Freeplay is the world’s longest-running independent games festival, located in Melbourne, Australia. The festival draws Australia’s independent games community together at its conference, public events program, exhibitions, workshops, and awards. The festival joins players, makers, critics, artists, designers, coders, academics, students, and families for a critical celebration of the artistry of independent games and playful culture.
Since 2004, Freeplay has played host to thousands of attendees and hundreds of talks from speakers such as Harvey Smith (Deus Ex), Kieron Gillen (Rock, Paper, Shotgun), Jonathan Blow (Braid), Brandon Boyer (IGF Chair), Adam Saltsman (Canabalt), Mare Sheppard (N+), Tetsuya Mizaguchi (Rez), Erin Robinson (Gravity Ghost), Steve Swink (Scale), Austin Wintory (Journey), Zuraida Buter (Playful Arts Festival), Tale of Tales (The Path), Richard Lemarchand (Uncharted), and Hannah Nicklin (Mutazione).
Freeplay has a proud history of uncovering, showcasing, and highlighting local independent games at both its showcases and awards, including Jolly Rover (Best Australian Game 2010), Antichamber (Best Australian Game 2011), Stickets (Best Australian Game 2012), Framed (Best Australian Game 2013), Push Me Pull You (The Freeplay Award 2015), The Catacombs of Solaris (The Freeplay Award 2018), and New Ice York (The Freeplay Award 2019).
Freeplay is also host to the much loved Parallels showcase, featuring short talks and heartfelt games. Parallels has debuted and spotlighted many local favourites, including Magister Ludi (Parallels 2014), Paperbark (Parallels 2015), Knuckle Sandwich (Parallels 2015), Florence (Parallels 2017), Untitled Goose Game (Parallels 2017), Novena (Parallels 2018), Dead Static Drive (Parallels 2018), Need 4e+9 Speed (Parallels 2019), Heavenly Bodies (Parallels 2019), Mutazione (Parallels 2019), Way to the Woods (Parallels 2019), and the Frog Detective Series (Parallels 2019).
Iconically-Melbourne, Freeplay has consistently been part of the city’s culture, having partnered with ACMI, State Library of Victoria, Next Wave, The Wheeler Centre, Federation Square, Arts Centre Melbourne, NGV, Testing Grounds, Siteworks, Arts House, City of Melbourne, Creative Victoria, and RMIT over the years.
Freeplay continues to champion creative and artistic exploration and experimentation in games, supporting grassroots artists and game makers in Melbourne, Australia, and its nearest neighbours, and positioning game making as arts practice as videogames continue to grow and gain cultural significance and legitimacy.
Director of Freeplay
Chad Toprak is an independent game designer, curator, and academic, best known for his curatorial work with Hovergarden, Melbourne’s videogame curatorial duo, and the Contours exhibition, which highlights emerging contemporary Australian games that sit at the fringes of the medium. He was named in Develop Pacific’s inaugural 30 Under Thirty list for 2018 and was a recipient of the 2014 IGDA Scholars program and the 2020 Game Devs of Color scholarship. He has been serving as director of Freeplay since 2017.
In the past, Chad has worked on award winning games such as Turnover, the four-player multigravity steal-the-ball-n-run frenzy, Cart-Load-O-Fun, a two-player collaborative physical game designed for trains and trams, dualcyon, the experimental Leap Motion & VR puzzle game for two, and This Is Not A VR Game, an audio-only VR performance.
Chad is a first generation Turkish-Australian Muslim immigrant. His Turkish given name (Çağdaş) is too hard to pronounce. In his spare time, Chad finds himself indulging in sour worm lollies and wasabi flavoured peas.
2019 Festival Team
Benjamin Turner (Festival Coordinator) is a game developer currently interested in creating ‘Slice of Life’ games & supporting locally made art. he’s been involved in events such as Contours, GX Australia, Unite Melbourne, & Freeplay. He is also known for games like, Concrete Boots, Tactus, & Jounrey to the Centre of the Partyzone.
Jini Maxwell (Festival Producer) is a writer and arts worker based in Narrm. They co-edit quarterly literary journal The Lifted Brow, teach creative writing at RMIT University, and previously co-edited National Young Writers Festival. They aim to make and facilitate sincere, playful, challenging work.
Marigold Bartlett (Visual Art Lead) currently works in the games industry as a freelance consultant and illustrator, as well as an art director on upcoming game, Wayward Strand. She is passionate about art and media studies, as well as history and story in games spaces. She has a background in alternative comic art, and has worked on games such as Florence, Killing Time at Lightspeed, Magister Ludi, and Movement Study 01. Marigold is one of four Film Victoria Women in Games fellows, and occasionally teaches game design students at RMIT.
Pritika Sachdev (Social Media Coordinator) is a community manager who has a passion for all forms of narrative. She loves storytelling and believes that extends to how developers engage with their players. Pritika’s worked in all sorts of areas of games, from 3D artist to producer, and is currently the social media manager for CheckPoint, and co-producer for Contours. Outside of work, Pritika has a passion for video games academia, specifically within feminine and character representation within games.
