Jhere was a time when video games were looked down upon and overlooked by culturati like unscrupulous schlocks, but games are, and always have been, a living, responsive form of artistic expression. It’s not always immediately clear when a game was made in Australia, which makes it a little harder to celebrate local successes – which we should, as we have a thriving community of developers who hit way above of their weight. The Australian indie games scene is vibrant, dynamic and waiting for an apology.
As I’ve (graciously, selflessly) decided, we’re all going to pull games from the downgrade and enjoy them properly – so here are 10 great Australian-made games, all variously ruminative, charming, effervescent, heartfelt, generous, visceral, cheeky and beautiful. Glad we got that sorted.
10. Novena (Cécile Richard) – online
The novena is described as an interactive poem. It will take you between five and 15 minutes to complete, depending on how long you need to sit down with the slowly unfolding prose, a meditation on emotional labor and mental health. The game’s sole creator, Cécile Richard, won the 2019 Freeplay Microgame Award for Novena, which was also nominated that year for Excellence in Visual Art.
9. Webbed (Sbug Games) – Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Windows, macOS
It’s hard to make a game about spiders in Australia that doesn’t immediately conjure up images of horrifying furry hunters, or stories of deadly redbacks under toilet seats – but Sbug Games did just that. You play this 2D puzzle platformer as a tiny and extremely adorable peacock jumping spider, trying to save her boyfriend from the clutches of a satin bird.
Not once does he lean on creepy arachnophobes or bend over for creeps; instead, it’s a game about cooperation and grouping. Webbed has been nominated for three Australian Game Developer Awards, an Indie Games Festival Award and the Seamus McNally Grand Prize at the IGF.
8. Paperbark (Paper House) – Windows, macOS
The popularity of game design degrees at Australian universities in recent years has taken the quality of games created by local students into the stratosphere. Paperbark started out as a single until it received funding from VicScreen (formerly Film Victoria) to bring it to market.
A beautiful point-and-click adventure game, it invokes the watercolor aesthetic of children’s storybooks like Possum Magic or Blinky Bill to explore a day in the life of the humble wombat as he rummages through the bush for Eat.
7. Escape From Woomera (Miscellaneous) – Windows
Eighteen years ago, a group of game developers decided to draw attention to the cruel treatment of asylum seekers in Australia by creating a video game. Escape From Woomera was a sobering and distressing expose of inhumane conditions in Australian detention centers at a time when John Howard’s “sedition” laws hampered mainstream media coverage.
The government’s response was outraged, and the Australia Council’s New Media Arts Board, which funded the game, was quickly abolished; the Australian Council is only now beginning to consider funding games again. Considered now a significant cultural intervention and an example of “cultural jamming”, Escape From Woomera is only beginning to receive the recognition it deserves, nearly two decades later.
6. Push Me Pull You (House House) – PS4, Windows, Linux, macOS
Push Me Pull You is a local cooperative multiplayer sports game that feels absolutely disgusting in the most compelling way. Described as having an “innocent yet grotesque Koonsian quality”, the 2016 game House House soon sees your screen resembling human intestines as you battle the other team (also made up of some sort of Cronenbergian nightmare) to keep the ball in your court.
Push Me Pull You won Best Game and Best Design at the Freeplay Awards, and an Honorable Mention for the Nuovo Award at the 2015 Independent Games Festival.
5. Artistic Escape (Beethoven and Dinosaur) – Windows, Xbox One, PS4, PS5 and Nintendo Switch
Inside of you are two wolves, and one of them wants to do face-melting guitar solos without learning how to play the guitar. The Artful Escape combines a brilliant psychedelic art style with one of the most underrated actions in all of video games: the slide. Sliding down huge hills while “pushing X to shred” is a visceral joy that everyone should have the chance to experience.
The Artful Escape was nominated for the Golden Joystick and Game Awards, and won the Bafta for its artistic achievements.
4. Untitled Goose Game (House House) – PS4, Windows, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, macOS
It’s a beautiful day in the village, and you’re a horrible goose. Much like Push Me Pull You, House House lulls you into a false sense of security and safety with a charming color palette before introducing mischief. You play as a cheeky goose who is determined to ruin everyone’s day, from stealing the farmer’s keys to stealing his glasses from a small child.
Untitled Goose Game has won numerous awards including Australian Game Developer Awards, Golden Joystick Awards and a Bafta.
3. Generation Umurangi (Origame Digital) – Windows, Nintendo Switch
Umurangi Generation is set in a dystopian future in Tauranga, New Zealand, after sea levels have risen and engulfed many of the world’s major cities. A twist on first-person shooters, Umurangi is more like a treasure hunt than a combat thriller, with the player tasked with taking shots instead of shooting weapons. This game has a lot to say about the climate crisis, neoliberalism and politics, and, in true Kiwi style, it doesn’t mind putting the boot where it’s needed – like when the game’s Prime Minister goes on a vacation during a crisis. Who could the game refer to?
2. Unboxing (Witch Beam) – Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, macOS, Xbox One, Windows
Who knew a game about one of life’s most stressful times could be so relaxing? Unpacking is a puzzle game about moving and it packs a powerful narrative punch. Without words at all, Unpacking slowly tells a story about our living spaces at different stages of life, from our childhood bedroom to moving in with a shitty boyfriend who doesn’t make room for your stuff (and has horrible taste ). The team behind Unpacking will now have to make room for additional items in their homes, such as Australian Game Developer Awards, a Dice Award and two Baftas.
1. Apartment (Kalonica Quigley) – Windows, macOS
Commissioned by indie game festival Freeplay and backed by Victoria Together, Apartment is a snapshot of life in lockdown that will be etched in my memory forever. After moving from Melbourne to regional Victoria to self-isolate with her family in March 2020, developer Kalonica Quigley digitally reconstructed the apartment she left behind and transformed it into an explorable space to share with others. others.
It’s a vulnerable and touching story about the intentions we put into our spaces and things, and how much it hurts not to be able to live the life we imagined. If you’ve been lucky enough to get through the pandemic without losing someone you love, it might seem unkind to complain about the relatively small issues we’ve had — but we’ve all had them. The apartment gives us the space to mourn all the little disappointments we’ve shared during the pandemic, pulls you in for a hug, and says, “I get how you feel.