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The great video game experiment

You won’t find Kokoromi on your Xbox


BY Kevin Gillich
Photography by Richmond Lam

In Montreal, independent artists are as common as poutine and potholes. But Kokoromi, a collective of artists and video game developers, has sidestepped the Converse-wearing, indie-rock-loving crowd by working with an underused artistic medium: video games.

“To me, video games are the medium with the most potential,” says collective member Phil Fish. “Games can be moving art, they can be social tools used for change—you name it.” Video games have come a long way since the early days; some explore concepts as complicated as city planning and human relationships, but the majority of them are still developed by large gaming studios. That’s why last winter Fish and friends Heather Kelley and Damien Di Fede decided to start Kokoromi (Japanese for experiment).

Fish and Kelley met while working at Ubisoft, an international game developer with offices in Montreal. The group wanted to create experimental and artistic video games and to nurture a more independent local video-game scene. “Right now, the gaming scene in Montreal is a bunch of high-powered executives networking,” says Fish. Major video-game developers such as Ubisoft, A2M and Electronics Arts have studios here. All three are known for mainstream games based on movie and TV franchises or sports.

Last November, Kokoromi held its first event, Gamma 01, which attracted six other games, including one from Toronto and two from Pittsburgh. The collective’s entry, Glee, featured game play that was generated by ambient noise: think what Space Invaders might be like if the alien ships moved in time with whatever song happened to be piping out of your stereo as you played.

The event also served as a contrast to last November’s Arcadia video game festival, also held in Montreal, an event flush with advertising dollars from big video game names like Nintendo and Xbox.

The success of their event convinced Kokoromi that the scene in Montreal is worth nurturing. Interested participants are mostly people who work for the big developers but crave a more creative outlet. The group aims to help people develop their talents outside the nine-to-five world.

Kokoromi also knows they have to convince others that video games are a medium worth working in. “It’s still a young art form,” says Di Fede. “There isn’t the same sort of understood language [as other art forms]. Film, for example, is a little more readily understood by people because they watch a lot of movies and they’ve been exposed to it their entire lives.”

“I think our goal will have been reached when there is a YouTube of games, when it is as popular as something like making videos,” says Kelley.

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