This is the first part in a series on the French games collective Klondike. This first article is an introduction to them, and their work, including a list of games, nominated by each member of the collective, collated as a way of getting to know them.
On a rainy humid day in June I spent a couple of days hanging out with four members of Klondike, a French games collective. We played DIY board games, baked lemon cake, cycled hire bikes around Lille as English football fans leered at us, and went for a walk in an abandoned hot house that played disorienting electronic music. I did so in attempt to paint a portrait of the collective, to try and investigate how they work, their impact on the indie/experimental game design community – and to maybe think a bit about the different contexts contemporary games are being made in.
We don’t have the language, sometimes, in our everyday lives, to talk about subtleties; the grey areas. Klondike are a games collective, but put them next to other examples - Copenhagen Games Collective, Sokpop in the Netherlands, the Biome Collective in Dundee - and you might conclude ‘collective’ can mean any one of many different things. In fact, I would argue the word ‘collective’ is important precisely because it can mean many different things at once – it can be shared space and resources, it can be shared interests or objectives, it can be a kind of ‘label’ without all the business hangups of a ‘company’. And it also connects to a political and artistic history of people coming together as equals (as opposed to under a hierarchy) to make a space for making new things.
One of the things that Armel Gibson (‘Gib’) first said to me, when I emailed proposing a series on the collective, was “you probably won't be able to 'represent the voices of the collective as a whole', and I think that's ok. […] we generally avoid to speak under a common voice, as everyone can have different views on things”
Delphine smiles and makes up for her unconfident English (which is much better than she allows) through mimicry and warm gestures.
Tyu (Typhaine Uro) talks to me about her mixed German/French background, and how she uses games to speak about things she finds it hard to say in person.
Gib strolls around in purple trousers and a silver jacket (which is what catches the eye of the football hooligans, who are surprised to hear me heckle back in a northern English accent), he makes bold statements with a cheeky smile, before being carefully sure I’m clear it’s his view, not that of anyone else.
Pol Clarissou and I wander around a run down park, we stumble upon a hot house and I sneeze at foreign pollens, while he points out a jet black fish he likes the style of.
Klondike are made up of 10 people, each of them different, with different motivations, aesthetics and intentions. In common they have the collective itself: peers to make things with, to share things with, to talk and discuss and exchange with. Throughout this series, when I talk about Klondike, note that I talk both about a collective, and of 10 individuals, only some of whom I had the chance to speak directly to.
The collective was founded in 2013 by 3 members of the same medium-scale games studio: Delphine Fourneau, Armel Gibson and Brice Pitoum. Originally Brice thought they might curate events, or run game jams, Armel was eager to find friends in northern France (having moved from the west) and Delphine was eager to stretch her creative muscles outside of the restricted roles of their otherwise quite ‘ordinary’ games day jobs. Armel explains that:
“I was new in North France. I’m from the west, from Brittany. So I came here and I almost knew no one except from the people I was working with […] I kind of needed a, kind of, group, people that I can call friends, and the easiest way to do that was to make a group out of nothing. […] we were just like: ‘Hey, it’s cool to do a thing, whatever it might be.’”
They started calling themselves a collective from the beginning, in part a way of staking a public identity, but also for themselves, to give themselves a kind of space to work in; to give themselves something to live up to. Armel, again:
[…] really we were just a bunch of friends and we had met each other two months before, pretending we were a collective. And it just kind of worked, because people were like: ‘Hey, they are a collective.’ Then we were like: ‘Oh yeah, we are. Of course. If you said we are one, then we are’ [laughs]
They joke about it, but it’s obvious that the word ‘collective’ made space for them – space for them to make friends, to make work that they were interested in, and for others to see that work. An increased visibility. They’re still a little hesitant about the kind of collective they are, however: are they a games collective? Is it better to call themselves an art collective? Could they then make more than just games? The heart of the naming question is a mix of them not really wanting to fight the rhetorical battles of ‘can games be art’, ‘can art be games’ and ‘this is not a game’, and just wanting to make cool stuff unrestricted by form/medium, but they are also heavily influenced by the possibilities of game design tools and approaches.
Armel: We still don’t know if we are a video game collective or an art collective. Like, we kind of use-, I use ‘art collective’ a bit more now,
Delphine: Because when they are playing our games it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not a game. It’s art.’
Armel: […] also because I just like more to get, kind of, away from the whole video game-y-,
Pol: We have a bunch of people who do more than games.
After Delphine, Brice and Armel decided to call themselves a collective, they then began reaching out to other local game makers, particularly via a well-known game design course at a school in Valenciennes. Armel simply messaged people with cool work via Facebook. “Armel’s a weirdo”, Delphine smiles. He grins back: “I just tried to find people on Facebook from this school because [I thought] ‘There are maybe some people that do cool stuff’”
The ‘School’ here is like ‘college’ in the US, and ‘university’ in the UK – in France it’s called a ‘private’ university, because unlike the free public universities, students pay fees (though in reality the fees are a little less than UK state universities, and a lot less than college fees in the US). At the school in Valenciennes, Armel found the work of Tom Victor and Lucie Viatgé, and they in turn introduced Titouan Millet. In listening to Armel, Delphine, Tyu and Pol tell the story of Klondike, the thing that seems to have united them all at the beginning was dissatisfaction – either with their formal games educations, or with their mainstream games studio day jobs:
Armel: We were not super satisfied with our day job, which was to sell games and stuff. I mean, I don’t know about, like, Tom, Titouan, and Lucie, but I feel like maybe they were not, like, super satisfied with school also.
