Local Spotlight is Third Person's new feature on Toronto and all it has to offer. From events that make our city a creative hub, to places where great work is made and seen, to the people that make it all happen. We'll be telling the stories of what happens in our own backyard.
Considering the growing pains of the gaming industry at large lately (misogyny, racism, homophobia, trigger firings, the usual suspects), the second annual Damage Camp event was a powerful example of how us game developers and games-adjacent folk can brainstorm and promote paths to healing. That goes for both our tight-knit local communities, and the larger network of players and developers worldwide. Although I did not get to attend the entire conference, the two talks I did get to attend by Gabriela Aveiro-Ojeda and Nicolas Barrière-Kucharski were exemplar of the themes of healing and progress tackled by Damage Camp 2018.
The former talk dealt with the ways in which Cyberpunk, a genre making its comeback in recent years with the hype surrounding CD Projekt Red’s upcoming title Cyberpunk 2077, has often thwarted its own transgressive politics by overemphasizing technological augmentations as supposed tools of empowerment. The latter talk grappled with that terrible beast toxic masculinity and how it continues to impact the gaming industry and society in a myriad of ways. Both talks offered ways forward from the speakers’ personal experience and individual backgrounds. Aveiro-Ojeda illuminated the capitalistic and postcolonial perspectives embedded in the Cyberpunk genre as a woman of colour. She also put forth ideas from Brujería and indigenous futurism as a way to approach Cyberpunk in a more constructive and progressive manner. Barrière-Kucharski’s perspective as a queer male developer who has worked on games dominated by toxic masculine teams, delved deep into the ways that patriarchal tendencies in game industry culture and design are oppressive and continue to produce both broken projects and broken creators within the industry. His talk also ended on a hopeful note, setting out a framework for men (in particular, heteronormative men) to become more active in working through internalized toxic masculinity, both individually through counselling, and as a group of potential allies.
Those talks also impressed upon me the great potential of indie games to continue reaching beyond just resurrecting nostalgic gameplay and graphics. As discussed in several recent blogs here on the site, games are a unique medium for exploring important (and current) social topics. The games I got to play at Damage Camp’s arcade like Boyfriend Dungeon, A Summer with the Shiba Inu, Andi McClure’s new VR project, Memory Blocks, and Sol Hemochroma all approached relevant topics such as: dating and growing up in a digital age, as well as the evolution of play in various tones and through various mechanics and genres. And having had the wonderful opportunity to interview some of the creators behind these games, Damage Camp was a stunning reminder of how diverse and vital indie game development and its community truly is.
I only got a chance to attend the opening party of Damage Camp, but even attending just that gave me a sense of community that is the core of Dames Making Games. DMG is made up of a fantastic group of individuals who have created, carved even, a “space for genderqueer, nonbinary, femmes, Two Spirit people, and trans and cis women to create games freely.” They have done this and much more, with regular programming and events that bring a community together.
Damage Camp is just one of these events, and is a perfect example of the work they are doing. The opening party gave me chance to meet developers and community members, as well as talk to friends who I’ve already been lucky enough to meet. It is a space where everyone can be comfortable and be heard, and the party felt like a celebration of that.
I got the chance to play a few games in the Arcade and the standout for me was Ghoulnoise’s Memory Blocks. I got lost in the narrative anthology presented here and felt compelled to examine every memory card I could find. I read words from a variety of great writers including Priscilla Snow herself, and was in awe of the variety of emotions and ideas on display. From manipulating game code to reunite with a long lost love, to peering into a relationship grow and decay through save games, it deconstructs and examines our idea of memory and games in such an incredible way.
Boyfriend Dungeon, Sol Hemochroma, Welcome to New Lux Plaza, these were the other games I had a chance to play and they all offered something unique and clever. That is the thesis of Damage Camp, to provide new perspectives wherever possible and give voice to those who struggle to find a space to speak. From the speakers, to the workshops, to the games in the Arcade. They do this, and more, and showcase the incredible talent that Dames Making Games have drawn to the community they have built.
We’ll have more on Memory Blocks and Sol Hemochroma on the site soon.