Arthouse Games
The Death of Slamdance
by jcr13Wednesday, January 10, 2007 [9:11 am]

An open letter to all fourteen Slamdance Finalists:

I talked to my uncle the other day about this controversy. He's been working as an artist in the Manhattan art scene his whole adult life (and he's 50ish now, I think). He's seen a lot of controversy in his day, and a lot of work pulled. He has the largest personal collection of art books that I've ever seen, and his shelves contain the works of all the uber-controversials (like Mapplethorpe, Hamilton, and Hirst, for example---and Mr. Ledonne's experience has been a walk in the park compared to what these guys went through). To sum it up without any more rambling, I deeply respect my uncle's understanding of art.

In his opinion, pulling other games out of the festival in protest would not make a very valuable statement. Instead, he thinks we should use our screenings as a platform to speak out about the issues at hand.

Everyone seems to be pulling out now, and I don't think it's the best move. That just leads to silence, and what we need is discussion. It also completely destroys an otherwise "pretty good" thing, which is the Slamdance Games Festival. We had one terrible thing happen, which was SCMRPG being pulled, and now we're having another terrible thing happen, which is Slamdance being ruined. Yes, we're trying to make a point, trying to "show" people that we as game designers won't stand up for this. But what are we sacrificing in order to make that point? When two sides are fighting, they often ruin the commons for everyone. In fact, I can imagine this being Slamdance Games' last year. Wouldn't that be a shame? One less indie games festival.

My game Cultivation is a metaphor about this kind of situation. Too much fighting destroys the island for everyone. Slamdance is that island, and right now, it is almost completely covered in black poison.

For those of you who have already withdrawn, you probably feel that it's too late to come back in (just like Peter Baxter feels like it's too late to re-admit SCMRPG). We're all familiar with the "stay the course" mentality, for sure. But I hope you will change your mind and come back. We can still save Slamdance, and make it our own, and use it as a platform to speak instead of shutting it down in a tomb of silence.

Jason Rohrer
Cultivation Developer
Arthouse Games Editor


[Submit Comment]
by Jonathan BlowWednesday, January 10, 2007 [11:59 am]

Interesting points, and I thought a while along these lines last weekend.

But the Slamdance festival has shown no real signs of taking this matter seriously or even trying to understand our point. Everything I've seen about the details behind the decision (information about which is admittedly sparse) indicates that it was a unilateral action by a co-founder of the festival against the wishes of people whose job it is to know better; even abstracting away any kind of games-as-art issue, this is the sign of a festival that I just don't want to be involved with.

I appreciate the idea that we might gain a lot by speaking out at the festival, but "Yes, I'll go to your festival, yes, I'll accept your award" seems pretty weak to me.

There's one important thing that changes the dynamics of this situation, compared to past ones: we have the internet. The internet is a great way of making public statements, as we have done over this past week. I think a statement made during a screening at Slamdance would reach many fewer people. And, whereas I would be sad if Slamdance decommissioned the game side of their operations (though frankly they are going to have to explain that public statement they made if they wish to continue without suspicion), the fact is that the internet is the biggest independent games festival in the world. Artists of earlier decades didn't have it ... but we do.


by Joe BourrieWednesday, January 10, 2007 [5:06 pm]

As much as I support the Slamdance competition, I agree with J.Blo that a screening at Slamdance just doesn't have the same effect. The problem is that Slamdance is predominantly a film festival. It is during Sundance, which is also predominantly a film festival. Having been a Slamdance participant last year I think that the most valuable part of the festival was the fellow developers I met and the internet publicity that we recieved.

Most of the "audience" didn't care for or understand games, it was kind of a diversion in between film screenings. And while we were interviewed by Gameplay HD and Ebony magazine, the major press seemed to skip over to the film side. This doesn't mean that the competition is not worthwhile, only that the audience is only a small fraction of gamers.

I am glad to see that Cultivation will be staying in, it is a wonderful title and a perfect metaphor for the current state of Slamdance. If we have people like you at the festival who will take a stand for what is right within the forums given, the word will spread to the film side as well. I wouldn't be surprised if the filmmakers are as furious as the game developers are about this unnecessary censorship.

I hope this all turns out well for the games that won't be attending. Many of the games that have already pulled out are some of my favorites of the festival (Braid is one of the most inspirational games I have ever played). I also hope those who do attend will stand up for what is right while you are there. This is the deciding year for Slamdance and a milestone for games as an art form. We each need to play our own part.


by milieuWednesday, January 10, 2007 [6:04 pm]

That's your decision, and I respect it. However, I don't agree. The problem I have with Slamdance is that they have proven they really don't care about games as an artistic medium. Not acceptable.

If the judges had rejected it, I would understand. Hell, it never would have hit the internets. But this came down from on high: the judges' decisions don't matter, the games don't matter. All that matters are the sponsors.

