Artists Making Games

28 July 2023

A project I would do if I had the capacity right now: a campaign advocating and sharing resources for "artists making games" - this terminology is based on the language Sarah Brin used at SF MoMA of "artist-made games", which has been on my mind lately.

I perceive two issues that need addressing. One is that there is a lack of artist development opportunities specifically aimed at people who make games as their practice. The vast majority of organisations, networks, etc. focused on game development operate on the assumption that game devs are employees hired by studios to make commercial products.

For example, the British Film Institute has funding and learning programmes specifically for solo / independent film creators, but the British Games Institute does not have equivalent programmes. I often get emails promoting games festivals, that expect developers to pay to be exhibited, and this doesn't make sense when your games are not commercial products. As an artist it should be the other way around, whereby you are paid an exhibition fee.

I think there should be an organisation that advocates for the needs and interests of artists in the games sector, because we are often invisible in the industry. I think there is value in even just stating the fact that there are artists making games, and showing that these are distinct from "game artists" who make visual assets for games. There are also interesting conversations that could be happening about the politics of different kinds of art practice, how they relate to game development, and how they impact your survival strategies as an artist.

That's not to say that there is no funding or support that benefit artists making games. Which brings me to the second issue that a project like this would address - sharing opportunities such as grants and residencies that are suitable for artists making games. There are many social media accounts that share these kinds of opportunities for artists as a whole, and I think it would be good to have one that specifically targets artists making games. I'm pretty good at finding opportunities that suit my practice, and I don't know that a lot of other people are even aware that arts funding is an option for solo game devs.

With all that said, part of my own problem is that I'm not based in London (or Guildford I guess) so I don't get to connect with the networks* that do exist for games stuff. TBH most of my contact with people from the games sector in the UK leave me feeling rejected and insecure. Back when I was Senior Curator at Critical Distance, a games journalist at Feral Vector said to me "oh, you're THAT person" as if I was some kind of irritating outsider. I kind of anticipate something similar happening if I were to try to start a project like this (which I'd probably try to do through Critical Distance). For all I know, someone is already doing all this stuff, but I don't have the opportunity to even find out about it.

* Of course, it's considered rude to even acknowledge out loud that networks are a thing. The same year at Feral Vector someone flinched when I used the word, and said "I don't do 'networking'", unaware that as a highly-paid programmer who can afford to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, they have the privilege of not even needing to think about their network. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to do a recent history of indie games focused on the social privileges that had to be in place for one game to become celebrated while another just sits in some forgotten corner of