This year Greens Senator Scott Ludlam came to PAX Australia, attending the ‘Meet The Brains In Charge Of The Aussie Games Industry’ panel before spending time at the Diversity Lounge and the show floor. Here, writing for Kotaku Australia, he explains why.
There’s a gigantic banner hanging in the concourse of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre for PAX2015 that just reads: “welcome home”.
The thing is, they mean it: for an event that will be attended by 70,000 people over the course of three days, there is something curiously homely about this massive gaming convention. I’ve been away from this world for longer than I like to admit, and I’ve missed a thousand cultural, subcultural and sub-sub cultural cues and in-jokes before I’ve been here a quarter hour, but it doesn’t matter. It still feels like home.
Yes, the triple-A studios are there with thumping great installations in the main exhibition hall; you can queue to get a first look at Battlefront or Fallout if that’s your thing. It’s a reminder that video games long-ago shook off the kids-stuff tag and is now a serious global industry. Same on the hardware side – if you go looking you’ll find the newest graphics cards displayed on glass plinths like alien artefacts, and a few advance delegations from the wave of headset providers and immersive technologies poised to break over this community.
But high technology and big studios are not the heart and soul of this event. The bulk of the exhibit hall is given over to smaller local developers and independents, and it is here that the scale and vitality of the local industry is most readily on display. These are the survivors of the great GFC wipeout of 2008, the unsustainably high Australian dollar and the untimely cancellation of the Australian Interactive Game Fund (AIGF).
After a decade of lobbying and advocacy by the Game Developers Association of Australia and the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, the three-year $20 million AIGF was finally introduced by then-Arts minister Simon Crean in late 2012. Despite great success in fostering companies like the Voxel Agents and Uppercut, and titles like Framed and Hand of Fate, the fund was thoughtlessly deleted by Senator George Brandis after only one year of operation.
What could this industry accomplish if it benefitted from similar supports to those hard-won by the film and television industry? Costs associated with digital animation attract a 30% tax offset, provided that animation is for a feature film. If the animation is for a game, even a cutscene for a licensed film property game, no such incentives are offered. That’s carelessness rather than malice, and it’s easily fixed.
About half of Australia’s digital games industry is based in Victoria, partly because it has been encouraged to do so by state funding programs similar to the way we support the film industry. On a brief tour of the Arcade in Melbourne – funded in part by the Victorian Government – the lasting impression is one of massive potential. These survivors have woven together an entire industry ecosystem between these four walls – imagine if the national policy environment was one of support rather than neglect.
There’s been a lot of talk from the Turnbull government about our clever-agile-technology-driven-digital- disruptive-innovative country. But a tech-buzzword drinking game seems to be the only contribution to the sector so far. We deserve better.
Most importantly, this is not really a technology story or an industry story. This is about people, community and new storytelling artforms coming into being before our eyes. That’s why the ‘welcome home’ banner at PAX holds such resonance. No matter what your thing, you’re welcome here: this community is determined to shake off the fiction that it is only a place for young white men. Its right out in the open in the flamboyant cosplay that will spill cheerfully into the surrounding streets as the weekend progresses, but it is also up in the diversity lounge where organisers have made space for provocative conversations about inclusiveness and belonging in #gamergate’s bruising aftermath. The resolution that this community seems to be working towards is: no matter what your thing, you’re welcome here.
The organisers deserve warm accolades/cold beer for managing to pull off an event of this scale while actively promoting the essential niches, microclimates and conversation spaces for every part of this diverse, evolving collection of subcultures, freaks, geeks, nerds, technologists and dreamers. Where else can you test bleeding-edge immersive VR technology, narrowly lose a 12-foot wide game of Cogz while having your mind bent in circles trying to figure it out, play D&D in front of 800 people, and be asked sharp questions about mass surveillance, gender transitioning or the closure of remote Aboriginal communities in the Diversity Lounge?
Where indeed. Thanks for everything PAX. It’s good to be home.