There were too many good moments of Freeplay for me to list them all. The whole weekend was a little like a bomb going off in my brain, in an excellent way, and it’s left me with a lot to think about.
I felt, for maybe the second time ever at a games event, unequivocally welcomed and valued. I felt acknowledged for my work and appreciated for my insight, even though I’m not a programmer and I work in liminal places. I didn’t once have to justify live games or LARP or Twine games or text as being worthy of inclusion. The fact that I’m not a full-time game designer, that I’m employed outside the industry, didn’t single me out as an outsider or render my input less valid. I wasn’t a token woman or a token live game person or a token anything.
In the broader world, games like the Gobstopper Job and The Trial and the Twine projects I’ve got running in the background are strange hybrid things that have to fight first to be accepted before they can be loved. But at Freeplay on stage for the first time I used the word “art” to describe Detritus, and it wasn’t inaccurate.
The second day’s keynote was given by Steve Swink, who talked (among other things) about the need to keep creating, to keep getting ideas down. The 10,000 hours theory. He shared an anecdote about a talk in which a designer waded through page after page of comments about how awful his games were until finally reaching a slide that said: yeah, that one was OK.
I am scared of making bad things, things that aren’t legitimate, that aren’t the best thing they could be. I have been in enough conversations where people deride the sorts of things I make as “too niche” or “not interesting” or “shallow marketing ideas” or “not really games” or redefine them as “concept pieces” (as opposed to “solid games”, like that’s a meaningful distinction) and I have internalised some of that, even while being aware that it’s total crap. I have a depth of feeling here that I wasn’t aware of, until now. Becoming aware of it has meant becoming aware that it’s been blocking me from doing some things I’ve wanted to do for a while. Little games. Silly things. Learning new tools. Making shit art, as Steve Swink would have it.
Since we got home I’ve written some other words about Freeplay for the Guardian. That piece focuses on How To Destroy Everything, a talk which is going to reverberate for a while and take time to percolate through the culture, the way all explosions do. Grant’s written about the impact it had on him, which was markedly different to what I experienced, but no less explosive.
And I’ve made a start on some other things. ibis, fly! had stalled badly; now it’s moving again, albeit slowly, because the structure needs some work. I’m going to be writing more regularly about Twine games here – if you have favourites, please send them my way. And the Boobjam project I didn’t think I knew enough to make – I think it might work in Unity. If I can work out how to make Unity work, if I can learn enough about those tools to encode what I know about game design and systems and play in a new medium. Which means making shit art, and not caring if it starts out shit, and not caring if other people don’t think it’s art.