Frankly, I don't care if Slamdance is destroyed. Screw them. Someone who actually gives a shit about games will start a new festival.


by RinkuHeroWednesday, January 10, 2007 [7:58 pm]

I'd like to reply to this part:

"We had one terrible thing happen, which was SCMRPG being pulled, and now we're having another terrible thing happen, which is Slamdance being ruined. Yes, we're trying to make a point, trying to "show" people that we as game designers won't stand up for this. But what are we sacrificing in order to make that point? When two sides are fighting, they often ruin the commons for everyone. In fact, I can imagine this being Slamdance Games' last year. Wouldn't that be a shame? One less indie games festival."

First, it was really the decision to remove the game that ruined the festival, not the protests. It was a natural result of that prior action, so most of the responsibility for ruining Slamdance is Slamdance's.

Second, of course indie festivals are good things, but there's no reason why other festivals with more integrity can't replace this one. If this one falls, a few new ones will almost certainly come up in its place, and they'll have the advantage of having learned the lesson of this one. Besides, it's arguably better to have none than to have ones that aren't truly fair competitions.


by Patrick WilliamsThursday, January 11, 2007 [8:42 am]

I've heard that non-confrontrational BS thrown around in a lot of arguments in my day and it never, ever leads to change. If you want change, you need to apply pressure and take action. Slamdance has no reason to listen to anyone, or rather, take action, if no one is applying pressure. If their credibility is shot and their future endeavours are ruined because they chose self-destruction, then that's their problem. The people who stand to lose in this are at Slamdance, no matter how much they choose to stick their heads in the ground. Oh wait, I know what this reminds me of! Oh my, political parallels.


by JabrwockThursday, January 11, 2007 [3:49 pm]

Granted the outside world really won't notice. But even if they did hear of the protests, the end result of Slamdance cancelling the Guerilla Games might well spawn a "who cares" from such people. Especially if Baxter plays up the idea that the festival failed because the entrants decided not to play nice and went home.

So I can understand the fear of the consequences of everyone pulling out. I can't agree though, because if the festival has lost the credibility, then is it worth supporting just to ensure the message gets out?

If the mass media doesn't take notice of the entrants and sponsors pulling out, and might not notice the Guerilla Games being shut down, it's also possible that they will equally ignore any attempt to use one's screening to discuss the issue...


by Sean BaptisteSunday, January 14, 2007 [2:34 pm]

Ultimately the honesty and impact of this festival has been thoroughly compromised. It is, after all, the Guerilla Gamemaker Competition. That one game was accepted and then deemed too guerilla does not speak well for it's handling or understanding of the medium. Participating in what is basically a mock festival pretending to be edgy and independent has fundementally no meaning whatsoever. It, in the end, merely bolsters the organizers into believing that their choice was the right one. I ask that you please reconsider and put your efforts into a festival that does matter. Slamdance was wrong to do what they did and they don't deserve to be left off the hook for this.


by ShadusMonday, January 15, 2007 [6:06 pm]

> But what are we sacrificing in order to make that
> point? When two sides are fighting, they often
> ruin the commons for everyone. In fact, I can
> imagine this being Slamdance Games' last year.
> Wouldn't that be a shame? One less indie games
> festival.

What do you sacrifice by staying though? To me it seems like you're sacrificing your integrity, you know it was wrong, admit it was wrong, and yet you still want the approval and the win for your game so much that you're willing to sit back and let the wrong go.

Honestly, a rigged contest is no contest at all, I hope slamdance goes out after this year and after what has happened seeing someone advertise as a slamdance finalist or winner from this year forward would not be helping their chances of me downloading and trying or buying their game.


by BennMonday, January 29, 2007 [1:55 pm]

I am not much into games but I was reading Newsweek and found an article on this game and the boycott, decided to explore what the deal was and found myself here.
I think the boycott did what it was supposed to do. Here I am reading about it in mainstream news (although it was a bit lite on facts) and learning more about the gaming world that I am ignorant to.
After looking at the game, I don't see why it was pulled. I have definitely seen much worse in both movies and games and I think pulling it just gives it the free publicity that they wanted. Without them pulling the plug on the game along with the boycott, I would have never known about it.


by Talanjan DhowSunday, February 11, 2007 [12:30 am]

I think that the true sacrifice
is to be found in the boycott.
They sacrifice the gratification
of showing their creation to the world
for the greater good of making sure
that future "controversial" games
are able to do so as well.

What a great game SCMRPG is. It transcends
its genre. Two boys turned their school
into a videogame. Now we get to explore
the mindset and the fallout of that. Why
can't we do this? Are we not all grownups?

This inane denial of reality will be the
downfall of this country. We still can't
look clearly at 11 Sept. What will we do
when the games of this day show up? Stick
our heads in the sand? That day looked like
a video game too. Just like the missle eye
view footage of the bombing of Baghdad looked
like a video game.

I can't understand why the sponsors are so
spooked by the art of SCMRPG. So I stand with
the boycotters. If we let this pass, it will
set a very bad precedent.

Finally, for your edification, I present the
following, which is the byline on your

"For those who do not fear sacrifice:
your souls will burn bright trails in the night sky."


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