Melbourne's independent video game community still "thriving" despite lockdowns

3 June 2021

The creative zeal of Melbourne’s independent video game makers goes unimpeded despite a global pandemic and four lockdowns in the past twelve months.

Melbourne’s own Freeplay festival – the world’s longest-running independent games festival – was held online in 2020 and, thanks to Melbourne’s extended circuit-breaker lockdown, this year’s festival will be too.

Independent – or ‘indie’ – video game makers tend to operate in precarious conditions without the job security that would normally come with working with a large blockbuster game studio. 

But animation student Patricia McKean is proof that the tumultuous covid setting is little hindrance to creativity.

The 22-year-old is the 2D Indigenous artist for Innchanted – a cooperative adventure video game where players serve inn guests in a setting inspired by Indigenous Australian mythology.

Although the “chibi” characters of the game aren’t Ms McKean’s normal art style, she says they’re fun to draw.

The Indigenous representation in the game from Drop Bear Studios is important to Ms McKean who says, “I just want people to see Aboriginal people having fun, being normal people”. 

Animation student Patricia McKean

Photo supplied by Patrician McKean

Queensland University of Technology Lecturer Dr Brendan Keogh says that Melbourne’s cultural and new media arts history has led to the present-day flourishing independent video game field that fosters interdisciplinary talent like Ms MsKean.

And after the Abbott government withdrew the little federal funding available to video game makers it was, “Film Victoria and Creative Victoria in particular [who] picked up the ball dropped by the federal government,” Dr Keogh says.

In fact, the emergency grants that were offered in response to the covid outbreak helped raise awareness about funding avenues for indie game makers, Freeplay festival director Chad Toprak says.

Freeplay festival Director Chad Toprak

Photo: Emma Hartley

Mr Toprak says that the indie video game has been “thriving” in Melbourne since during the last twelve months.

In this instance, the precarious freelance work of indie game makers was helpful because, “a lot of the time we’re already working from home. So lockdown wasn’t as harsh for us as other sectors,” Mr Toprak says.

He is hopeful about the future potential of Freeplay festival in providing a space of “cross-pollination” space for different creative scenes.

Freeplay festival has already created strong ties with the Victorian literary community such as The Wheeler Centre and Voiceworks.

“There’s a lot of positive energy,” Mr Toprak says, “Writers are really excited about games. Games people are really excited about writers.” 

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