Screenshot from Fate Tectonics.
It's not as if various square and rectangular boxes have ever made for inspiring sights when smothered in yuletide wrapping, but gaming's push towards digital distribution isn't exactly gifting-friendly. More than any year before, every major release can be downloaded directly to your warm, nonjudgmental living space, a bane only to one's bandwidth. A game player's holiday may be nothing more than a deck of gift cards. There will always be the world of the real, hard copies, but there are currently more games online than off, particularly in the self-published indie weirdo spheres.
This indie gaming weirdo, was painted in a corner last weekend when I had a big, glittery, empty Thomas Kinkade bag and a Secret Santa party at 9pm. I bet my rep that Bit Bazaar, a gamey winter market at Bento Miso, would give me something to stuff the painter of light's commemorative wrapping.
"The thing is, video games are becoming more about digital downloads," says Matt Hawkins of Attract Mode, "and we want some sort of keepsake of what we like."
While most of Bazaar's merchants are locals, Hawkins hustled all the way up from New York to rep his collective, which sells fanzines, toys and apparel based on cult games like Killer 7, Spelunky and Persona. "It's sort of a balance act," says Hawkins. "I have this game, I really enjoy it, it's on my hard drive, but it could crash. It doesn't feel like I really have it. It's a first-world-new-world problem, but having a nice replacement for the game case, instruction manual, get close to solving that. The fact we're making things that are much more intimate and hand-made make it more personal."
While it's centered on the virtual, and you can't turn your head without seeing an arcade cabinet, projection or Oculus demo, Bit Bazaar spirit is craft-fair fare. Posters, prints, ornaments and self-published comics are out in full. Damian Sommer designed an entire trading card game for the event, each vendor with his or her own collectible battle card. Pins have become so commonplace in the indie game circle that Rokashi Edwards, tabling his new game I'm Fine, has a jacket lapel that serves as a cultural timeline.
From Hawkin's table, I bought Letters To An Absent Father, Maré Odomo's comic series about Pokémon's Ash reaching out to his deadbeat dad. "If you wanted to see what your kid would look like, this' actually what they would hand you," says Luis Hernandez, doom metalhead and game maker, on his odd souvenirs "I got it at a medical surplus."
Hernandez was on the upper floor, a space mostly taken up by beer and game demos of upcoming and recent local games like Mount Your Friends and Super TIME Force. Hernandez was displaying his next release, Jazzpunk, a first-person screwball adventure in the key of Naked Gun and set to be released by Adult Swim. At his table, tape cassettes with some of the game's retro-electric score and Polaroid-sized screenshots made on-site off an old ultrasound thermal printer.
"Our game incorporates a lot of old technology," says Hernandez. "We're using medical equipment, old analogue tech. I feel like that fits the vibe of the game. Hopefully it stands out to people, and it's something they've never seen before. Unless they had an ultrasound in 1993."
I picked up one, a grainy pic of some in-game alleyway trash, and put it in my bag.
"I'm personally of the old school idea," says Rosemary Brennan of Golden Gear Games, donning reindeer horns, "I prefer having a hard copy of things. I still buy CDs, games on discs. I like having something physical."
While many of the vendors sought creative memorabilia for their game, some found creative, corporeal ways to sell virtual things. Elliot Quinn Pines offered Twine games through a parchment snuck inside a tiny bottle. Golden Gear took things a little further, selling a deluxe version of their new game Fate Tectonics on a USB drive, modded into an old Game Boy cartridge, in vintage grey and gold variety.
"Part of this area of purchase is being able to own things," says Brennan. "Why not have a physical copy of something that does not physically exist?"
Tectonics rounded out my Kinkade bag of video game loot, accompanying a Nintendo Power pull-out poster I squeezed in as a backup. My secret santee was delighted, though I had to reveal my identity to explain how to get Tectonics on to her computer, and that the Jazzpunk print was of a fake pile of garbage, not a real one.
Likewise, I lucked out and got a bottle of Grey Goose and a bag of gourmet chocolate covered corn nuts (which sounds weird and tastes even weirder and yet good). But that's not the point, is it? After all, the holidays are about giving, not receiving. And giving a small card with a number code on it is really, really boring.