And maybe a little bit about playing with penises.
Despite numerous large-scale studio closures in the past five years, game development in Australia is not dead - far from it. Playing the Indie Game is a monthly column on a mission to explore, set expectations, and offer advice to any and all that would like to work in today's mostly independent Australian games industry, featuring insights collected from interviews with a wide variety of Australians already engaged in programming, producing, marketing, and writing about independent videogames.
Perhaps you want to make games as a way to express yourself? For you, financial gain isn’t something that you associate with the creation of your games - they're your art. This month’s Playing the Indie Game highlights one such individual, someone for whom games are exceedingly important, formative, even transformative, but simply don’t pay the bills.
I first met Louie Roots during Freeplay 2015. I’d been thinking about what I could do to get some semblance of games culture happening here in Tasmania, and was told that Louie was a font of information on the subject. So, I attended the pre-festival Artist Party under the impression that he would do the same. He was standing with his business partner Sophie Mather, chatting with Freeplay Director Dan Golding.
I approached - this was my chance. Louie and Sof were talking to someone I knew, and this would be the least awkward opportunity to insinuate myself into the conversation, as though I had some reason to take part over and above my own conversational motives. As it turned out the conversation was young, still in the small-talk phase. It was easy to slide in and steer the topic away from Dan’s exhaustion levels, and the lustre of his beard.
Happily, Lou and Sof were a delight. Relaxed, interesting, humourous, and somehow simultaneously thoughtful but playfully dismissive. We soon struck up a friendship that eventually resulted in Louie deciding to bring an SK Games party here to Hobart, with a view to inspiring others to build on what they saw and run more parties in the future.
This is the model SK Games uses to spread the good word of video games. Louie and Sof drop into a new place, run something amazing, and hope that others will take up the torch. There are a few reasons they do this, one: it’s fun. Another: Louie wants to put on games parties for “normal people.”
“I really want to get a more unusual crowd,” Louie told me, “I want to see different faces, people that don’t play video games or make video games. I’m sick of fucking developers [laughter].”
“When I was travelling around the world and doing parties, I’d meet lots of developers. They’d come to the shows and bring their friends who are also developers. Then everyone just sits around talking about game development, and other things too, but at some point someone will say ‘oh this game is about moving an object in Unity,’ and everyone else is like ‘mmm yes, quite.’”
Louie wants to see people grappling with the works on display in a real way. Not just an academic or technical way, but emotionally, physically. I saw this first-hand with a game that was, at the time, called “Magnetic Assholes,” now called Genital Jousting. On the face of it, it’s a game about being a penis and penetrating other players’ anuses to score points. But when you play it you see that it’s much more. Before a round starts, all players must opt-in, i.e. “consent.” When penetration occurs, both players involved score points, making it about mutual benefit and choice. It quite plainly states that that sex should be fun for both parties involved.
On top of that, Louie made joystick controllers out of cheap dildos, turning it into a very intimate hands-on experience (I've played this game, and is an excellent ice-breaker - Ed).
One of my favourite things about Genital Jousting was standing back and observing how people reacted to it. Initially it was with shock and laughter. Then as the rules became obvious, eyebrows unfurrowed, shoulders lowered, and people relaxed into what the game was trying to say. For others, it was purely uncomfortable. I spoke to one gent standing awkwardly by, grappling with the fact that he felt really uncomfortable about the idea of playing it, not knowing why he felt that way, thus becoming increasingly more uncomfortable.
I think these are the kind of experiences that Louie wants to curate. More than just a fun party, but a chance for videogames to be seen to be more than just diversions and time-wasters. “Being able to play games with my folks is really important to me,” he admitted. “They don’t know how to use an Xbox controller, they have to ask a lot of questions about stuff that gamers already know.”
“I had friends growing up that didn’t play video games, but they did play games. They’ll play something that’s simple and fun once you teach them how. I wanted a way to expose that playfulness to people that would be put off by Xbox controllers and a room full of sweaty white dudes in a LAN centre.”
Despite all his hard work, the simple truth of the matter is that SK Games’ business model of ‘spending huge amounts of money putting on parties around the world’ isn’t proving to be financially viable long-term. Soon enough, the investments from his parents’ company and the money he earned from working in a mine back home in Western Australia will run out. In attempt to remedy this, Louie is looking at opening a bar in Melbourne which will act as a hub for games events in differing forms. While he’s not ready to formally announce a date for the bar opening, Louie admitted that this last-ditch effort to turn his passion for curating collections of video games into a self-sufficient business needs to come soon, and he would like that to happen in 2016 to avoid [audible shuddering] having to become somebody’s employee.
If you’ve never attended an SK Games party or something like it, do what you can to get along to one soon. Other examples from Australia and all over the world are Fantastic Arcade, Wild Rumpus, Venus Patrol, Now Play This, Babycastles, No Quarter, Hand Eye Society, Amaze Festival, Super Friendship Arcade, Hovergarden, and many more.
Seek them out, learn what you can, and maybe just maybe think about running something yourself in your home town. Help spread video games far and wide.