OCAD START Show Marks Latest Bandwagon Bid to Co-Opt Games

One of the events i attended in my whirlwind week of video game-related shindigs was START, a week-long exhibit of indie video games at OCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design. START rotated through a selection of possibly “arty” games (though settling on a definition of arty games is still an exercise in intellectual wanking). About an hour before i attended the gala opening last Thursday night, i was surprised to find that my TOJam 5 game Heads was one of the games being exhibited.

Untold Entertainment's Heads

Hey, kids – it’s Heads!

Is Heads art? It’s got kind of a different art style, and it’s a little weird. Does being different and weird make something art? Does it matter? Do we care?

One of Us

Those are my reactions whenever the topic of Games as Art crops up. i don’t care. And i especially didn’t care to hear the evening’s two panelists on the OCAD side expound over the history of pop culture in art, and the legitimacy of video games as an art form. It smacked, once again, of another industry trying to claim video games as its own. The teevee folks in town are doing it, the film folks are paying attention … i half expect the pulp and paper industry to take note soon. i feel like a broken record by pointing out, again, that the interactive entertainment industry is not an also-ran or a tack-on marketing tool for other creative industries.

Talking Heads


The two panelists from indie gamedom, Ben Rivers and Jim Munroe, held their own for the latter part of the discussion, when the moderator’s questions became coherent. The topic of the “Toronto style” of indie games was mentioned. Ben rejected the idea, and said that if anything, Toronto indie games reflected the personalities of their creators. (Moreso than indie games from other cities? i’m not convinced.)

Jim Munroe said that the Toronto community is very warm and welcoming, and that there are no cliques. It was an interesting thing for him to say – i was just talking to someone at the Ubi Soft party who complained that the scene was very cliquey. It’s hard to see that view when you’re deep in the clique, i suppose. But barring a few certain folks in our community who act like they’re too cool for school, i think what’s at play is that programmer types are shy and introverted. It’s very easy to mistake introversion for snobbery.

One Note

The rest of the evening, like the rest of the exhibit, consisted of playable games projected on walls. i’d be interested to hear if the uninitiated found it interesting; for the rest of us, it seems like every event lately has been quite samey. TOJam Arcade did it, Fan Expo and TCAF did it, the Indie Showcase did it, and the upcoming Arcadian Renaissance exhibit during Nuit Blanche is gonna do it too. It’s super-great to see the Toronto indie star rising. i’m really interested to hear what Joe Public thinks of it all. And what’s the goal? Do we want more people playing Toronto indie games, buying Toronto indie games, or making Toronto indie games? We’ll figure it out, i’m sure. i think the chips are still falling where they may. Let’s let the spaghetti stick to the wall first. With a little more traction, the industry may finally gain its well-deserved reputation for being a separate schtick from film, teevee and pulp & paper.


Peep this clueless Toronto Star piece from Kate Taylor, who apparently missed the week’s goings-on in the city and decided to pen this alarmist piece on the ‘Mericans taking our tax credits (and our white women), and on video games apparently struggling for artistic cred:

Canada’s video game industry is a going concern

The video game is a medium still searching for cultural legitimacy, but neither critics (who tend to review it simply in terms of how well a game plays) nor parents (who bemoan their children’s addiction) are likely to oblige it any time soon.

i’m going to take a wild guess that Kate is either 52 years old, or lazy. Play some games, Kate, Attend some events. Last week was packed with ’em. Comment on stuff that was made here in Toronto (being that you write for the Toronto Star), instead of highlighting a Vancouver studio. And get those facts straight:

Canadian companies are often being bought by multinationals in a field were there are no restrictions on foreign ownership.

The implication is that there are no restrictions on foreign-owned companies accessing Canadian government funds and tax breaks. i assure you there are. And as for whether video games enjoy cultural legitimacy … when’s the last time you saw a person under 30 buy a newspaper?

8 thoughts on “OCAD START Show Marks Latest Bandwagon Bid to Co-Opt Games

  1. Jimmy McSTART

    As always, your attendance and honest coverage is much appreciated. As a co-organizer of START, I might have some insight, perhaps even wisdom to add.

    Given the fact the panel started with “I think we all agree games are art, so let’s move on” I don’t think anyone on the panel cared about that question either.

