2016 Year in Review
At the end of 2015, as I wrote a similar year in review, I distinctly remember being concerned that 2015 was so exciting and so full of achievements that I wouldn't possibly be able to eclipse it in 2016. Well, here we are folks, and eclipse it we have.
In June 2016, I received the news that my Master of Creative Arts program would be upgraded to a doctorate, so I am now a confirmed doctoral candidate. Making that happen was a long process and required a lot of paperwork, and at first my supervisor wasn't even sure it was possible, but I made it in the end.
My work-in-progress doctorate document has about 70,000 words in it at the moment, and about half of that is a reasonably well-constructed first draft (while the rest is a mess of notes). I'm hoping to have a complete first draft by mid-2017.
This year I also began teaching at university, which has been the dream for quite some time. I never imagined that I would be teaching in the Serious Games program, but that happy accident turned out to be a perfect fit. This year I taught SGD100: Playcentric Game Design and SGD103: Serious Video Game Design Workshop, and had an incredible time helping first years find their feet. I also helped write SGD200: Game-Based Learning, which was an awesome way to combine my education experience and my love of games. I was lucky enough to also be invited to present a guest lecture about queer representation in SGD202: Video Game Analysis.
In 2016, I attended my first (and second, and third, and fourth...) academic conference. Early in the year, I attended an inspiring creative writing symposium at Central Queensland University, and I also watched Dakoda present at the Digital Games Research Association of Australia (Queensland) conference in Brisbane. In October/November, I presented papers at the Joint Conference on Serious Games, the Digital Games Research Association of Australia conference, and the Australasian Association of Writing Programs conference. My co-authored JCSG2016 paper was published in a book, and my AAWP16 paper was successfully peer-reviewed for inclusion in conference proceedings.
The academic conferences I mentioned above allowed me to visit Brisbane and Melbourne again, as well as Canberra for the first time. Those Melbourne and Canberra trips were my first time travelling that sort of distance alone, which was both exciting and terrifying! Thankfully I had a fair bit of practice with airports, public transport, and hotels earlier in the year, with additional trips to Sydney for EB Expo 2016 and to Melbourne for Melbourne International Games Week. After stepping off all of these planes, I took cars, buses, trains, trams, taxis, and Ubers (which was very new) to a whole lot of different destinations.
Let's do this chronologically.
Sydney opened its arms to me again for a few days as I visited EB Expo 2016 and wrote several articles for Impulse Gamer about the experience. Last year at EB Expo, I was attending mostly as Dakoda's plus one, so it was exciting to be a fully-fledged games journalist this year. I enjoyed exploring the convention floor, playing games, and looking for something to say.
But the best part about EB Expo was, of course, catching up with everybody. It's the press night and morning, and the dinners and drinks, that make EB Expo so much fun. The worst part of EB Expo was the lack of chicken wings (no, really, ask anyone).
The next big trip after EB Expo was Melbourne International Games Week. We were in Melbourne from the Tuesday of MIGW through to the following Monday. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to GCAP (because we were a little lacking in funds), but we did make it to PAX Aus! I also attended the WIG Lunch, Contours: New Arcade Night, and Co-op Drinks, as well as several wonderful lunches and dinners with friends (including some who aren't in the games industry, but who just happen to live in Melbourne).
But it wasn't all fun and games. (Well, let's be honest, it mostly was.) I was invited by Jason Imms to be one of the designers for Nanojam 2.0, alongside some amazingly talented people. I somehow managed to avoid making a complete fool of myself on stage, and there is a recording to prove it (it starts at about 2:46:20). I also organised Heroes Like Us: Representation of Queer Identity in Games and spoke with some excellent queer folk in the games industry. I wrote about all the things we said for PC & Tech Authority.
By the time I reached my solo trips to Melbourne and Canberra, I was exhausted. Still, I presented my work in these wonderful locations, and made sure I saved time to socialise and explore. I went out for drinks post-DiGRAA and post-AAWP, and also spent time walking around Canberra (which was beautiful, but gave me terrible sunburn that I'm still trying to get rid of).
Games, games, games
After all this travel, it's wonderful to be back home. Still, I manage to get plenty of work done while I'm in my own house, and so much of it this year has been about games.
Queerly Represent Me is probably the project I've talked about most this year. It certainly feels like it, with several interviews and other articles being written about the database this year, and with more still in the works. My work on Queerly Represent Me, and other writing in representation, led to my nomination for Journalist of the Year in the Australian LGBTI Awards, as well as my ranking of #25 on the LOTL Powerlist 2016. It also meant I was able to help judge RainbowJam16, a game jam all about diversity.
