Editor’s note: It’s difficult for us at Dork Shelf to contemplate the end of Gamercamp without getting a bit misty eyed. You see, our humble little website and Gamercamp go way back. Dork Shelf was only about six months old when the very first Gamercamp was held on a chilly November afternoon back in 2009. In fact, it was one of the first game events we ever covered as a site. At the time we were complete neophytes when it came to the local game scene, still trying to get a handle on who was who and what was worth talking about in Toronto.
The inaugural Gamercamp changed that. We left the Lower Ossington Theatre with new friends, new contacts, and far better understanding of the fantastic game-related things that were happening in our city. We conducted our very first interview during the event (Ubisoft Toronto’s Employee #1) and even arranged to speak with some guy named Nathan Vella from a little outfit called Capybara. That first Gamercamp was where we cut our teeth as a video games and games culture website.
We’ll forever be indebted to Jaime Woo, Mark Rabo, and the many others who made Gamercamp a reality. Not only because it was a wonderful and ever-evolving event, but because of the absolutely integral part it played in bringing the Toronto video game community together. There is no question that the Toronto game scene, the Canadian game scene, and gaming in general are better off because Gamercamp existed. We certainly wouldn’t be here without it.
– Will Perkins
I guess I can’t put this off any longer.
For the past few days, I’ve been laboring under the assumption that if I don’t write about the end of Gamercamp, maybe Gamercamp won’t really be gone. But such deliberate displays of ignorance are always futile. Gamercamp is ending after Level 6 this weekend, and nothing I do or say will change that.
The conclusion has hit me harder than I expected. I moved to Toronto in the winter of 2010, and within a month I had my first job in game journalism. That first job allowed me to interview developers from major studios in the US and Canada and introduced me to a community of other journalists, but we focused primarily on games in the triple-A sphere. I was completely unaware of the thriving independent development community in Toronto.
Or at least I was, until I went to Gamercamp. Level 2 made me feel welcome at a time when I didn’t know anyone, introducing me to an wonderful group of friends and colleagues and setting me down a path that eventually led to Dork Shelf. It’s weird to think that the annual event that was so integral to my personal and professional livelihood won’t be returning in 2015. It makes me sad knowing that other people won’t have the same opportunities that I did.
So what was its secret?
Like any event, Gamercamp has had its ups and downs, but it was always a celebration of play rather than an advertisement for gaming product. The space felt comfortable and homey, a stark contrast from preview events or conventions that often feel impersonal and sterile. My best memories of the event aren’t the talks or the panels – although there were certainly some memorable ones over the years – but are instead the casual moments between people.
At Gamercamp, I built video game figurines out of Play-doh and witnessed impromptu Mortal Kombat II tournaments staged in school hallways. I played games that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I’ve also worn pajamas to work and interviewed an eclectic collection of amazing developers, not necessarily at the same time.
As the years passed and Gamercamp grew, it became harder and harder to maintain that intimate atmosphere. Pajama Sundays with cartoons and cupcakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch gave way to more business casual settings where adult attendees dressed like they expected to be seen. But despite that identity crisis, Gamercamp never lost sight of its inner child, which always broke through during the pop-up arcades and socials. Gamercamp remains a great place to play games with friends, and the selection was a thoughtful collection that approached play in engaging and innovative ways.
That approach is reflected in the diverse content showcased at Gamercamp. Last year, standouts included Samurai Gunn, Starwhal, and Crypt of the Necrodancer. Gamercamp was where I was first introduced to Nidhogg, BaraBariBall, and Sword and Sworcery. I was sitting in the room when Spooky Squid and Shaun Hatton unveiled the very first trailer for They Bleed Pixels. My Twitter profile picture was taken while playing Robin Arnott’s Deep Sea at Gamercamp Level 4.
Those games don’t even scratch the surface. Every year I go to Gamercamp expecting to see something new, a game that will challenge my understanding of the medium and the ways that it resonates with audiences. I’ve never left disappointed. Gamercamp was magical because it wasn’t designed for industry insiders looking to maximize their market impact. The talks were instead explorations of culture, where speakers searched for meaning through interactive play with ideas culled from games with similarly humble ambitions.
The fact that so many presenters happen to live and work in Toronto only made the event more special. Gamercamp tapped into the lifeblood that runs through the city, promoting and celebrating the incredible work happening in Toronto without ever compromising its creative vision. Gamercamp demonstrated that games could be art and that that art could be accessible to everyone, and I’m yet to see another convention so perfectly strike that balance.
I’m grateful to have had the chance to be a part of Gamercamp in the years that I’ve covered the event. I’m proud that Dork Shelf has sponsored such a forward-thinking convention. I’ll be sad knowing there won’t be any more new memories. Gamercamp meant something to Toronto, and I only hope that we don’t lose that spirit after the doors close on Sunday.
Gamercamp Lvl 6 begins today and continues throughout the weekend at Hotel Ocho in Toronto.
(Photo by Ricky Tran)