This Just In: Freeplay Not Newsworthy
Posted on March 31, 2014
First up: I LOVED Freeplay; it was my first. Where have you been all my life? To state that the 2013 Freeplay Independent Games Festival was not newsworthy is not a putdown; rather, it’s a compliment for a game culture often characterised by industry hype, negativity and toxic behaviour. After all, if the mainstream media is newsworthy, I don’t mind avoiding it.
I’ve been to a good few games event in the past year. I’m no industry veteran, but I’ve been to E3 in 2012 and 2013; EBX in 2011 and 2012; TGS in 2012; and the first PAX. With the exception of PAX, these events are largely industry-driven affairs: they are massive, loud, exciting, and I’ve made a lot of good friends there. The big publishers and hardware corporations drive a lot of the activity, and the big media outlets get lots of good copy and the occasional scoop. It’s the place for big announcements and bigger smackdowns – see what Sony laid on Microsoft this year, for example. As a little guy I guess you’re supposed to feel privileged to be a part of it, and that’s kinda true.
The fact that so many Australian stay up till 3 or 4am to watch livestreams of the big E3 press conferences suggests the newsworthiness (or news value) of these events. ‘News values’ refers to the elements of a given story which makes it interesting to a large audience (Boyd, 1994). It includes elements such as frequency, negativity, unambiguity, conflict, and sensation, although these may vary for given examples. Newsworthy stories have us always talking about the latest system, or the next big game, and in their worst form work as link bait for online outlets. Of course this is a generalisation, and as a generalisation it is generally true.
Freeplay is different. Wonderfully, wonderfully different. It is about indie games, but it has none of the indie exclusiveness that I feared. It shows a culture that is complex, multifaceted, and characterised by difference. It discusses games way outside the normative prescriptions: we are exposed to not just board games, pervasive play and Twine – hell, the games showcase involved 4-player Mitt Rowdy for god’s sake.
As mentioned, it felt like I had come home, and others have said the same. Now I’m not a developer, I’m not a programmer or an artist, and not even really much of a journalist, but I felt more welcome and involved in a game culture than I ever have before. I didn’t like everything I saw and I didn’t agree with everything I heard, but this was a place where it was OK to disagree, to have a different perspective, and that was not only welcome but encouraged. Innovation was key in the Experimedia (arcade) room as well as all the discussions, evidenced by the theme “Volume of Revolution”.
But all this complexity, diversity and innovation – it’s just not newsworthy. It’s never going to drive clickthroughs; it’s never going to create traffic; it’s never going to engorge advertising revenue to penetrate markets unbesmirched by others. The games on offer were diverse and creative; the festival challenged us to think differently and ‘get better’; and we were even exhorted to make s*** art and destroy everything. Despite the catchy titles, this is thought-provoking, complex stuff. Difficult. It’s hard to make headlines about this: in an excellent summary, Mary Hamilton suggests that Freeplay is “almost too progressive for the mainstream”. It’s true: if we can bring this level of nuance to broader discussions of games, we will have achieved what the French New Wave did for films in the 1960s.
Most of all, Freeplay gave us all a mission: to do stuff, make games, write, and thereby make some sort of contribution, even if it’s a failure or not a masterpiece. Grant and Mary have put it out there that they’re going to try something a little bolder, a little different, a little more courageous, after Freeplay. I’m inspired, and I’m in too – stay tuned. But it probably won’t make the 6 o’clock news.
Chad Habel; first posted on Serious Gamer in October, 2013: http://seriousgamer.me/2013/10/03/this-just-in-freeplay-is-not-newsworthy/