a community that is so positive and passionate about games, their way.
“Leaving something you’ve been an integral part of for a long time is always a difficult decision but I’m proud of how Freeplay has grown and transformed the public conversation around games and play. In particular, I’m proud of the public program which drew over 1800 people through Experimedia in 2011, the awards which celebrate the best of Australian creative development to local and international audiences, and establishing Freeplay as a stand-alone organisation which I’m sure will support Freeplay long into the future.”
2012 also marks the last festival for our other co-director, Paul Callaghan. He’ll be here for the next 6 months – and a little bit beyond – and will no doubt write an endless series of posts here, spruiking the festival, so we’ll leave our thanks for him until later.
Expressions of interest for the Freeplay director role will go out later in the year.
Now, to more of the present and the great big open future, as seen through the lens of our theme – Chaos and Grace.
Game developers, no matter where they sit as artists or industry, live in chaotic times. Studios have downsized or vanished completely while at the same time there has been an explosion of new opportunities in online or mobile. While mainstream media pulls out the same lazy old clichés, videogames enjoy a level of cultural and institutional interest that they’ve never seen before. Improvements in technology have created a much more level playing field, where what sets projects apart isn’t their ability to make the hardware sing, but in how they create unique and creative experiences.
It’s a part of our job that we navigate the chaos and bring it to order. It is, essentially, one of the fundamental aspects of videogames. Abstract and fuzzy rules drawn from moments of inspiration must be streamlined, made concrete, and turned into computer code that then runs in sequence on CPUs and GPUs, lighting up pixels on displays, pumping the cones on speakers, or spinning tiny motors inside a controller. Everything that a videogame does, it’s fundamental architecture, the deepest layer of subtext possible, is the necessity of creating some sort of systemic order from the chaos.
Looking outwards, as developers – as people – we exist in a complex web of systems that are personal, social, political, cultural, artistic, and uncertain. We tell ourselves stories to make sense of them, about what we’re good at and not so good at, about why things happen or don’t happen. We place our trust in those chaotic systems and hope they mean something, even when, fundamentally, those systems don’t care one jot about us.
But in that maelstrom of chaotic behaviour and our essential need to make sense of it, to bring it to order, we sometimes create – or stumble upon – moments of beauty, moments of stillness, moments that change us, moments of grace.
At the very base of why we do what we do is our desire to make something appear in the world that wasn’t there before, something that will delight or inspire, infuriate or illuminate, explore or entertain, something we haven’t yet fully seen, only glimpsed. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re seeking moments of grace between us and our audience, finding a common language in the spaces between us. As artists, creators, developers, thinkers, critics, and players, we need to embrace that grace, the compassion it implies, and its fundamental humanity that lies at its base.
Hence, in a roundabout way, this year’s theme. We want to explore the stories we tell ourselves as individuals and as a collective, as makers and players, as artists and industrialists. We want to look at where those moments of grace lie in the rest of the world. We want to create spaces of delight, of wonder, of soaring insight and deep introspection. We want to create a space that speaks not to the past, but to the future, not to the things we have made, but to the possibilities of what we can make. We want to draw order out of the chaos, and we want to do it with glimmers of hope, with crystal intent, and with an endless supply of grace.
Freeplay 2012 will take place at the State Library of Victoria and beyond from September 19-23rd. The full announcement is available here.