Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Report from the field: A MAZE 2016

I was told to look out for things that are stereotypically representative of Berlin -- a poster for a "party against racism", a nearby music venue called "Suicide", a group of children walking a large dog on a rope. Berlin seems a bit like the nostalgic ideal of San Francisco or New York City that 30-40-somethings routinely mourn to any nearby insolent millenials -- because Berlin is relatively cheap, young, and raw. It's basically the place for young creative people to be right now.

A MAZE 2016 began with festival director Thorsten Storno decrying the business-ification of indie games and dominance of commercial attitudes in festivals, and arguing for the necessity of non-commercial spaces in games. Then, literally, flamethrowers began shooting up pillars of fire behind him.

This is a very different tone from most US games festivals, which often try to accommodate monetization-types and commercial indies alongside non-commercial artists and students. There is no such pretense here. Here, there are no posh "meet with Sony" events, no chicken caesar wraps sponsored by Microsoft, not even any bored attendees clutching their Nintendo DS -- instead, that kind of stuff is at "Quo Vadis", a nearby industry-oriented conference that's named after the final dungeon in a Final Fantasy game.

So there's a funny "purity" to A MAZE. It knows what it wants to be, and it has the space and resources to actually be that thing. And apparently that thing is a bunch of artists and game makers huddled around a garbage can fire, clutching tepid 3 dollar beers as the distinct smell of ambient-disco-trance wafts through the air at 3 AM...

I think I kinda miss it already.