    One goal of START was to promote the idea of games as art. Unlike TOJam, GamerCamp, IndieCade, PAX, etc., OCAD is in a unique position to do this. While game developers long ago concluded that games are art (I agree), the public is not onboard yet. Long term, that’s a real problem.

    Hopefully START exposed visitors (especially OCAD students) to games they didn’t know existed, so their view of what gaming can be is expanded. If START continues, I’m hoping we’re able to find and promote more “art games” (however you define that). I hope that’s valuable.

    I would be the first to agree that the events you listed are quite samey (I was involved in all of them). However, they weren’t meant for you. The goal of all of these events is to expose new audiences to indie games, and to connect game makers with the public. Outside of the actual game makers, most people don’t know indie games or indie game developers exist. Certainly no-one at TCAF or FanExpo. Looking at indie bands and indie movies, this isn’t going to happen without effort. “We’ll figure it out, i’m sure.” I’m not so sure.

    Regarding your fear of Co-Opt… the game industry is still considered a small, strange, scary thing by people outside of it. As long as people are making an effort to bridge that gap, I have no issue. OCAD put people, time, money and resources into START, with no strings attached. If that’s Co-Opt, I welcome it.

    Regarding the Toronto community clique… does the complaint of one person (at a party no less) make it true? Are you saying it’s very cliquey (led by Jim Munroe no less)? Alas, your involvement in TCAF, TOJam, the TOJam Arcade, the HandEye Society and START automatically make you part of it. Welcome!

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      i didn’t consider that angle – of students expanding their concept of what games can be and do. It’s a good one. Starting in January, the 4th year game-focussed CompSci students at the University of Toronto are pairing up with the OCAD students to create games (last year, it was evident that their final projects could have been better if programmers could concentrate on programming and not have to deal with art, which is not their strong suit.)

      i’m actually guilty as charged – i didn’t play many of the games there, because i had skipped dinner and was out-of-my-mind hungry for cheese-on-sticks, which didn’t make their appearance until i was ready to pass out. i played Spooky Squid’s Cottage Defense game, which actually inspired me to make something similar (could be my TOJam 6 game!). i’ve played N+ at home, and NiddHogg at another event. Next event, i’ll do my best to focus on what’s being exhibited.

      Re: No Strings Attached … there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Did you get paid for putting this one together, btw? i long for the day when Jimmy McG sees a little scratch for all the ridiculous effort he puts in.

      About the clique … it’s something i’ve actually picked up on myself. i find it challenging to relate even superficially to certain key folks in the community. i don’t have a lot of patience for cliques. If i want to break in, i’ll do so. i’ll defiantly speak to someone and stubbornly wear out my welcome if i feel people are trying to get rid of me because i’m not in the club. But not everyone is obnoxious enough to do that. The folks who were interviewed for the video they showed at START are all very much in the clique, whether they know it (or encourage it) or not. And there are definitely some people in our community who are actively promoting an us vs. them awesomesauce attitude.

      i think the best way to determine whether you're fostering a cliquey attitude is to gauge how you interface with the students, the unknowns, and the hangers-on who don't actually make games, but show up to these events. If you're anti-clique, you're inclusive of these people. If you don't have the time of day to talk to them, it's clique time.

  2. Jimmy McSTART

    When editing my earlier reply, I left out something very important. Did you try any of the START games (you hadn’t played before)? That list would probably include Cactus Arcade 2 (unreleased), Gesundheit!, N+, Star Fall Extended (improved for START), Valentinel Hopes, NiddHogg and RunMan. Your blog didn’t mention the games whatsoever, which is unusual.

  3. Jimmy McRambly

    The games on display were a major part of START. That’s why 16 games were shown on huge projectors/LCDs across a 3 hour period (50+ games if you include the entire week). I hold your blog/opinion in high regard – playing 1 game is beneath your standard. Your state might also explain why you failed to notice how amazing the START space was. It wasn’t hot or cramped (a FIRST!), and the game presentation was leagues above other events I’ve helped organize. OCAD worked hard to make that happen – free lunch is an understatement. 4 people (plus OCAD’s amazing IT department) put together START. I consider it a compliment you felt we should get paid.

