Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Yep, more of that paper.

A local game development scene creating publicly commissioned content would not be starting from scratch in terms of a skills base. Independent game developers do exist in Australia. They foster ambitions about telling their own stories and creating game worlds that are relevant to them and their Australian peers. They need support. In the more conventional game industry, there are many talented people who would relish new creative opportunities. As game developers working for big companies mature creatively and personally, it is natural for many of them begin to yearn to work on games that reflect their own culture, or at the least games that are innovative and intelligent. Others, including the many idealistic developers who have left the industry burnt out and disappointed, could be tempted to return. Why not give them the opportunity to earn their living making games that are meaningful to them and their community?

While people in some quarters seem to believe that the way to solve the problem of quality game experiences is to train film-makers in digital media (the Australian Film Commission in particular, and indeed many of the film industry players who, rather incongruously, control new media funding in Australia), Australian game developers who have been working with their medium for decades are more than able to take up the challenge, if only they were let off their industry leash.

But is this an impractical, utopian idea?

The Nordic countries certainly don't think so. They're doing it. They are supporting Nordic content in games, from production to distribution. Ministers of Culture in Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark) have provided funding for a initiative called the Nordic Game Program. The program's press manager, Jacob Riis, explains that “The mission of the Nordic Game Program is to ensure access to quality material with a distinct Nordic element in computer games” (cited in Garratt, 2006). Notice here that the focus is on audience. The strengthening of the local Nordic industry is secondary to what that industry will provide: “access to quality material with a distinct Nordic element”. (Somehow I don't think that budget games based on Norwegian Football and “Sven the Swedish Chef” for PS2 are what they have in mind for their citizens, in terms of quality Nordic content.)
And when the Nordic countries make a move in games, we should take it very seriously. Over the last few years while other European game industries have been struggling, Scandanavia's game development scene has emerged and flourished, producing some of the world's top selling titles and gaining a reputation in the industry as high quality developers.

This is a far cry from the purely economic “foster a viable commercial industry” approach in Australia. Do our ministers for the arts involve themselves in game industry affairs? Have policy-makers even considered that games are culture? It is time they did.

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