PAX Australia always has plenty of great stories and moments. But none of them might be as heart-warming as what happened when a group of indie developers combined in a gesture of goodwill.
It started on the Friday with father Kevin Burfitt. “I’m at PAX all weekend,” he told a developers’ group. He was bringing his 11-year-old son with him, a kid with a dream of being a big YouTuber some day.
He’s not popular right now. He’s just a kid with a dream. So to help realise that, Burfitt reached out. Were there any indies on the PAX show floor that were willing to help out?
Yes. Yes there were.
Christiaan Gerritsen was one of those developers. He works with Opaque Media, the studio responsible for the VR space journey Earthlight. “We were showing off Earthlight and which kid hasn’t ever looked up at the stars and wanted to go to space?” Gerritsen told me.
Instead of just letting Burfitt’s little one skip the line, they gave him the full treatment. “We whisked him through the line to play Earthlight and we also invited him back the next day to play our prototype game, Genesis which we were only showing to media and other developers.”
It was a beautiful gesture, a move undoubtedly appreciated by the little gamer.
But it didn’t stop there. The indie devs gave each other the heads up, and the VIP treatment continued. John Kane, creator of Killing Time at Lightspeed and Mallow Drops, said he’d give the little one a press pack and treat him like a regular member of the press. The developers of Birdsketball sent out an invite. Township Tale. Ready, Aim, Splat. Student devs put their hands up, as did the colleges and universities showing.
— A Township Tale (@townshiptale) November 8, 2016
Over several conversations, I’ve been told that having kids play their game was one of the best experiences of the show. Not all indies were suited to kids – games like This American Dream, for instance, aren’t kid-friendly. But many of them are and many of them supported local multiplayer, meaning queues were never long.
And another positive surprise: kids are really sharp when it comes to picking up games. “No one really exhibits genuine, unrestrained emotion like the way kids do,” one developer remarked on Facebook.
When you’ve been on your feet for several days, you’re tired, exhausted, maybe a little jaded, certainly worse for wear. But kids seem to have this remarkable inspirational quality.
Kane, who also showcased Mallow Drops at AVCon in South Australia earlier this year, retold a little story about how a young girl with autism spectrum disorder sat down to play his game. “Her Mum had tried to get her to try a bunch of games, and they’d all been too noisy and ‘in your face’, I think,” he said.
“But this girl sat and played [Mallow Drops] in near silence for … 20-30 minutes? It was about the most she’d focused on anything that day, and her Mum was just so happy to see her daughter having fun and not bothered by the crowds and noise … that’s just burned into me as a cool moment.”
It’s easy to be cynical about games and the industry more generally. Events like PAX, events that open the door to people not always exposed to the everyday minutia and mania of the gaming world, can remind you of the optimism that remains. Especially if that reminder happens to be a small child returning to your booth, day after day.