An interview: Jack King-Spooner

The collected games of Scottish independent game developer Jack King-Spooner are among some of the most unique, original, daring, gripping, fantastical and dreamlike ever made. Each of his works (from Will You Ever Return to Mitt Romney and the Case of the Sex Doll) are imbued with a genuine creative spirit, and each is better than the last; he’s built his career off of constantly surprising his audience and challenging its expectations. To me, the current high point was his last game, Beeswing.
Beeswing was a beautiful, striking, offbeat and powerfully moving autobiographical depiction of his titular home town in which he explored such themes as childhood, loss, the ageing process, television’s effect on people and, most prominently, memory.
I cannot state enough how much Beeswing means to me. I love it. I love it I love it I love it, so much, so very very much. There was never a dull moment, never a moment that didn’t move me, shock me, surprise me. I could’ve taken a screenshot of any moment in the game and framed it on my wall – in fact, you could say the same for all of King-Spooner’s games. It’s a game that means so very much to me, and it’s one that deserved far more attention than it received, considering how it, y’know, blows pretty much every other game out of the water in terms of sheer artistry and maturity (with a few exceptions).
Jack’s currently seeking funding via Kickstarter for his newest work, entitled Dujanah. A nonlinear, clay-punk exploration of the idea of revenge (namely in how and why it manifests itself), the game promises to be another truly fascinating game from a truly independent indie developer, and perhaps the culmination of all of his talents thus far. He himself believes it’ll probably be the best thing he’s ever made, and I see no reason to doubt that. I mean, how often do you come across a Claymation videogame with an Islamic female main character that explores mature themes in a mature way?
“Never” is the answer to that question.
Not until now, anyway.
I sat down to talk with Jack (in the figurative sense) about Dujanah, politics and the merits of free games.

Imagine I know nothing about you or your game, and answer me this: what is Dujanah?
It is a video game where you get to explore a grungy, tactile world made from clay and paintings. You play as Dujanah, who is out to find answers, and on your journey you will encounter all sorts of strange characters, moral dilemmas and fantastical situations.

What are your own views on politics, religion and the usage of violence to both instigate societal change and as a source of vengeance, and how have they influenced Dujanah?
Politically I am pretty centre-left to full-on left; I voted SNP, but it was a toss up between them and the Green party. I find politicians pretty dull, and most conversations about politics more often than not sound like two walls shouting at each other. I was brought up in a secular environment, being taken out of primary school nativity plays and prayers and the like, and as a result I find religion fascinating. I follow some Mahayana Buddhist practices but I wouldn’t regard myself as anything other than an agnostic.
In terms of the use of violence, I’m not a pacifist but I do believe that most recent military interventions have been destructive illegal messes; I protested the Iraq war alongside 72% of fellow Scots. I have to say that I do think the Scottish Army has done some pretty important work, particularly in Afghanistan. Violence in terms of vengeance is a terrible idea and only ever leads to exacerbated suffering.
I’m not sure how these views have influenced Dujanah. I think there is perhaps a focus on the areas I find difficult, the views on violence, for example, somehow tie into the subverted hero narrative, dying/ killing for a cause whatever the intention. I find criticising religion and politics rather uninteresting really compared to telling odd, morally ambiguous parables.

You’re a man of many talents, Jack. Outside of making games, you’ve proven yourself to be both an accomplished musician and artist. What was it then that attracted you to the world of game development? What have games got that other mediums lack?
From Janice Galloway to Don DeLillo, from Lynch to Kieslowski, the narratives I love have always romanced the idea of non-linearity. When I came to thinking about making a piece with strong autobiographical elements, I felt that I wanted to make it in a medium that embraced non-linear stories. Beeswing started as monologues for a contemporary theatre piece but I soon realised that a game would be a better way to tell it, and a better document. I don’t think games have anything in particular that other mediums lack; they are simply another medium. They do have a way of courting those with short attention spans a little better than a book or an installation though.

You’ve turned to Kickstarter in order to fund your last two games, and have also turned to Patreon in search for more consistent monetary support. You’re hardly alone in this approach; many of your peers and friends also use the same avenues, as they are seemingly the only place where creators such of yourself can hope to find anything even vaguely resembling funding. Do you think the large amount of people who turn to such methods (yourself included) do so out of reliance or preference (or both), and do you believe that more could be done to support independent game creators, and indeed independent artists in general?
I honestly think things are getting better and better for independent game creators. Of course things aren’t perfect, but four years ago I never would have dreamed that I would have a game on Steam. I think the most interesting voices in independent games are interesting because they don’t have monetary gain temptations. Sadly the reality is that money enables things to get made and when making longer pieces the choice is either to designate all my free time to game making, to the detriment of my mental and physical health, or to ask for funding. The crowd funding was largely in preference to asking for arts funding which comes from the tax payer, I like that with Patreon, Indiegogo and Kickstarter the funds come from people who want to support games. I supported a VR game about dolphins cheating in a high school test. I’m not sure if the average tax payer would happily support that. Also, would that even get government funding?

Who would you say are the best developers currently working in games today, and why?
So many cool developers. Stephen TheCatamites is the best because his games are like finding a toffee whilst scratching an itch. All the freeware developers are the best. It is honestly a privilege to play every game on Gamejolt. I like developers who work by themselves on smaller projects; they are the best.

What was the last videogame that you played, and did you enjoy the experience?
The Witcher 3 was the last game I played. My partner is Polish and I lived a while in Poland so the game really resonates with me. I keep thinking it will be boring but it keeps grabbing my interest. I find it hard to comprehend how much work must have one into it.

Many developers express the belief that the game industry is still extremely far behind other mediums such as film in terms artistic merit. Do you agree with this assessment, and if so, what do you believe it is that’s holding the medium back?
Yeah, games often have a different aim, going for fun and immersion rather than meaning and form. It just takes time, I guess.

You are to be stranded on a desert island. You are, for a reason that eludes me, permitted to take with you one book, one film, one album, one videogame and one item just for yourself. Which of each do you bring?
Underworld by Don DeLillo, The Decalogue by Kieslowski, the complete Goldberg Variations, Dark Souls by From Software and some musical instrument; a piano maybe, or a pipe organ.

In case you didn’t get the message by now, you should seriously back Dujanah on Kickstarter right now. Seriously. Back it. Now
Follow Jack on Twitter HERE.
Visit his website HERE.
Back Dujanah HERE.
And follow me on Twitter HERE. That is, if you’re fond of making poor life choices.
Thanks for reading. Back Dujanah, and have a nice day. Don’t back Dujanah, and have a mediocre one. Your choice.

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