A Public Broadcaster For Digital Games

Last week I met Alesandra Sainty from Krome Studios to have a chat with her about the Australian video game industry and the mechanisms the state and federal government put in place to support it. Krome is actually one of the few examples of a company which incorporates parts of Australian culture into its games, namely the TY-series. One of the problems here is that this Australian content had to be toned down to not frighten the average American player with Aussie humor or expressions. Of course, this brings the danger that you end up with the Americanized cliche version of your own culture. Games meanwhile shape the imagination of a generation, and they're becoming an increasingly popular pastime and gain more and more mainstream success – but they barely give you a sense of your own identity or your place in the world (unless you're American or Japanese, and even there it's more hyperreal culture than anything else). For the cinema, Gough Whitlam could still claim that it was able to communicate the ideas, the stories, the history and culture of Australia to international audiences. For games this is simply not the case.Of course games are a not a narrative medium (such as movies) but they are conveying powerful messages (and who knows what games will be capable of in 15 years). What one has to keep in mind though is that the Australian market is to small for noble cultural intentions and that the game industry and its political economy is tough. And it's not like this is a new problem. In fact it's almost as old as the country itself and is a defining factor of Australia's audiovisual media. Whenever a new popular medium was introduced it was, broadly speaking, quickly "colonized" by American or British content. That is unless the government stepped in and introduced a quota and established other means of support (such as giving grants etc) to benefit the local production industry. Now even though these mechanisms always kept the economic aspects of the industry in mind the main justification for them was based on cultural grounds. This started to change in the 90s (the catchword here is globalisation) and the rationalisation for these mechanisms shifted to a logic of economic rationalism. Which is fair enough considering the state of the industry and the advantages Australia has as a place to develop games at – not trying to make a buck out of that would be pretty insane. Still: Economic rationalism treats people like customers, not citizens and therefore can't justify all their needs. Which brought me to idea public broadcasting service for games. In Australia the ABC was often the driving force behind experimental, innovative formats that later served as an inspiration for the commercial stations. It didn't have to worry about market forces but could pursue its agenda of nation building (a good example Alesandra mentioned was "Kath and Kim"). And even though not many people watch the ABC the majority is glad it's there (and yes, I know, the ABC isn't as unpopular as everyone always claims, but you get the idea). Now imagine a government founded game developer counterpart to that. Not only could it break through the logic of standardization that still prevails the industry, it could also explore the role games could play in forming some sort of national identity and nation building. However to put things a bit in perspective: One can argue at this point how "damaging" influence of foreign content was on Australia as well as there are several very valid points that confute the effects of cultural imperialism. And that doesn't even take Australia's insecurity about its own identity into account, respectively the question in how far it is possible to reach such a construct in a highly derivative culture. But even so there still would be the chance of really innovative content getting developed, content that doesn't have to have the market as the main criteria – content that could also benefit the local industry and enhance its creative profile. Just like the ABC served as a ground for experimentation that later inspired the commercial stations.