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The super-artsy A Maze festival has begun

Image of a building from a virtual tour of A Maze 2020. "A MAZE SPACE" in huge letters over the entrance, with pink clouds and water to the sides. A flamingo stands to one side.

This year’s A Maze festival started today, showing off some of the weirdest and indie-est of games, as well as lots of talks about the same. A Maze is usually in Berlin but, like so many others, the festival has adapted to the current pandemic situation by going online. You can even attend virtually this year with the ‘Total Digital’ experience, a sort of combination of chat room, museum, and temporary platform for the games, where you wander around a 3D show floor and poke at things with your digital, uh, flamingo hands.

It’s very in-character to make an experiment of the festival itself. Virtual attendees can “be a flamingo, chat with flamingo friends, shoot confetti, play soccer with watermelons, drink beer, hang out in the garden and enjoy the live stream of the full festival program”. There’s a downloadable guide to logging into that service on Itch.io. If you prefer, you can just enjoy the streams as normal, or at least see the awards show on Friday at 7pm GMT.

The festival is home to a variety of offbeat, often experimental games that make even some other indie games look safe and boring. RPS contributor Giada Zavarise shared a roundup of the best games from A Maze 2019, and you can read more about one of those in Alice B’s Diary of The Longing.

I’m inclined to think an online format could be of some benefit to this one. Its talks and presentations tend to include specific and personal interests along with the more broad advice and analyses. This 2017 talk by Bahiyya Khan about student development and mental health is one of my favourites ever. The last few months have got a lot of people in the habit of streaming talks and events we might once have overlooked, and I’m hoping that means a more receptive audience for A Maze.

This year there are workshops called “How to feel slightly less awkward in virtual and non-virtual spaces”, “Ephemera Storytelling: Designing the Feeling of Reading Other Peoples’ Letters”, and multiple talks and presentations about Black representation and decolonisation in games and the industry. It’s a forward-thinking kind of space, doing what the big leagues tend to talk about only halfheartedly.

A Maze Berlin survived one trial already, successfully crowdfunding itself when the German Senate’s Department of Culture opted not to fund it again. It’s good to see it not just surviving, but using the opportunity to try something a bit weird on top.

Officialy A Maze will begin with the opening speech at 7pm, though some parts have already started. See the schedule coming until the end the party finale on Saturday. You can get started by watching on YouTube tonight, or plan ahead at the A MAZE website.

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