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Meet Bit Bazaar, TCAF’s Physical Digital Games Marketplace

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Last year, the organizers of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) began carving out a space for video games with the inaugural Comics vs. Games display. It went so well that they’re continuing the trend in 2013, filling out Comics vs. Games 2 with new panels, new collaborations, and – perhaps most importantly – a new location for the inaugural Bit Bazaar.

So what is Bit Bazaar? It’s essentially an independent games marketplace showcasing 24 games in an environment that – like TCAF proper – strives to bring artists and fans together in a shared appreciation for games and product. It’s borrowing the traditional TCAF model with rows of tables promoting various creative wares, and it’s all taking place this Saturday at Bento Miso, located at 862 Richmond St. West across from Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto.

The games were selected following an open call with an eye towards variety rather than polish. The final list features a mix of solo developers and established studios, with styles that range from Capy’s action-oriented Super TIME Force to Will O’Neill’s Actual Sunlight, an interactive story about depression. All of the games will be playable, making Bento Miso a perfect splinter destination if you’re looking to escape the crowds at the Toronto Reference Library.

According to Jennie Faber, one of the founders of Bento Miso and the lead organizer of Bit Bazaar, the idea originally arose as a way to make TCAF more inclusive. Even with 700 tables, there are always more people who want to exhibit than there are spaces at the festival. Faber noticed that many of the jilted artists had also dabbled in game development in some capacity, so she found an innovative way to correct the imbalance.

It’s all in keeping with Faber’s regular activities with Bento Miso and the Dames Making Games initiative. Faber views herself as a facilitator, someone who helps open doors for artists within the community, and Bit Bazaar is simply the latest wild and ridiculous attempt to connect individuals to opportunities.

“Bit Bazaar came out of the community’s desire and willingness to stretch,” explained Faber. “We have a lot to learn about what games mean to us as players and makers. Exploring the physical and digital artifacts produced by both creators and fans gives us a new lens on the games we play and what draws us to them.”

The Yawhg

The proximity to other media – in this case, comics – also sets Bit Bazaar apart from the countless other arcade showcases already dotting the Toronto calendar. The exhibitors at Bit Bazaar will be on hand to interact with fans while selling physical merchandise, which means that Bit Bazaar will be moving primarily digital interactions into a more traditionally present marketplace.

“Bit Bazaar will give us a glimpse at how creators connect with players. It’s how we are creating our own new game culture,” said Faber.

The goal, then, is to allow fans to get to know the people behind the games while providing the creators with a unique commercial outlet. Indeed, that might be the most exciting aspect of the enterprise. If the merchandise proves popular, Bit Bazaar could potentially make independent game development a more profitable endeavor.

“Game-makers are craftspeople as technically skilled as they are creative,” added Faber, arguing that such recognition is long overdue. “These people deserve a platform and venue to ply and push their craft.”

Which isn’t to say that Bit Bazaar is entirely without risk. The exhibitors will be providing their own merchandise and anybody with a Kickstarter page will tell you that swag doesn’t come cheaply. Faber, however, believes that it’s important to cultivate new industry pathways between artists and consumers, and sometimes you just have to try something new to see if it’ll work.

“For most of the participants, it’s a low-cost experiment,” reasoned Faber. “We have a remarkable set of circumstances making this kind of event possible in Toronto, so it’s hard to say whether a bricks-meets-bits marketplace is a model that works out of that context.”

In other words, if you’re going to launch an event like Bit Bazaar, you might as well do it in a vibrant arts city like Toronto in conjunction with a well-trafficked festival like TCAF that mitigates the risk. The weekend is devoted to creative exploration as guests discover new artists and find unexpected inspiration, and Faber expects that same spirit to inform the goings on at Bento Miso.

Super TIME Force

“I hope each participant meets and makes new fans,” she said. “I hope that everyone who attends sees games and their creators in a new context. I hope some of them get the game-making itch and add new voices to the mix because there is a welcoming, thriving community to support them.”

For Faber, Bit Bazaar will be a success as long as it meets those more abstract aesthetic targets, which makes it well worth checking out regardless of any windfall. Playing games and meeting new artists should make for an entertaining afternoon, and you might even find yourself making a purchase that helps support Toronto’s many independent artists.

“All we can do is try and work toward models of sustainability,” concluded Faber. “I’m happy if we can make these attempts as fun as possible.”

Bit Bazaar is one of four events taking place as part of the Comics Vs. Games 2 program during TCAF. You can read about the other three here. Bit Bazaar is sponsored by Bento Miso and organized in collaboration with TCAF, Attract Mode, and the Hand Eye Society, and runs from 12pm-8pm on Saturday, May 11.

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