🎮GAMES🛠️LABOUR🔮MAGIC: Meet me behind the castle

The following is a transcript of a talk I gave as part of our performance Data Mutations - Game of the Year Edition in 2018. You can watch a (not amazing quality) video of the performance here.

ACT 3, SCENE V, glowing castle on a mountain top

JACK enters, wearing a capsule collider on his head.


The sun rises over another wonderful Unity day, and we know that after a long
winter of hard toil, spring has come. And so we gaze back longingly over what
we have created, and we realise that Steam has taken 30% right off the top of
our sales. But it's ok, because I have 3,000 followers on Twitter! And they
retweeted lots of gifs of my game, so.. surely someone will buy it.

I come to you, this wonderful morning, as a nav mesh agent of one possible
future. A capsule seeking to collide with the present morning. An
indie developer sees the king's castle and tries to make for themselves a
smaller, fairer castle. But does not a castle entail walls from which to fire
arrows? Does not a castle sit upon a moat? Does not a castle require a King,
who rules?

If we have so many criticisms of the industry, why are we trying to build a
smaller version of it?

I see the manipulative, attention-sucking logic of social media praised in
every industry talk. I see games designed to exploit the screeching reactions
of celebrity streamers. I see radical political positions harvested, and used
as meaningless backdrops clumsily in every murder simulator. I see crafting,
inventory management, and base building forced into every game in an
evolutionary arms race.

From a materialist perspective, art is inherently pointless, which is a good
thing, because if we had to figure out a purpose for all of this stuff, it
would be a lot harder to make it.

There is simply an endless amount of ideas. Of manifold worlds. An infinity of
outputs. It's just something that happens automatically to us. In the minds of
animals, evolved to recognise patterns.

However, marketability, whether economic or social, proves only one thing:
that your work is able to be transmuted into another identical resource,
traded only in naked self-interest. We confuse our raw impulses, that create,
by churning ourselves on the numbers, by worrying about how much people will
like, or hate something, before we've even seen what that something will

OUTSIDE, Sun begins to set on the castle

A wise person once remarked: There is a policeman in all of our heads, and he
must be destroyed. Maybe there is certainly also a scrum master and a marketing team in there as well.

If you feel like ignoring the market somehow removes all purpose in life,
consider all the things we still need to make that the market will never
support. We need video chat, but for finger painting. We need a federated
video game distribution system that is controlled by noone. Or what about a
rhythm game that syncs you with your neighbours, based on your own style? A
text messenger that occasionally bumps you into other people's conversations.
A simulation about collaboratively gardening the entire Earth, with real plant
species. Or what about a buddy system for the internet, because the internet
is a scarier place every day.

We don't have to give the gatekeepers any money if we don't sell our games. We
don't have to confuse our art with agile timelines and social media marketing
if we don't market our games. We don't have to use automated build systems and
test-driven development if we don't distribute on 25 different platforms. So
try anything, and everything, without giving the industry a second thought.
Make all of your own assets and give away all of your source code. Or take
something in the world as free, and modify it as your own.

Release your work like you stole it.

I'm not saying you need to quit your job. We still need to pay rent, at least
for a while. What I'm saying is that you can't sell out if you have nothing to
sell, and you'll never think of anything without profit sneaking in if you
don't shut it out for good.

Also if you're going to stay in the industry, let's get some unions going.

A different wise person said: You can't dismantle the master's house with the
master's tools. So forget the whole thing. Forget twitter fame, forget the
indie self-annihilation through overwork mythology. Forget jonablon flow.
Forget the industry even exists.

JACK removes capsule collider hat.

JACK: And meet me, in a field, after sunset. We can remove our prefabs. I have
something to show you, and I hope you have something for me.