    You overlook a key point Munroe was talking about. By COMPARISON to other industries he’s involved with (book, magazine, movie), the game community is a warm, welcoming place. As far as people in our community having different attitudes – that’s healthy. The only thing that unites everyone is the still radical notion that games are a worthy pursuit. Beyond that it’s battle royale: AAA vs. Indie, Indie Games as a Lifestyle vs. Indie Games as a Business, Social Game Design vs. Ethics, My amazing games vs. Everyone else’s crap. This keeps things interesting.

    The fact you classify people into “unknowns and hangers-on” is clique thinking, regardless of whether you are inclusive. You’re in deeper than you realize.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Agreed – the space was good, and the setup was top-notch. i’ll say “good’, because OCAD is built in such a way that giggly, stoned art school students can come tearing through the Great Hall on the second floor and disrupt the panel going on below, and the panel itself was backlit rather garishly by the cafeteria … but otherwise, these events just keep getting better and better, and i’m less and less concerned that i’ll contract leprosy or get stabbed when i attend them.

      So i said “students, unknowns and hangers-on”. “Student” is not a derogatory term. Neither is “unknown” – by that, i just mean a new person. But are you taking offense to “hangers-on”? There really are some notable folks who show up to the events who don’t make games, and who try the limited social graces of the other attendees. These people need love and respect just like any other human being does (and in certain situations and from certain people, they don’t always get it), but i won’t apologize for calling them “hangers-on.” Maybe “hopefuls” is a more diplomatic term? Anyway, if you show some love to the hopefuls, i think you’re doing your part to keep the community inclusive. And i think you do show love to the hopefuls.

      Munroe said the community is different from the indie music and film scenes, but i can see attitude creeping in. The worst place i’ve seen it is at E3, but that’s L.A. i hope we can keep the “i’m too awesome” attitude out as long as possible.

  4. Bwakathaboom

    Be happy for what you have. London, Ont. doesn’t even have an indie community, we all have to live vicariously through yours!

  5. Miguel S.

    Weird I posted a comment regarding the Toronto Star article when this first went up, I guess the post somehow got caught in the either. Suffice to say CBC does a week long special on Games in Canada and doesn’t really mention any indies http://www.cbc.ca/news/video-games/ or at least no indies that aren’t involved in social media and the like.

    I think the clique thing is tricky, every creative community is going to be filled with both people who try to encourage others to join and those who… er don’t. I try my best to be in the first group… though I know I’ve flubbed it, particularly in that harried under slept state that accompanies setup time for any of the events I’ve been part of. In general I think the Jim’s (and Em!) have all set good examples of how to break down barriers and welcome and encourage new people to get involved.

    I think part of where things get confusing is that people naturally form friendships when they’re part of a community and sometimes people (on both sides of the divide!) confuse the friendships with the community. In any other context you would not expect to randomly walk up to a group of close friends and be treated as though you knew them all for ages, or to be invited to every get together they have. Conversely if your at a Hand Eye Society Social and your an organizer or someone well known in the community, you probably should be friendly and encouraging to new faces, at least if you don’t want to be seen as a stuck up dick.

    You CAN be pro-active about getting involved in the Toronto indie game scene though:

    -Join the Hand Eye Society.

    -Take part in events like TOjam.

    -If your shy and not comfortable being a pushy ass like Ryan Creighton (I kid!) volunteer for events, you’ll get a chance to meet the organizers with something to do and talk about.

    – If you have a game, talk about it, show it to people! <amazing how many people don't!) This is especially effective if your game is unique or interesting in some way (eg not a clone of an existing game) but that's a whole other topic.

    – If you have a game that's finished (or unfinished but polished) submit it to show or be shown at events! Hand Eye is often taking submissions, either for the Torontron (soon to be joined by even more retro arcade cabinets with a wider range of controllers) or our more informal indie arcades at events like TCAF. *A surprising low number of people take advantage of this.* I got literally zero applications when I mentioned we were looking for people for the indie arcades at conventions in a HES post. ZERO. When I emailed people for the first one, less then half the people replied.

    If you do a few of the above you'll meet a few people, now when you go to Hand Eye Socials (yeah wasn't on the list but I figure that one's obvious) you'll have some people to talk to, who know other people who you'll meet and it cascades from there.

    The fact is it takes time to join any creative community, no amount of personal awesomeness will instantly make up for that. You don't necessarily have to go all out but you do at least need to show up :)

    As for those of us already deeply in the community we need to be vigilant that we are being welcoming and not excluding people by mistake.


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