Creatrix Tiara (Volunteer Manager) writes, produces, and performs work based around identity, liminality, and community, particularly through Tiara’s experiences as a queer immigrant gender-nonconforming femme of colour with mental health issues. Tiara has used games to explore immigration: making Here’s Your Fuckin’ Papers, a puzzle-based parody of Papers Please, and What The @#([email protected] Do They Need Now?, about the US Travel Ban, as well as speaking at Return to Escape from Woomera about immigration, games, and art. Tiara is very interested in the intersections of games and performance art, such as immersive experiences and escape rooms, and how they can help people understand the lives of those different than them via direct interaction and empathy. Tiara’s most recent project is Queer Lady Magician, intersecting stage magic, social justice, and autobiographical storytelling.
Jason Imms (Chair of the Freeplay Awards)
was introduced to working in video games by dabbling in freelance games and technology journalism on the side, while working in quality assurance for enterprise IT firms. Over time, he secured bylines in GameSpot, Giant Bomb, Kill Screen, Hyper Magazine, PC PowerPlay, and many others, eventually making his side gig into a full-time job. He then took the opportunity to meld his two career paths by founding a games-focused QA agency, and privately contributing to a number of local and internationally made games. He is the host of the Game Hugs podcast, and one of the founders of the Tasmanian Game Development Society.
Jason is a father of five, a husband to one, and a firm believer in the power of video games as art, entertainment, education, and social change.
Andrew Brophy (Associate Producer – Night Market Party) is a game designer from Melbourne. He is ½ of Hovergarden and ⅞ of the videogame Knuckle Sandwich.
The Freeplay Board
Claire Merquita (Chair) has worked as a writer, producer, and digital content specialist in the media and broadcast industries since 2010. In Singapore where she grew up, she wrote and produced for television and corporate clients, while lecturing in media theory at Lasalle College of the Arts. In 2014 she moved to Melbourne to join crowdfunding platform Pozible, overseeing their small, vibrant team as General Manager. She currently leads social media and video strategy for the City of Greater Geelong.
Trent Kusters is the founder and director of indie game development collective League of Geeks and a lecturer at the Victorian College of the Arts. Previously, Trent was design director at Torus Games, consulted the film industry as well as state and federal governments on game development and design, has written on games culture for major publications, and was named one of Australia’s 25 top young achievers in 2010 by Triple J. Trent is also invested in the future of game development; fostering and mentoring students and contributing to the game development community wherever possible.
Dr. Dan Golding is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication at Swinburne University and the host of Screen Sounds on ABC Classic. In 2018, Dan presented What Is Music for ABC iView and Triple J with Linda Marigliano. He is an award-winning writer with over 200 publications (ABC Arts, Crikey, Buzzfeed, Meanjin, Kotaku), and a video essayist with 1 million views on YouTube. His new book, Star Wars After Lucas, is out now and published by the University of Minnesota Press. Dan also co-wrote Game Changers (Affirm Press, 2016), made the soundtracks to Untitled Goose Game (Switch, PC, 2019), Push Me Pull You (PS4, 2016), and The Haunted Island (PC, 2018) and from 2014-2017 was director of Freeplay.
Jason Imms is a founder and board member of Tasmanian Game Makers, Head of Quality Assurance at LiveTiles, host of the Game Hugs podcast, and formerly a games and technology journalist for a wide range of Australian and US publications (GameSpot, Giant Bomb, Kill Screen, Hyper Magazine, PC PowerPlay, and more), and managing director of The Machine QA. His varied career and experience in the Australian games scene has led to him sitting on the Film Victoria digital media assessment panel, and the Tasmanian Ministerial Arts and Cultural Advisory Council.
Jason is a father of five, a husband to one, and a firm believer in the power of video games as art, entertainment, education, and for social change.
Travis Jordan floats around the state government working in legal, media and strategy teams. He’s a governance and communications professional and – regrettably – a lawyer. He’s worked for MPs, political parties, governments and NGOs around Australia. Travis is a keen supporter of the arts, having worked on projects to bring together creative industries, academics, governments and civil society to help grow the sector. He brings a wealth of boards governance, campaign planning and policy advocacy experience to the Freeplay team.
Georgia Symons is a theatre maker, game designer and installation artist, and works for the City of Melbourne as the program manager for the Melbourne Knowledge Week and Melbourne Conversations series. She is interested in using playful, interactive forms to “play through” complexities. Georgia holds a Master’s of Writing for Performance from the VCA (2014) and is currently the creative director of PlayReactive Theatre.
Alice Pryor is a ardent gamer, who spent her formative years fighting for the Horde and making sure her Sims didn’t drown. Now, once the kids are in bed, you are more likely to find her exploring story rich indie games. Alice’s professional career spans politics, science communication, women, public health and children. Formerly Deputy Mayor at Moreland City Council, Alice is now the Campaigns’ Manager at Parents’ Voice where she works to improve the food and physical activity environments for Aussie kids.
Dr. Douglas Wilson is a co-owner of Die Gute Fabrik, a games studio based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Doug has contributed design and programming to a number of award-winning videogame projects, including Sportsfriends, Johann Sebastian Joust, B.U.T.T.O.N., and Mutazione. Doug now lives in Melbourne, Australia, where he is a Lecturer at RMIT University, teaching and researching game design.
Past Board Members
Dr. Hugh Davies, Anna Burkey, Ben Chiverton, Cameron Rogers, Gideon Hornung, Robert Pulham, Jess Kilby, Amelia King, Vanessa Toholka, David Surman, Paul Gurney
Past Festival Directors
Dan Golding (2014-2016), Harry Lee & Katie Williams (2013), Paul Callaghan (2011-2013), Eve Penford-Dennis & Paul Callaghan (2009), Katharine Neil & Marcus Westbury (2004-2008)