Growing up in Western culture while having Asian roots means dealing with stereotypes. I, myself however, felt left out most of the time. Like, you know how Asians are considered to be geniuses at math or school in general? Well, I mean, ask any of my friends and they’ll probably suffer a painful yet joyful death from suffocation. Ending with a silent whisper: “Totally worth it”. If there was ever one stereotype though that I could easily assimilate with, it’s gaming. A ghastly and highly irrelevant intro into my main topic: the third edition of Belgium's only international indie games festival, ScreenShake. Which is being held from February 6 till 8 at Het Bos, a lovely and fitting venue located in the bewitching city of Antwerp. Rather than copy pasting information that even toddlers could find on the web (no offense to toddlers). I thought it would be fun to ask Bram Michielsen, co-founder and –organizer, himself why exactly people should go to ScreenShake this weekend instead of wasting it on a couch like normal people do.
TIA :The House of Indie was founded in 2013. At the time, how did ScreenShake fit into the general plan?
Bram: We were showcasing at several events and festivals, trying to show indie games to the public. But it was quite the hassle to find storage for our gear and moving it around all the time. So Designcenter De Winkelhaak, in Antwerp, offered us a nice space to stack our stuff. Designcenter De Winkelhaak asked if we could do a little game introduction event and if we had some ideas to do so. They didn’t have to ask us twice. The event turned into a two month festival called ‘Free to Play’ with international speakers, workshops, a big party and a permanent expo featuring lots of interactive games. The response from the visitors was really positive. We figured why not make it an annual thing and the rest is history.
TIA: It is already the third edition, congratulations for that. How will this edition, in any way be different from previous years?
Bram: It’s a different name, a different formula and prices went up just a little bit, which is not very hard when you know all of our previous events were free. Even though ‘Free to Play’ reflected our ideology we chose a different name for our event. Partly because we felt it wasn’t very beneficial to video gaming in general and partly because we came across other high profile game related projects bearing the same name.
We picked ScreenShake because it represents how indie games shake up the status quo by being innovative and defying expectations. We also changed the formula from a two months exhibition to a three days festival because we needed a way to make the festival more approachable for international visitors. For example someone from Berlin wouldn’t attend one event to come back the week after just for another one. The fact that part of the festival is no longer free is an unfortunate reality. We have to make sure we can pay our speakers and artists. Keeping the festival completely free becomes impossible when you invite people from Argentina and Malta and so on. So we kept the expo, the local multiplayer hall and all of the public areas free-ish, which means you pay what you want. If people only feel it’s worth one euro then that’s what they pay, as long as they enjoy themselves. So you could say the transition between the first ‘Free To Play ‘and the second edition was an evolution. But this is more like a revolution.
TIA: How about the audience? Have you noticed, for example, a difference in visitor count as well as the type of people? Is there a trend?
Bram: We can’t really say that yet because of the change in location, formula and even the date. But judging on the tickets that have already been bought, it’s going to be the same people. Just more of them. We certainly hope to attract new people and that seems to be working so far. As far as gender, age and ethnicity go; we seem to be doing pretty well. We do an effort to achieve diversity by having very diverse speakers for example. Other than that, you pay what you want so everyone with half a euro to spend can drop by. And we hope that this works, but we will have to evaluate it in the long run. Being the third edition it is still a bit soon to jump to conclusions.
TIA: Coming from This Is Antwerp this is an obvious question but why Antwerp? And also why Het Bos as a location?
Bram: Most of us live in or near Antwerp and to my knowledge Antwerp has the biggest cluster of indie game developers in Belgium, certainly in Flanders. In terms of journalists, students, etc., it is a thriving city with a central location. We see new people show up at the House of Indie all the time from all over the country. So that's why we feel Antwerp was the best choice. We changed the location from De Winkelhaak to Het Bos in Antwerp. It’s a great location because it combines a lot of things. It gives us the ability to host the talks, show documentary screenings, organize music shows and have other expos all at the same place at the same time. Plus it’s the same place where we have our office and organize our monthly indie games meet up, so that was a no-brainer.
TIA: I noticed some big names in your line-up like William Pugh (Stanley Parable), Rhianna Pratchett (script/story Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge) and my personal favourite: Swen Vincke of the Divinity series. These are some major names but is there someone you couldn’t reach or that you would want to have for future events?
Bram: Well let’s put it like this, we are already organizing for 2016 and we have four names lined up. Names that, for various reasons, we couldn’t book for this year. But all of them are really enthusiastic and we look forward to announcing them later. Expect to hear from us very soon.
TIA: What can we expect from the House of Indie in the future? Or is it too early to think about expanding and would you rather focus on events happening right now?
Bram: Well, ScreenShake will of course remain the main project for the House of Indie. It is becoming a respectable name, even on a European level. That is something we are really happy about and it couldn’t have happened without the assistance and support of the entire community here. But as for the expansions. We are trying to upscale our events. Try to do less small events and do a bunch of larger events instead. Because we feel like we can make more of a change and put more effort into those. First thing coming up is the GameNamiddag in cultural centre De Kerm in Wilrijk, which we are doing for the second year in a row. We’re also toying with the idea of some sort of summer school where we invite international speakers and do workshops, like ScreenShake but in the summer. Also we would like to do an afternoon tour of the cultural centres, starting in Antwerp. But these are still in their very early stage.
TIA: As a gamer I need to ask, are you a gamer yourself or did you used to be one and if so, what is your all-time favourite game?
Bram: First of all, I think the term ‘Gamer’ is slightly erratic in the sense that you wouldn’t ask people “Are you a viewer?” or “Are you a reader?” because everyone does it. By this point I think almost everybody games. If not Angry Birds on their phone instead of Super Mario. But when you’re talking about ‘the Gamer’ you think about the twenty-something males which isn’t even the average group anymore, by numbers those are the 30 something females now.
But yeah, I do play games. Actually I’m playing Nuclear Throne mostly right now. Which is one of the reasons we’re getting so little work done on ScreenShake. (laughs) But my favourite game of all time, People ask me all the time what my favourite game of all times is. I have to admit my answer is not an indie game but Final Fantasy VII which is as big as a production you could get. But it was the first game that showed me that games can have an emotional resonance and a rather artistic intention other than entertaining people. Which is something that lies at the heart of indie game culture as well.
TIA: Last question: What would you say to the sceptics about ScreenShake, any last words to convince them to come by?
Bram: To those people I usually say: “It’s an art show and it just happens to be about games.” You don’t have to play games to enjoy them. Just like you don’t have to direct films to enjoy them. If you come over you will certainly broaden your mind and discover things. You’ll discover how biased your view on games was.
So yeah, there you have it. My one question about why people should visit ScreenShake got a bit out of hand, but in a good way. But now you get the idea. So get the *bleep* out of you semi-comfy Ikea couch and go to ScreenShake at Het Bos in Antwerp. Well not now NOW obviously but this weekend, I will see you there for sure!Ps. For Toddlers and others: tickets and more information at www.screenshake.be.
Text: Kevin Lau
Pics: ScreenShake, nanaramael.be and The House Of Indie