Sex, art and picnics: the rise of the alternative video game festival
Video-game events are usually about noise, crowds, darkness and heavily marketed blockbuster titles. But it doesn’t have to be that way
This summer, the picturesque Birchcliffe Centre, a converted baptist church in the West Yorkshire village of Hebden Bridge, hosted an unusual festival. Guests danced across the sunlit floor to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach; they drank mugs of tea and watched talks. Outside, there was an “art walk” where attendees trudged up and down the muddy slopes, breathing in the scent of early summer flowers. There were nice places to eat, the village was welcoming. Everyone felt safe and included. Passers-by would perhaps not have guessed what people had come here to see and share. Video games.
The event, named Feral Vector, was a conscious attempt by organiser David Hayward to fight both the “gravitational pull of London” as he puts it, and the popular image of what a gaming event is. From the cavernous E3 show in Los Angeles to the annual EGX, this year held at Birmingham’s NEC, the usual set-up involves a vast convention centre, near total darkness and a constant cacophony of competing sound systems. But not everyone feels comfortable in these aggressively noisy environments. As independent game designer Rob Fearon recently noted on his website: “We all deserve better.”