The 12th edition of A MAZE./Berlin hits the town from May 10-13, 2023. The International Games and Playful Media Festival celebrates artful, diverse and experimental indie games with an inspiring 3.5-days program of talks and workshops, idea market places and knowledge bazaar. With artistic director Thorsten S. Wiedemann we talked about his festival and Berlin's indie scene.
You are the founder and director of A MAZE.. What inspired you to create this festival and how does it differ from other indie showcases?
Back in 2007 when I got in touch with the games industry and did some journalistic work at events like GDC, China Joy, and Games Convention, I was turned down by the atmosphere and the games presented. But I've discovered events like Babycastle, Fantastic Arcade, IndieCade - finally I discovered the wild subversive power in independent games and thought this is what we need in Berlin. A festival that brings the international new wave of game creators together… rocking exhibitions, awards, stages for experience sharing to inspire others and a lot of music and performance and games you only see at A MAZE. .
Since its first edition in 2008, how has the festival changed and evolved?
A MAZE. has existed since 2008 and with my founding partner Michael Liebe (until 2010) we’ve tried many different formats, also connected events with bigger festivals such as Transmediale, CTM and Design May.
But 2012 was then the first real A MAZE. / Berlin (formerly called Indie Connect) as part of the Deutsche Gamestage. Same year I also managed to establish A MAZE. / Johannesburg in SA that was running until 2017. From that time all grew naturally, very much grassroots and slowly it became the home for the global independent games and especially the arthouse game community. We became part of a healthy and diverse, caring movement in the games industry.
Why is Berlin the perfect place for A MAZE.?
I've been living here since 1999 and Berlin deserves an annual A MAZE. that celebrates the games and playful media in all its diversity. It’s a good fit as Berlin has a vibrant arts and creative scene, thriving indie game development community, cultural diversity, and supportive ecosystem. The coolest part is Berlin and A MAZE. are similar, not perfect. Forever!
What are the potentials and challenges of a fully hybrid event while also being present at several locations simultaneously?
Challenges are interesting and they create more space for action. We are all post pandemic and we’ve learned a lot. Why should we go back to only on-site events? The most important thing is to connect people when you create a festival. And the most interesting part is for us to connect the virtual space with the real world. This year we are building an on-site room only dedicated to our A MAZE. / SPACE where the festival goers on-site can meet the avatars (flamingoes) in the A MAZE. / SPACE and talk with them and hangout. It’s going to be a kind of mirror or a rift between dimensions.
That gives our audience who can’t travel to Berlin a great way to be part of the festival energy, watching the streams, and being able to vote for the audience award as the exhibition is also built into our 3D multiplayer world.
What can the Berlin culture scene learn from the art of video games and vice versa?
Games are an explorative and immersive piece of art, diverse as it has many connection points to other artforms. A MAZE. is building this bridge between culture, art and games / playful media in order to foster the potential of interactive new dance performances, theater plays, opera experiences and music worlds. It’s not so much about learning from each other, it is more about the curiosity for the new and not being afraid to fail.
What can be done to strengthen the indie scene and make artistic games better known to the public?
The indie games sector is pretty present in the games industry - specially in Germany. Also Berlin has a strong community e.g. around Saftladen. A MAZE. visitors from abroad move to Berlin to work on their project, kicking off a studio. The situation is good here to make games.
But of course when it comes to making cash - not all games succeed. But this shouldn’t be the approach anyway. However - arthouse games are special and the international player base grows slowly also through the work we as a festival do. I’m sure in the next couple of years the longings of the player for really deep games will get stronger.
In our case as festival makers and curator we need to have more support from city officials in the cultural sector. A MAZE. is culture! Speaking of that, the independent jury of some grants need better curation.
How can video games transport diversity?
The A MAZE. programme and curator team has always an eye on diversity on stage and exhibition. Nothing would be more boring than presenting only the western perspective in games. So yes games transport diversity in many ways by representing diverse characters and cultures, telling unique and personal stories, designing games to be accessible to people with different abilities.
Have you seen a recurring theme in this year’s submissions? Have there been trends in the last few years or something that pops up again and again?
This year we have discovered the trend of shooting photos in the game worlds as part of the game mechanic. Finding the correct angle, memories, the best perspective to move on in the game. There will be an exhibition of those photos in the A MAZE. / SPACE. and I’m very happy to see more queer narratives in the submissions as well as performances and interactive AR exhibits .
What factors flow into the jury decision regarding the Grand Prize of the A MAZE. Award?
The Grand Prize of the A MAZE. Awards go to the most relevant, forward-thinking interactive and playful content. We premiere the best work overall - in terms of art, innovation, music, story and interaction. The prize is dedicated to the masterpiece of the award selection that shows us a path we never walked before.
Find more infos about A MAZE. here.