Pol: Yeah, probably not. None of us were.
Tyu: Oh yeah, definitely.
Delphine: Yeah, that was the first goal, in fact, it was to have some people to make games with, a space where you are totally free to do what you want, because our job was just [not satisfying]
Other locals striving to make a space aside from the commercial drive of the established games industry in North France heard about the collective, and Félix Roman (Flex) and Pol joined. With eight members, Gib explains, that was when they “had the strongest questions about ‘what is Klondike?’” Four or five people feels like a group of friends, but eight or more? Suddenly the collective (without structure) began to feel a little unwieldy, they worried about their ability as a group of people to stake an identity at the same time as making room for individual voices. They had almost decided that eight was enough, when they realised they were working a lot alongside Typhaine Uro (Tyu), and Héloïse Lozano (Hélo) – also on the same games course in Valenciennes – and it felt natural for them to join, but also to then say, ‘that’s it’.
Tyu: When Pol and Flex joined, it was at this point that we decided it was a closed group and not a community […]
Armel: And then we were ten. That’s the number we are now, and it kind of feels nice.
Ten people gathered around the common cause of, in their words: “making cool stuff”. I ask them what they mean by ‘cool’ stuff and they talk about a way of making more than a kind of thing made. They don’t have a single aesthetic, narrative or mechanical approach in common, but rather a kind of way of thinking about making games:
Tyu: I think that’s our main common point, is that we all have [our own] vision about games
Armel: We don’t all have the same vision, we don’t all make the same kinds of games, […] but we still have a common vibe in that we all make mostly small-scale experiments, and we don’t care much about what a video game is […] and to preserve games as something that is not necessarily an industry but also just people that want to make stuff.
They don’t make ‘Klondike’ games, rather Klondike has them as game designers and artists in common. It’s a fine line, and a subtle one. Occasionally they think maybe they should say something, or stand for something clearer, but they always return to the principle: the only rule is ‘no rules’. Dephine explains: "[…] since the beginning we said, ‘No rules in Klondike,’ and we have to play the game: no rules in Klondike."
So, how do I give you a picture of their work, when they don’t want to be defined as one thing, or another? How do I make space for the games of the members of the collective who I didn’t get a chance to speak to? We talked, and we decided what we would make is a tasting menu. A starter before the fuller interviews with four members. A selection of games, chosen by each member, and a one sentence description about each from me. As we start out on the series, I recommend picking, at random, 3-4 of the following, and having a play.
Some of these were made for game jams, all are short and small things, many free or pay-what-you-choose, and each was selected by a member of Klondike as a little introduction to them and what they make.
Héloïse - Porapora (WINDOWS) - a wander through a staccato forest, art that reminds me of sheet music, all edges and layers, collisions of sound that build like a child's experiments with a room full of instruments.
Flex - The Howl (WINDOWS) - a first person hunting sim made from basic principles; a bow, arrows, prey, a shivering wilderness. Visceral and bleak and cold and unforgiving.
Titouan - Mu Cartographer - as much an instrument explorer as a landscape generation toy, this beautiful always-slightly unknowable playful thing gives you room to sink, play, explore, mark, and remember.
Tom Ghost Ring - A pleasant copse in a wood, scored by gentle, cheerful music is increasingly populated by mischevious elf-like characters, and as it gets darker, joined by ghostly influence. A funny toy-like game, fun to poke at and observe the rules and physics at play.
Pol - Night Tune (WINDOWS, MAC and LINUX) - "graphics quality: drowsy." An almost universal contemporary western experience, distilled and considered through a designed environment. Drifting through the night, in an automotive bubble, listening to your music.
Armel - USS Tlancy (WINDOWS) - is it an homage or is it a parody? Sometimes only a thin veil of intention distinguishes each. Aggressive chiptune soundtrack to match a frenetic Missile Command style game, coloured in gentle pinks and purples, accompanied by a cheeky sense of humour.
Tyu - Your Darkest Thoughts (WINDOWS and MAC and LINUX) - a beautiful, gentle space for talking about the things on your mind. Its elegant design holds open a space for contemplation.
Delphine - Princess Nom Nom (WINDOWS and MAC) - A great example of Delphine's art style - cute and engaging, but struck through with a playful sense of humour. Her colour choices, always perfect.
Brice Pitoum - RMBR (WINDOWS and ANDROID) - Originally a small game jam project, now being expanded into a full version with puzzles, this careful little text explorer game system riffs off OuLiPo constrained writing techniques; interested in the interaction of authoring through choice and chance.
Lucie - Killer White (WINDOWS) - A gentle whodunnit, with characterful-art, riffing playfully off the traditional genre.
We'll continue our exploration of Klondike and their work in the very near future. Photo credits for the pictures of Klondike: Julian Dasgupta.