This coming weekend marks the delightful enterprise known as the 2020 summit. Now, now, before you start to scoff, might I remind you that – and this is according to the 2020 website – “The Rudd Government believes Australians, whatever their political views, can come together to build a modern Australia capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.”
That’s right. We’ll all hold hands and clap and sing campfire songs, while we toast in the new millennium (only eight years too late), and most importantly, discuss Australia’s so-bright-I’ve-gotta-wear-shades future. But in throwing together this summit, the Rudd government seems to have already run into their fair share of ‘21st Century challenges’… such as understanding digital media (or new media if you prefer) in the Naughties*.
But I’m certainly not the first person to make this observation, in fact, Marcus Westbury has made a wonderful attempt at just that yesterday in The Age. I know I've been less than pleasant to Marcus before on Rantolotl, and unfortunately, I find myself in a similar position today. And just like last time, it's not because of what he's done, but far more to do with where he is.
It's not his fault he finds himself as the posterboy for new media in Australia, and I don't really suggest that it is. After all, he is but one man, perhaps aspiring to be to new media what John Safran is to indy film (and perhaps nonsense in general). But this is all totally beside the point, and more or less without meaning to those who haven't yet read The Age article in question, let alone kept up to date with the shambles that is the 2020 summit.
To cut a long story short Marcus is heading to the summit. What he has done with this invite is point out the ridiculousness of the situation, ie, that there is no delegate so far who has any significant experience in the games industry. He has now offered up his blog to comments from industry types, which he will attempt to convey at the summit, if possible.
And to be completely honest, I praise this. But what I really can't praise, is firstly his decision to actually go (but that's just the Trot in me), and the bizarre series of decisions that must have been made to reach the point where Not Quite Arts' darling is having to place callouts on a blog to garner opinion on a growing industry which has been systematically spat on by the Australian government for a number of decades now.
I'd like to say that if I suddenly found myself to be the government appointed voice of all that is important in something I had a dedicated interest to, but not professional opinion on... say, Bill Bryson books, I would be outraged**. Not only because that would be a downright fucking stupid thing to appoint someone to a summit - though it has to be said it would be likely to be just as relevant as a great deal of the topics that will be discussed - but also because I think I'd be personally offended that I was considered boring and introspectively wanky enough to even be considered in the first place. But probably not so offended that I wouldn't attend just to abuse the free drinks (and Marcus - if you're reading this, and I suspect you are, if I hear you don't take advantage of the bar, the finger food, and everything else this summit has to offer, I will be very upset indeed).
It's not to say that I think the callout to the blog was wrong. I don't. And as much as I think people shouldn't attend or pander to this ridiculous summit, I don't even particularly begrudge his participation. For a long time, the new-arts community (for lack of a better term) and the games industry have somewhat butted up against each other - for funding, for space, for recognition - you name it. There have been many attempts for the fringes of the arts community to engage with the fringes of the independent games community, and this has been great. But the games community needs to take on its own structures, both physical in the form of the Games Lab at ACMI, and as a state of mind - otherwise independent developers, supporters, and even industry lobbyists (say, for the R18 rating) are always going to find that their interests are compromised by the decisions of the arts crowd that in part tolerates them. It's happened before, and it'll happen again.
I dare say it's a ridiculously difficult position to find yourself in, trying to straddle the many forms of new-art and so on, particularly in a city like Melbourne. But unlike the other emerging media now being considered art in some way, like graffiti & stencilling, the indy games movement is a fledgling. It doesn't quite fit in the art box yet, and I'm not convinced that many of the people involved in this area see it doing so any time soon either. It does need fostering in many ways, but I'm also not convinced that the new-arts community is the bunch to do it. Maybe it's just me, but it really fucking rubs me the wrong way to see the gaming community kind of stapled to the coat-tails of the very communities that directly benefit from the lack of arts & industry development funding towards games & their developers.
But enough of that. Back to the burning issue at hand, the 2020 summit.I might just have it all wrong. After all, I've been a bit precious about this whole 2020 thing ever since Cate Blanchett was announced to be the only female in the leadership group. And what a female, too. I mean, not to disparage her or anything, but fucking seriously - this summit supposedly represents the 'best and brightest' of Australians; scientists, engineers, doctors, researchers, academics, industry leaders... and the only woman they could find to embody any of these highly sought after values was... an actor. Clearly, they expect her to rock up and play the roles of a trail-blazing Victorian-era doctor. Maybe she could play the much lauded statesman Winston Churchill? Regardless of which role(s) she may be asked to play, the impertinent question remains... does she have to wear some kind of strap-on? If so, will they also draw a little moustache above her lip and arm her with a pipe and a Playboy, just so everyone's sure? Oh! And a can of bundy & coke!
But yes, I for one look forward to seeing this sinkhole of smug come and go. And maybe I have Marcus all wrong on this. Maybe he's trailblazing the 'youth agenda' of videogames, web2.0 & all those other newfangled contraptions to a pack of stale old middle aged white men with a vengeance. Maybe they'll have to introduce a R18-rating system to just shield the collected audience from the very words that spew forth from his mouth of fury, as he tears their pathetic moralistic arguments limb from limb, syllable from syllable, whilst scooping up all the cocktail spring rolls his artfully-blessed hat can hold. But I doubt it. People aren't invited to this summit to behave as activists, catalysts or even banner bearers for their interests and areas of expertise, they're invited to sit around, look pretty and be able to formulate snappy to-camera quips for the event & the future and the general good of the nation. They're every bit as superfluous as Cate Blanchett is.
Anyway, Marcus, I do wish you luck in raising these issues, but I'm very interested to hear from you what you expect to get out of this summit. I'll certainly be keeping my eyes on your blog to see what your post-summit thoughts on the matter are.
Cheers, and we must all have that beer soon (each and every last one of you).
*I'm very sorry. That's the first time I've used that word, and trust me, it's been eight years of mulling it over in the making. I feel dirty.
** I am indeed outraged now, as I type. And part of this is the hypocrisy of my own position. I don't work in the games industry, and I have no claim to connection to it, but what I do see around me is a great deal of friends who do, and who suffer from the ignorance of a whole range of different characters to the Australian games industry, not least of all the Australian Government in its various bodies. I dare say Marcus finds himself in a similar position.