On first glance a vacant warehouse in downtown Los Angeles might read as derelict industrial space, but look a little closer and you can see the glimmer of a nascent world class media lab. Three weeks ago, LA Game Space stormed onto Kickstarter with an ambitious proposal to transform the raw space that they’d scouted into an interdisciplinary, nonprofit workshop for facilitating research, artist residencies, exhibitions and educational initiatives in and around gaming. In order to fund the required renovations and the operating budget for their first year the LA Game Space team is looking for the hefty sum of $250,000. While the campaign took a while to gain momentum, it has attracted $110,000 in donations over the last ten days since announcing that it would be bolstering an already amazing experimental 30 video game pack with the next Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) and Adam Saltsman (Canabalt) title in exchange for extremely modest donations. CAN caught up with LA Game Space’s Directors Daniel Rehn and Adam Robezzoli and advisor Jeremy Douglass to learn more about their venture.
In your interview on Bitmob you mention that you’ve drawn some inspiration from Ars Electronica FutureLab, Eyebeam and ZKM. Organizationally, what have you been able to learn from these institutions? Additionally, what does the broader gaming community stand to benefit from immersion in an arts R&D lab-like context?
Daniel Rehn: One of the most important things to learn from institutions that successfully foster creativity is their basic attitude toward breaking down disciplinary boundaries. It takes commitment to enable true collaborations because they are difficult, messy, and can’t really be planned.
Recently I was reading a piece about collaboration written by Florian Schneider (yes, of Kraftwerk), and he describes collaborations as “voracious.” Some of his phrases that jumped out at me were that “knowledge grows exuberantly and proliferates in unforeseeable ways” … “It has no external goal and cannot be decreed” … “it takes place, so to speak, for its own sake.” Our take on the residency is a perfect example of this kind of thinking. We want LA Game Space to work for the resident, not residents working for the space. That’s why we are committed to making the residency open to all kinds of applicants, giving the resident full access to the whole of the space and its community, and supporting the residency project by not saddling it with preconditions.
A major benefit for everyone both inside and outside the current gaming community is to become connected to a bigger conversation, and to have that conversation be a genuine exchange of ideas. Game makers have a lot to learn from other creators AND vice versa. We will support that learning by encouraging people from different backgrounds to share as they make new things together.
What are the benefits of being based in downtown Los Angeles? What kind of partnerships do you anticipate forging with the adjacent creative community?
Adam Robezzoli: LA has one of the largest concentrations of game developers in the country. Due to the sprawl of the city most of this community rarely meets up to share ideas or collaborate. By offering an open public location for this interaction to take place, the LA Game Space and this enormous pool of game development expertise will be able to benefit from each other. This creative community is already huge when you just limit it to self-identified game makers, but we are also thinking inclusively about connecting with groups such as IxDA Los Angeles.
Our location is near some of the best university-level game programs in the country. Students are contacting us to ask about both volunteering and internships—and these aren’t just games students! For example, we are right around the corner from SCI-Arc, and we have already had architecture students reach out to us and express their interest in game collaborations. Our network of supporters and advisors also includes faculty at CalArts and USC, as well as universities just north and south of LA—UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego. Because we are located within walking distance from Union Station, anyone can easily travel to the space using public transportation, and this really lets us think expansively about our who our neighbors are—if you are a resident of a neighboring city such as San Diego or Santa Barbara, you can just take the train to LA and walk to our front door.
One the best things about having so many partnerships to choose from is that we aren’t beholden to any one company or campus. An independent organization like LA Game Space is uniquely suited to be a meeting point for creatives of many different disciplines who have a common interest in game creation and experimentation.
How will your residency program work? Who will be applicable to visit and what facilities and resources will you be offering these guest researchers?
Jeremy Douglass: We conceive of the residency program as application-based and completely open to all applicants. Like most residency programs, we will ask applicants to propose a project/idea, conceptualize it fully, and demonstrate proven experience in executing on past projects (whether those were in game development or something else).
The people who benefit most from a residency already have the drive and self-discipline to complete things. They really just need a protected bubble of space and time, perhaps the right network of connections, and maybe a few key resources to help make what they are visualizing possible. A good residency program gets residents what they need and then gets out of the way.
What LA Game Space will be offering residents is facilities, resources, and also audiences and peers. We are setting aside a collaborative workspace, as well as an exhibition space for shorter exhibitions/performances/etc. that could see regular use by residents with something to show. For residents who want to test prototypes or get actual play feedback data, the research lab facilities will be available. A resident will also have first access to visiting developers, scholars… anyone who walks in the door. We’re thinking of Inside the Actor’s Studio here, with dibs on asking the first question.
In general, our message to residents is “you’ll have the run of the place”—and different residents will make use of that freedom in very different ways. Of course, those that roam beyond our doors should also make connections with a multitude of people, companies and institutions throughout Los Angeles.
Your video mentions that the output of LA Game Space will be archived online as a ‘universal resource’ – could you talk a little bit about what kind of media and material you would be able to share with the global gaming community?
Daniel Rehn: LA Game Space has a few core areas for its activities—speakers, workshops, exhibitions, research labs, and residencies. Every area will have generate materials that we look forward to sharing online. For example, talks will have videos and slide sets, while workshops will also have materials packets. Exhibitions will have photo documentation, catalogs, essays, and related conversations.
Our research labs will initially focus on sharing open-source gameplay data recorded by players, and we are excited about developing formats that can be easily shared through partners like Internet Archive, but there the sky is really the limit—there are so many ways to share games research online in an accessible way that haven’t even been invented yet!
Finally, residencies will give the residents the freedom to choose when to liberate (open source), and when to incubate. We are confident that we will often see residents acting in the spirit of the space and sharing everything from prototypes and dev tools to original hardware mods. This spirit of sharing is already found in a lot of games art, research, and independent development. However, we won’t require it! Whether the eventual outcomes are public access or commercial, residents and the public will benefit most from residencies being “no strings attached.”
You can (and should) support LA Game Space here as they need your help, but don’t take my word for it – this quote, culled from the campaign comment page says it all:
“I’m a recent high school graduate who is extremely interested in the potential of games. I’ve looked into “game schools” like DigiPen, but they all seem to be based around teaching you how to work in the industry, and not as a creative individual. I might just move to LA if this gets fully funded.” – Keegan Atkin
Who cares if MoMA just acquired 14 games for their permanent collection? It is media labs like LA Game Space where the most exciting facets of the (still) emerging medium will be delineated.