The Independent Games Festival got off to an emotionally charged start tonight at the Game Developers Conference. It happened to be the first major public gaming event after the tragic massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand last week, with thousands of people in the audience.

And so it opened appropriately with a presenter who made a quick reference to mental illness.

“Play brings people together in ways that are vital to our human experience,” said Kelly Wallick, who was the first presenter to hit the stage. “The expression of a single experience can create a whole new nurturing space for dreams to take root. Many of us who think that we suffer, suffer in silence next to another person who’s suffering in the same way we all participate. And we’re all in this together. What divides us belongs in the past.”

Wallick introduced Meg Jayanth, who won an award in the past for the indie game 80 Days from Inka Studios. She was the host for the IGF awards at GDC 2019 in San Francisco, and she made clear how she felt about the killing of 50 Muslim immigrants in New Zealand by a shooter who referenced video game culture and streamed the killings in a live video.

Kelly Wallick

Above: Kelly Wallick at IGF 2019

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

“I’ve always found it a little strange that the good my community this community chose to give an IGF award to a game that was anti-colonialist, anti-racist, unabashedly feminist, pointedly diverse and well written by an Indian woman was also the same year that our audiences were engulfed by Gamergate,” Jayanth said. “And it felt at that time that as though rejected that campaign of hatred. But it’s actually never felt closer to me right now. A mutated strain of that poison that make video games is testing has bubbled up in Christchurch New Zealand. It fueled a monster who went to a mosque with murder in his heart. And if we don’t actually and wholly and totally reject these people, these Nazis, and fascists, and white supremacists — then we are inviting them in.”

That was likely a reference to President Donald Trump, who has been accused of “normalizing” white supremacists by failing to acknowledge them as a threat and failing to call the attack an act of terrorism.

“If we make room for them then there is no room for anyone else, and what we represent here tonight must stand in opposition to them, and we have to do it together,” Jayanth said. “But rejecting hate is only half the battle. The other half of the battle is much harder. It is to ask how do we make people feel welcome, how do we keep them safe and happy. Last year, I became too chronically ill to work, and I am only here still making games because it would be awesome.”

She added, “Understanding and the generosity of some incredible colleagues and the indie games community helped me. Some of them are right here. But the truth is that not everyone has been or will be so lucky, particularly if you don’t have free health care. And it shouldn’t be about luck. It is time that we as an industry left behind the idea that our work is made better by our pain. That the price of passion is exploitation. That job security and pension plans and workplaces free of harassment are impossible dreams. We have to demand collectively and not just for each other, not just for ourselves but for each other as well.”

She called for unionization of the industry as well. Later on, Jayanth closed on an inspiring note.

“Joy is an antidote to some of the world’s ills,” said Jayanth. “That is why we are here. It is a powerful thing in dark times to be able to give somebody else joy.”

Tim Schafer, CEO of Double Fine Productions, was hosts of the Game Developers Choice Awards. He said, “I’d like to say something that I hope is not controversial. F*** white supremacists….Sorry about the F bomb. I will try to keep that to a minimum.”

He also made a joke about unionization.

During the evening, the game developer group gave special awards to Amy Hennig, creator of the Uncharted series, and Reiko Kodama, lead producer and director at Sega Games.