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Artworks by Lex Trickett

A MAZE. // Gaming and Playful Media Festival

For its 6th year A MAZE. is welcoming African and international game developers, digital activists and digital artists to Johannesburg in order to trade ideas and techniques related to indie game development and playful media. A MAZE. / Johannesburg forms a part of the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival and includes talks, workshops and a games arcade.

The three day event will feature over 40 international and African artists, game designers, game creators, media artists, researchers, forward thinkers, coders, musicians and speakers who will exhibit their talents to the public in a dynamic and interactive way.

Tim Flusk’s topic for the festival, ‘Lesbians and Apartheid: The stories that gameplay doesn’t tell’ is one of the talks at A MAZE. this year that grabbed my attention. Tim studied game design at Wits and is currently working as a programmer at 24 Bit Games. I asked Tim where the title of his talk originated from and he explained that he has had an eternal curiosity about how games convey emotion, stories and concepts to its players. Tim continues by saying that he has been prototyping in a group setup how to present other narratives and experiences in the gaming platform such as harassment targeted at femmes and the economic systems and policies of apartheid.

“My title is possibly misleading. The talk that I am putting together is focused on the broader view on how to subvert certain tropes and mechanics in video games to tell marginalized and vulnerable people’s stories better.” Tim tells me that there are games tackling subjects about racism and sexual orientation such as Dys4ia and Ladykiller in a Bind.

Another thought provoking talk at A MAZE. this year is ‘Studying game dev culture as an insider-outsider’ by Crystal Farmer. Crystal is a Social Anthropology Masters Student from Stellenbosch who centered her masters around game development culture. When asked why this peaked her interest she responded by saying that she was in a focus group in a research methods class in which the group consisted of a few people who enjoyed playing video games. She discovered the complexity of this world that she did not have much background on and was intrigued. Finding out about the fast-growing game development scene in Cape Town, she jumped into the field and made it her topic of research. “I wanted to study something that was playful, but also foreign to me so that I could maximize learning and stretch myself beyond what was comfortable.”

Crystal explains that game development culture is relevant to social anthropology as it meets with new forms of commerce,communication, creativity, and social interaction due to the rapid development of technological innovation. “Video game development culture’s complexity gives me insight into a rich variety of social phenomena. It provides an interesting angle from which to observe and understand different manifestations of social issues.”

Crystal’s talk will focus on her being an outsider initially and then moving into an insider role in the culture as well as how it has provided her with different understandings of her own field of research.  Her talk will cover her findings during her study of game development culture and highlight how her own subjectivities and sensitivity may have had an influence on her conclusions with a keen focus on inclusivity and identity.

A peculiar topic to approach is the talk by Ben Rausch this year titled ‘Videomancers: Bending Reality with the Magic of Games’. Ben is a game developer, illustrator, animator and event designer based in Cape Town. He is currently co-running the Cool Your Jets creative studio, making game trailers with Cowabunga Industries and helps creates DIY games for TeamLazerBeam. Ben’s talk will look at how game developers can become modern day sorcerers, alchemists and witches and with their craft, change the world positively. Ben continues to say that he will consider how the act of playing a game can be regarded as a magic ritual. Ben came up with the term videomancers that he explains refers to people who create change via channelling their intent and use interactive media in order to bend reality. Ben believes that games can bend reality as they are “one of our most emotive and immediate art forms” and have the ability to inform how people think and could lead to positive change in the world.

A MAZE. will be showcasing a huge variety of indie games this year as a part of the festival. The South African games include ALONE by Jason Sutherland and Richard Pieterse about self reflection and patience and Dress To Express Dancing Success by TeamLazerBeam – a dating sim and dancing sim hybrid exploring identity, social anxiety and shaking your booty in front of strangers. Another exciting game that will be showcased this year is LAMP OF TRUTH from Algeria developed by Diaa ElHak Guedouari – a puzzle game about existential illusions where lanternsare used to illuminate reality and the player’s path to the next level. “Remember, anything that you can’t see, doesn’t exist.”

A MAZE. gives to the public a different insight into games culture and highlights how technology can be used for artistic expression as well as experimental interaction with audiences. At A MAZE.expect to see games with serious narratives approached by its developers with new and playful viewpoints.The festival brings together international culture and unites playful media and games.

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