Berlin: Droid Con & Meeting with A MAZE founder, Thorsten Storno

On the 4th of June I undertook a 12 hour busride across Denmark and Germany to Berlin to visit Danielle, attend Droid Con, and see Thorsten Storno (the director of games and playful media event A MAZE) about presenting at their annual conference in Johannesburg.

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Danielle, my good friend and adopted little sister, recently finished her Honours in Film, met a dashing young German programmer and musician, who is now her fiance, and made the move to Berlin. She is currently working on multiple projects while she waits for her marriage visa to clear, and on this particular weekend she was shooting speakers at the annual Android conference. She was able to secure tickets for me, and seeing as the majority of my participants are either Andoird native, or aspire to be, it was a good opportunity to see what was happening in the industry surrounding the operating system.

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The conference felt like I had walked onto the set of Silicon Valley – stalls with demo’s, expensive food, and giant corporate branding wherever you turned. Microsoft even had an entire mobile gallery in the form of the Microsoft Tech Truck.

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At the end of the day, the talks were slightly to technically inclined, and there was a lot of live coding, which definitely taught me things I hadn’t previously known, but with no foreseeable applications in my research.

My other big reason for heading through to Berlin was to meet Thorsten Storno of the A MAZE festival:

A MAZE. is an international label in the field of independent games, playful media and games culture. Interdisciplinary, game-centered events and productions transcending media channels and cultures are the signature feature of A MAZE.

Our portfolio includes the production of festivals, exhibitions, conferences, workshops, music events, game showcases, game jams, newspapers and weird playful interaction.

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They’ve also hosted this festival one a year in Johannesburg since 2013, as a part of [the] Fak’ugesi Festival. In partnership with Wits Digital Arts cultural and knowledge exchange, they aim to explore playful media in a pan-African setting:

For the 4th year A MAZE. welcomes African and international game developers, digital artists, forward thinkers, entrepreneurs, and digital activitists to Johannesburg to exchange tools, skills, and ideas in the fields of independent games and playful media. Workshops, talks, parties, and a games arcade featuring the pick of African and international independent games and playful media.

Through the A MAZE connection the games community in Cape Town have made friends with a larger international community that share their vision for a playful and inclusive gaming culture. (Through A Maze, Ben met Julie Heyde, which was the reason why I game jammed in Copenhagen, and by extension, undertook the majority of my incredible European adventure. Thanks A MAZE!)

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I met Thorsten at his apartment in Berlin and we delved into a complex conversation around diversity in games. Thorsten is all about expanding what it means to be a gamer and participate in gaming culture – particularly making games. He told me about the workshops they plan to host in Alexandra and Soweto. In turn, I related to him the findings from my research, and we decided that it might be good to have a panel on inclusivity in gaming. He feared that a talk too centered on mobile creative tech and decolonization might alienate the mostly game-developer audience. He admitted that the audience that actually attended the conference portion of the event were mostly male and mostly white people who were already in the gaming industry. So it is important that we position any tranformatory calls in a manner that doesn’t seem antagonistic or far removed from their knowledge of the industry.

I’ve recently been in conversation with a number of game makers and researchers who are keen to add to the conversation – particularly people who have already attempted to extend the magic circle – initiatives such as Dames Making Games, and Game Girl Workshop, have pioneered game jams among people who wouldn’t usually tick the game maker box. Hopefully we’ll be able to put together a panel that can introduce the neccesity for diversification of the fastest growing media industry in South Africa today, and spread the good gaming vibes.

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