Describing Jaime Woo as a man of many hats is an understatement. He is a published author, an accomplished writer, as well as the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Gamercamp Festival. However do not presume that due to his ambitious nature that the term “jack of all trades, but master of none” applies here. Jaime ties all of his endeavors with a similar thread, he wants to challenge how we think; specifically about technology.
It was only five years ago that he set out to create Gamercamp Festival after seeing a void in the industry. While certainly video games as a medium are spoiled with choice in terms of grand conventions, Jaime noticed that despite games being creative in nature; there seemed to be a sense of general sterility when it came to the games themselves. Jaime-ever the visionary-teamed up with Co-Founder Mark Rabo to create an event and a forum with the goal of creating an environment in which the experience of play could be explored from new and fresh perspectives.
Fast-Forward to 2013 and Gamercamp has grown bigger than I think even he could have imagined. The once small festival now plays host to so much content that it must occupy an entire hotel in order to properly accommodate its attendees. Just a day before the event is set to open its doors for the fifth year, I had the fortune of speaking with the enthusiastic artist about the evolution of the festival.
Brian Sharon: You stand upon the edge of an amazing achievement as the fifth annual edition of Gamercamp is set to open its doors on the first of November. Has the magnitude of this astounding accomplishment hit you yet?
Jaime Woo: It didn’t until this week when I attended a local gathering called Torontaru and seeing so many familiar faces, most of whom I came to know through Gamercamp, really made it hit home for me! I’m still a bit shocked that the fifth Gamercamp is happening so soon!
What was your motivation in creating an environment in which not only the medium of video games but the entire act of play are celebrated?
JW: I think it’s the rebellious side of me! People always made it seem like being an adult was about being serious and, sadly, dull. Being playful is the antidote to that, where it’s the ability to see life as not just as it is, but how it could be. Coincidentally, we are constantly told to be creative and to have new ideas, and that’s what being playful is good at providing! Games are a natural extension of that: yes, they can be childish, but they can also be rich, complex, and complicated, pushing us to think about or experience things in whole new ways.
Featuring conferences, the Salon Series, as well as the arcade and exhibits; Gamercamp is an interesting event in that while it is intrinsically about the act of play,it approaches the idea from a variety of angles the Why was it important to you to provide so many layers to the experience?
JW: Play can’t be prescribed in just one way! The worst kind of play is when someone says “this is exactly how you should play” because then it isn’t play at all, but work. A passion for games can come through either a curiosity for the ideas behind games, the experiences of its creators, or just through the games themselves. Gamercamp provides that variety.
Given the diverse range of attractions, who is the target audience for Gamercamp?
JW: Anyone and everyone who enjoys games and wants to be in and around other similar people. To me, it’s about including more people rather than less. Too many people think: “Games aren’t for me!” not because they dislike games, but because the games industry can often cater to this one narrow idea of gamers. As TIFF is for film, we’d love Gamercamp to be for games.
It has been announced that you have selected TOJam to be the very first recipient of the inaugural Gamercamp Honours Ceremony. What made the collaborative event such a perfect choice?
JW: Toronto Independent Game Jam helped concretize the independent games community and movement here in Toronto, and I wasn’t the only one to think so! It’s really important to salute things that helped build where we are at now and to also let new people entering the community know about the history of what’s happened before. That, to me, is how a community gets better and stronger.
During the half of a decade since the festival made its debut the industry has undergone a sort of cultural revolution which has led to a creative renaissance of sorts. As someone who both reveres and professes the artistic qualities in games, how do you feel now that this dramatic shift has taken place.
JW: I think it’s gotten incredibly messy, which as an artist I like. Games are now provoking discussions that weren’t possible five years ago and in part it was that the culture has become more ready for these new ideas. Now, granted, everything that’s coming out isn’t perfect–in fact, it is far from it—but this is the necessary journey for a young art form to mature.
Staying on the topic of a changes in the industry, Canada has slowly evolved into a hotbed for game development at all levels. How has Canada been able to cultivate such a creative culture in digital media?
JW: This is a question with many, many answers. I will say what makes Canada different from, say, the United States: universal healthcare and government grants and subsidies. When game makers can take the risk of starting their own studios and know that the government, especially OMDC in Ontario, is giving these companies the creative and financial runways to success is so important. I know this in part because universal healthcare and OMDC has been vital to making Gamercamp happen!
Finally I want to end the interview with a seemingly simple question that has become a hot topic both in, and outside our industry. Are video games art?
Gamercamp Festival 2013 opens its doors on Friday November the first, and runs until Sunday November the third. For more information, check out the Official Gamercamp Website.