ACMI’s Big Games Night In brings a personal touch to games week

For the first time, Melbourne International Games Week has run completely online, and ACMI have stepped up to the plate with a downloadable showcase of personal games.

Melbourne International Games Week is an exciting week for players and game-makers alike, with conferences, exhibitions, and events for people of all interests and ages. This year, as the week has gone fully online, ACMI have curated a digital showcase of Victorian-made games titled The Big Games Night In. The full showcase is free to download for the duration of MIGW (4 – 11 October).

‘Some of the games included have been created this year while we are all in lockdown, and reflect the difficult times we’ve all been through in a way that only interactive media can.’

Arieh Offman

Curator Arieh Offman describes the showcase as ‘a smorgasbord of smaller offerings so that families can try a wide selection of genres, art styles and play mechanics.’ It’s designed to appeal to a broad range of people, from newcomers to games, to long-time fans who are looking to get inspired by some artistic work. Offman describes The Big Games Night In as a way to highlight ‘the shared social experience of a family coming together and sharing a game, and showcasing the uniqueness, talent and creativeness of Victoria’s videogame industry.’ 

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Accompanied by videos where each game maker introduces themselves and their games, Offman believes that this personal approach is the best way to get new audiences on board with videogames as a medium; rather than presenting games in a vacuum, ‘some kind of human interaction with the makers helps to personalise the experience.’ Creating a sense of the personal in both curation and content alike can appeal to people who might not think of themselves as gamers; combined with the smaller time investment, the program is designed to attract ‘a broader audience that might be unable or unwilling to commit to a game that lasts for hours.’ 

These bite-sized offerings are personal, artistic works of no more than 15 minutes in length, ranging from tiny games like Grace Bruxner’s Fish Market, where the player walks around an underwater cartoon setting getting acquainted with an adorable world; to a demo of the upcoming Innchanted, a multiplayer couch-co-op whose design draws on First Nations art and culture.

While some games are suitable for those as young as four, others contain some more mature themes and are better suited to an older audience, like Necrobarista, a gorgeous visual novel set in the depths of a Melburnian coffee shop on the doorstep of the afterlife. This gorgeous addition from Route 59 is a dark, funny, thoughtful meditation on loss, which will transport anyone who misses visiting Melbourne into the heart of the city in an instant. 

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In this way, the program also reflects the unique conditions that the pandemic has created in more ways than one. The necessity of online delivery has allowed ACMI to reach a much broader audience than an in-person exhibition would allow, but it has also offered the opportunity to showcase work that speaks directly to the pandemic itself. ‘Some of the games included have been created this year while we are all in lockdown, and reflect the difficult times we’ve all been through in a way that only interactive media can.’

He cites Cécile Richard’s digital poem Hope, created in collaboration with Melbourne band Cable Ties, as a perfect example of this: ‘Hope explores themes of anxiety, depression and panic attacks through a story of moving house – and that ends with a timely and positive message of hope.’ 

The showcase also includes games that were developed during the pandemic, like Olivia Haines’ Terracotta. Terracotta takes a thoughtful, introspective look at life under lockdown, as the player takes a walk around the neighbourhood, listening to the protagonist’s internal monologue. Immersive artistic experiences like these can help create a sense of emotional intimacy and understanding that is hard to recreate in other forms: ‘I have specifically curated this showcase to highlight videogames’ potential as an artistic medium, and expand audiences’ view of what videogames can be and can do,’ Offman said.

And artistic merit, emotional resonance, and approachable playtime aside, they’re incredibly good fun: ‘One of, if not the primary reason, for picking up a videogame is to enjoy yourself!’

ACMI’s Big Games Night In showcase is available on their website 4-11 October, during Melbourne International Games Week. 

Jini Maxwell is a writer and curator who lives in Naarm. They are an assistant curator at ACMI, where they also host the Women & Non-binary gamers club. They write about videogames and the people who make them. You can find them on Twitter @astroblob