Anna and the games people play

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Games designer Anna Tito… “A whole generation has been raised in an art form that doesn’t express itself as an art form.” Photo: Holly Treadaway

Arts editor HELEN MUSA previews the Film and Sound Archive’s new exhibition of computer games, “Game Masters: The Exhibition”.

WHEN games designer Anna Tito was growing up in Michelago and studying in Canberra (at Melrose High), she thought she would become a modern-day Indiana Jones or a writer, so keen were her interests in archaeology, anthropology and the human story.

But then again, as a keen student of computer science at Narrabundah College she also wanted to do something in programming and headed for RMIT in Melbourne to do a BA in graphic games design.

A self-proclaimed “Game Device Valkyrie” and “Techno-mage” as well as “engineer, architect, project lead, technical designer, geek whisperer and occasional writer”, Tito is now a noted programmer, game designer and a leading spokesperson for women in gaming.

She’s worked on multiple titles including Gameloft’s “Ice Age Village” and Kixeye’s “Vega Conflict”, and been nominated twice for the Game Developers Conference’s Women in Games Rising Star Award. She will be speaking at the exhibition’s “Local Heroes of Gaming” night on November 22, part of “Game Masters: The Exhibition”, coming to the National Film and Sound Archive. 

Tito is an individualist among game designers, arguing that “the issue with technology is that we are not unplugging”. 

But she knows how to. After an illustrious career with games companies in New Orleans and Austin, the “problematical” working culture in the US affected her health, so she moved back to be near family and now lives off the grid at Carwoola, in close companionship with kangaroos. She splits wood, crochets, embroiders and makes clothes and baby blankets for her friends.

When she’s teaching at the University of Canberra or working in the Game Plus workspace at Watson Technology Park, where we catch up, the focus is firmly on the challenge of games, especially games with what she calls “a deep-narrative focus”. 

“Games are a good place to combine storytelling and technology and they draw on classical tropes and stories,” Tito says. 

“But while they have been a growing industry for younger generations in terms of the dominant cultural paradigm, there is a very lazy understanding of the mythology, which is often a driver of the narrative in games.

“A whole generation has been raised in an art form that doesn’t express itself as an art form. 

“I’d like to bring more classical ideas into games in a more traditional way and to introduce nuance, ethics and morals; there’s so much space to work in that has not been fully explored.”

Senior curator Fiona Trigg, from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image which curated “Game Masters”, is on the same track, saying: “There are deep connections between film, TV and videogames and this exhibition reveals how the world’s best designers approach storytelling, character design and playability in so many different ways.”

The exhibition first opened in Melbourne in 2012 and has since toured worldwide, including to museums in the US, Germany, NZ, Scotland and Sweden. Returning to Australia, it has been updated to include the latest gaming blockbusters as well as Australian creations.

The show is in three parts: “Arcade Heroes” focuses on pioneering designers from the trailblazing arcade era, including Tomohiro Nishikado’s “Space Invaders”; “Game Changers”, which includes Blizzard Entertainment’s “Diablo III”, and the future-focused world of independent game designers such as Rovio (“Angry Birds”) and Bennett Foddy (“Getting Over It”). 

“Game Masters” also features the multiplayer dance stage for “Dance Central 3” (2012).

“Game Masters” also features the multiplayer dance stage for “Dance Central 3”, experiential music booths and classic arcade machines from the ’70s and ‘80s, all still playable.

That’s what matters. In what the industry defines as “an attention economy”, Tito says: “You have to get the eyeballs on.”

“Game Masters: The Exhibition,” National Film and Sound Archive, September 27-March 9, daily (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day), 10am–4pm. Book at eventbrite.com.au

Visitors with autism spectrum disorder or sensory sensitivities, should seek advice from the front-of-house staff.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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