For the uninitiated, Queerly Represent Me is a database of games that feature queer representation in some form. It categorises and describes these games, and also collates links to resources that discuss these games or queer representation more generally. The database has taken literally hundreds of unpaid hours to create and maintain this year, which is hilarious considering the whole thing just sort of... happened.
I began researching queer representation in games with fervour earlier this year in preparation for several of the events and presentations I've already mentioned. This started with reading some existing articles, and then led to the creation of a Twitter survey that asked my network about their favourite and least favourite representations of queer identities in games. This survey received about ten times the responses I was expecting, and that meant I had quite a bit of data at my disposal.
I was originally going to write an article highlighting some of my findings. Then I was going to write several articles. Dakoda told me that this was ridiculous and that what I had was so much more than that. He was right, of course, and so I registered a domain and Queerly Represent Me was born.
I'm still working on it, and have plans for continued research in 2017, including some work with Adrienne Shaw. I'm also raising money to help deal with the fact that it is a huge, unpaid venture.
This year, I also co-founded Horned Llama, a games and alternative media studio, with Pontus Horn. We are working on several projects, including Constellations, an interactive fiction game with a demo that was released this year. The Constellations demo was featured at Gente Dando Charlas in Madrid in September.
I didn't just make games through Horned Llama this year, though; I also made some independently.
The most notable is Enthymema, which shipped this year after being originally designed for the Serenity Forge Game Jam in August. Enthymema won the Jury Award in the game jam, as well as receiving an honourable mention for the Audience Award. A feature was published by my university celebrating its success (as well as that of some of the students from the Serious Games program that I teach into, whose submission won the Audience Award).
After Enthymema, I released Snapshot, a semi-autobiographical piece of interactive fiction about some of my experiences navigating my sexuality as a teenager.
I also worked on some other experiments. I started creating voxel art, mostly as a creative output that was separate from my professional requirements to be creative in other ways (although, as all things do, it eventually became part of my work as well). My voxel art is in Snapshot, as well as Wizlets (one of the Horned Llama projects featured above). I also used my voxel art to make things like a floating island experiment in Unity, and a GameMaker experiment about a ghost girl.
I also (very recently) started experimenting with Twitter bots, which has been another fantastic way to combine my love of words with my interest in interactivity and technology.
I didn't just spent 2016 making games, though! I also had fun playing them (and sometimes writing about them). I wrote a total of 31 (wait, seriously?) features, reviews, and previews about games this year, for a range of different publications. Five of those articles were about Stardew Valley, so it probably comes as no surprise that Stardew Valley is my pick for game of the year. I even made a Twitter account for the farmhouse and farm designs I've made in the game. I'm sort of obsessed with it.
This year was not all about work (although sometimes it felt like it).
It was another year of hanging out with my favourite dude, Dakoda, and going on adventures together. We shared a lot of the travels I mentioned earlier and, when he didn't get to share in a journey with me, he was always on the other end of my phone, reminding me of how strong and capable I am. We spent time with friends together, we went out for a picnic on his birthday, and we sat and worked side-by-side at our desks. We told jokes, shared cuddles, and looked out for (and annoyed) each other. I watched him play a lot of Counter Strike: Global Offensive.
There were some silly achievements this year too. While I was in Canberra, I ate out at the restaurants other people chose, and although I ordered seemingly 'boring' meals, they were meals I probably wouldn't have been able to eat this time last year. The life of a picky eater is an irritating one (for the people around her, but even moreso for herself).
There were also less joyful events this year. A health scare in my extended family led to a trip down to Murwillumbah to visit places I hadn't seen for many years; while it was nice to see family, I would have preferred it be under better circumstances. Other personal and family circumstances made the middle of the year difficult to navigate. Some days were hard.
2016 was the year that my first car died on the Bruce Highway while I was on my way to Brisbane. It was the very first car I ever drove and, later, became the first car I ever owned. We went on many adventures together, including those impactful first journeys away from your home and your parents. I loved that car dearly—so much so that I had to write sentimental prose about the loss.
But it was also a year for buying a new car, and then spending more money than I would've liked to fix that new car because somebody reversed into it a few months later and didn't leave a note.
This was a year for losing (or escaping) some old friends, and making wonderful new ones. It was a year for great professional and personal shifts. It was a year that took hours to summarise and reflect upon because I achieved so much, worked so hard, and am so lucky.
2016 isn't over yet. In the coming weeks there will be more adventures and more writing. Pontus is visiting (coming all the way from Sweden) and will be staying over Christmas. Last Christmas was easily the best holiday season I'd ever had, so hopefully this one will be filled with just as much food, family, and festivity.
And, after all that is done, hopefully 2017 will bring even more amazing experiences with it (and ideally be less soul-crushing in terms of political decisions, massacres, and celebrity deaths than 2016). I'm looking forward to seeing where my life takes me next.