Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A Reflection on #altgames, and My Favourites of 2014

I don't think it's very arguable that 2014 was an incredible year for artgames, for small games, for freeware games and the avant-garde. The new artists and gamemakers I met this year (which were a lot), along with those I've been following longer have put out some of their best work.

But perhaps equally as important is that many of those people have been able to sell it. This is mostly what 2014 was able to signify for me. Whereas in 2013, I would have found most of my games on gamejolt, or newgrounds (ugh), personal websites or obscure back ends of the internet, or through, with the help of WarpDoor, I'm now increasingly finding great work on where people are selling their work for money, PWYW and flat fees.

Money for artgames is important not because it can make someone rich, or turn them into a mogul. I think that was what the rhetoric of "Indie," like many rhetorics of the tech start-up culture, began to rely upon. And I think that rheoetric still cotes the subtext of its hegemonic structures and pipelines. What keeps people paying $100 to IGF every year, or spending massive time and energy through the sludge of Greenlight, or trying to market their work to apathetic games jouralists and publicists. What is important for me, is being at a point where making something weird, personal, something that doesn't comform to the standards of industry or mainstream consumption can be a worthwhile venture for anyone who wants to do it. That if you put out something different, you can make a decent amount of money that will justify the work. More than that, you could be assured that people will *play* that work, that you can find an audience willing to support you, who will engage honestly with your work, without you having to appeal to toxic gamer cultures who will demand you prove your work is a game at all. Moreover, and I guess this more of an extra tick I have as a critic, that people will have valuable discussions on that work, that those whose task is to produce discourse will take that work seriously, critique it honestly out of appreciation, not condescension and dismissal.

I think this is what #altgames signfiies to me, more than anything else. I just want the creation of good art to be a little easier, a little less painful, a more fruitful as a process. In that sense, I think 2014 was a good sign.

I played 121 games in 2014. And that's just what's listed in the Playing List. That isn't to toot my horn (although I am quite proud of this I will admit), but I think I'm in a pretty decent place to make some observations about the general sphere of games and art that I engage with on a daily basis. So I'd like to address a few things


I've become increasingly interested in #altgames, as a rhetoric and signifier, as a critical methodology and approach, and as a sensibility. Not really as ideology, though #altgames is very much in the lineage of radical strands of videogame rhetoric, similar to the short lived "Queer Games" rhetoric of 2012 and 2013. It very much takes from certain assumptions, aspirations and assertions from "queer games," "empathy games". Merritt Kopas wrote a really nice manifeso-type thingy that I really like. Merritt was very much part of that "movement," the first piece I read from her being published on Nightmare Mode. So I like this piece not because I agree with everything on it but because it's clear she understands what she wants, what the current Condition necessitates, understanding the successes (?) and mistakes (?) of previous rhetorics, previous movements, or whatever.

I don't think #altgames is a scene, and I don't think I want it to be. And I think communities are overrated. This may be where TJ and I differ, somewhat. What I like about Merritt's post is she's focused on ideas, things which can spread, a sensibility that can permeate many different spheres and spaces. Her rhetoric is facilitating, and I think that's what I want. I want to facilitate alterity, even if that faciliation is ideologically focused (and it probably very much has to be).

I think a backbone of ideology and undersanding of identity politics is what will keep #altgames as something that can facilitate good things. As such, it's probably worth noting that #altgames as an idea was something produced and develeoped mostly by people of color, and queer people. I give my appreciation to Soha for having faith in these ideas, faciliting connections through twitter even when people were giving her flack, deligitmizing her ideas, and shutting her out from the mainstream "radical" canon, permeated with heralded white women. (I'm of course partly refencing the New York Times article on Twine, somewhat, in which she was absent.) So I won't forget when people were shitting on her, and others, about this. The "Alternative Games" twitter was actually inspired by TJ, someone who I'll be working with far more in the next year. He was also universally ignored, this year. But such is the life of a racialized person, it seems.

It's crucial, going into 2015, to understand that Alterity, in art, in method, in sense, is always developed and maintained by people who are not white men. If this truth is doesn't sustain itself, then altgames is bullshit, a lie and a rhetoric full of hot air.

#altgames signifies to me structures as well as ideas. The games I play are usually found on WarpDoor, or Gamejolt, or, or personal websites and the many curating twitters floating around right now. So it's very much rooted in a particular structural network. I know that some people are probably thinking this is all ridiculous: what's the point of making stupid new words? But the truth, is that the stuff I find on the back end of gamejolt, in the Misc. section of Itch, or on WarpDoor and ForestAmbassador is just not the same thing you play on the PSN Indies section or on the App Store. The standards and conditions that produce them are not the same, their context is not the same, and, like I've been arguing this entire fucking year, the critical approach to small games and artgames should absolutely not be the same as how we've been approaching videogames for so long. The Arcade Review has been solid proof of that.

With that, I think it's time to move on to my favourite games of this year! I want to mention that 2014 was a phenomenal year, particualrly for first person narrative games. So many boundaries were pushed there. What makes Walking Simulators, or I guess the style of that so brilliant is they're constantly negotating themselves, working themselves out, as if they don't even understand what they're about more than we do. Walking Sims are in constant conversation, and that's partly why I love them so much. Anyone who tells you they're  mostly boring/pretentious artwank either haven't played any outside of Proteus and Dear Esther or just don't really care about engaging them critically. I also just have a personal love for first person stuff in general. It composes most of the list here.

But here it is! My list of favourites, in no particular order:

Env by Sam Chester

Saturn V by Cosmo D

A Night In the Woods by Amy Dentata

The Pyramid Gate by Strangethink

2:22 AM by Albert Lai

Blitzmaze by dustmyte

Curtain by dreamfeel

900 by Barnaque

Bernband  by Tom

CHYRZA by Kittyhorrorshow

Vernacular by Da Neel

Petrichor by SundaeMonth

Offline by PolClarriou

Thank You for Reading! And Happy New Year!