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No country for new games

League of Geeks, whose upcoming game Armello recently ran a successful $300,000 crowdfunding campaign, are one of many Australian game studios to receive government funding in recent years.

As part of the Liberal government’s slash-and-burn budget on Tuesday night was the surprise announcement that the Australian Interactive Games Fund was to be cut, effective immediately.

First announced in 2012, the Games Fund was designed as an accelerator for the Australian games industry, allowing studios to produce new intellectual property that would be retained in Australia.

A$20 million was originally provided by the fund, set up by the previous government, of which only A$10 million had been spent. According to a press release by the Game Developers’ Association of Australia, the cut was made with zero consultations with the industry.

Unsurprisingly, the news was met with an outcry from both current and prospective Australian developers, not least of all those who were planning on submitting to the fund in the upcoming months. Various outlets reached out to local developers and industry members for comment, all of whom were scathing of the decision.

Yet, the Games Fund was not perfect. While it provided some with amazing opportunities not previously afforded of game developers in Australia, others were concerned it did not provide enough resources for new or emergent developers, focusing instead on supporting those that already had some industry experience — a concern perhaps validated by the appearance of the same interviewees again and again in the above hyperlinked articles. A feature written early last year by Dan Golding captures the wide range of responses, hopes, and concerns the Games Fund drew from people.

The dismantling of the Games Fund then, while both infuriating and distressing, is not the most violent blow this budget strikes against the future of games productions in Australia. Rather, it’s the budget’s much broader attack on young and poor people for the sake of a rhetorical “budget emergency” (while putting aside even more money for offshore interment camps and military hardware) that fills me with the most anxiety for the games that will now not just move overseas, but simply never exist.

Nyarlu Labs’ Forget-Me-Not. Screenshot by author

Like every nation’s games industry, Australia’s has an ingrained problem of homogenisation. In the articles linked above, an overwhelming number of the interviewees are men. This is not surprising, considering that a survey of the local industry as it stood in 2011-12 frighteningly showed that only 8.7% of those in the industry are women — which, at least, is a higher percentage than Tony Abbott’s front bench. The Games Fund, while an incredible and hard-fought-for opportunity for those already making games in Australia, did little to broaden the scope of who makes games in Australia.

Though, significantly, those who are “in the industry” and those who are simply “making games in Australia” are two very different things. Australia has a rich undercurrent of students, artists, young people, and hobbyists creating and sharing games, often beyond the borders of what is commonly considered “the industry”.

Individual projects such as Brandon Williamson’s niche but critically acclaimed Forget Me Not or Alexander Bruce’s incredibly successful Antichamber; student games like Rabbit Rush; and games being made in the spare time of those with other full-time jobs such as Push Me Pull You point to a much broader ecology of Australian game creators than just those employed by an industry.

It is this broader ecology of game creators that has just begun to emerge in recent years with the proliferation of more accessible means to both produce and distribute games, that this budget most violently attacks.

By making health care, education, and unemployment support unobtainable to vast swathes of the nation’s youth, not only will creating games become unviable for many, it will not even be considered as a possible avenue of creativity.

Even further: creativity will not even be considered a viable avenue for many once those safety nets that any respectable nation owes its citizens are dismantled. Who has time to be creative when your own government is willing to let you starve to death? The culture’s creative output remains the domain of those who can afford to be creative.

Cutting off the Games Fund demonstrates that the Liberal government has no interest in supporting an existing vibrant and maturing creative industry. Attacking the younger and lower classes of the nation by gutting a wide range of social services demonstrates that the Liberal government has no interest in the creative and cultural future of the nation.


Update: Christian McCrea wrote a series of tweets after I posted this column that I think dig a bit deeper into some of the issues I merely touch on here, so I have compiled them here if people would like to read them.

Disclosure: I taught some of the students who worked on Rabbit Rush

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