The morning keynote was by Bonni Nardi, who spoke primarily of a model of computers as a "virtuous accomplice." Several people knew her from her work, My Life as a Night Elf Priest, which I have not read. The presentation was interesting, although the focus on results rather than methods left me a bit confused at times—although her findings, in general, struck true to me. One of the themes of her work is that computer games provide a stable reprieve from the chaos and confusion of daily life, which is a great counterpoint to the popular press depiction of games as simple outlets of sexism and aggression. The best part was really the Q&A after her talk.
Ah, but the actual best part of her talk was when a speaker from Sweden mentioned that they have a term in Scandinavia, and if I got it right, he said, "We call them curling parents, because they sweep away all their kids' problems." It's the same phenomenon as helicopter parents in the US, of course, but I think the term is brilliant. This might be my heritage as a Western New Yorker coming through, since we were close enough to Canada to know what curling is.
I went to the morning session on theories and frameworks, and in stark contrast to my comments from yesterday, these folks seem to know how to present! They were also an older, more experienced group of professional presenters, many being faculty rather than grad or undergrad students. Konstantin Mitgutsch and Narda Alvarado presented a nice framework for assessing the coherency and cohesiveness of serious games, and I was glad to see people working in this area. They admit that its far from a finished theory, but it certainly seems like something I can use with my student teams in the Fall. Espen Aarseth presented a narratalogical theory for games, and I was glad to have heard it. I know it's an old debate in the field, but I've never actually heard someone tackle it in public as a researcher, and so I appreciated how he framed his presentation for someone who was not already familiar with fundamentals of narratology. I have a few other notes from the session, but nothing else that needs to be shared here just yet.
Lunch was a feast at Beasley's Chicken & Honey, where I had fried chicken, a spicy wedge of mac-n-cheese, and a nice a local beer with the guys who I missed for dinner the previous night.
The poster session was interesting, and generally I like seeing unfolding work. The highlight for me was a chat with a team from Georgia Tech who are working on "brain games" for older adults, mostly because the presenter was knowledgeable in psychology and we were able to have a great discussion about relationships between our work and learning theory.
The games showcase was not quite what I expected. I thought it would be more purposeful games or serious games, but much of it struck me as just games. Some tried to explore new territories, but I wasn't overwhelmed with the results. Some I found offensive in their use of stereotypes and flippant treatment of serious issues such as clinical depression. Someone at the conference mentioned earlier, serious games sometimes get a free pass because you can bat your eyes and say, "but it's about world peace!" And, I agree with the sentiment of whoever said this, that this is garbage.
In the afternoon, there was a panel on the future of RPGs, specifically focusing on Skyrim in part because one panelist was Brett Douville, lead system developer at Bethesda. The format was good, with each panelist asked to describe what they never want to see in an RPG again, what they think should be strengthened in RPGs, and what Skyrim-style RPGs have to learn from tabletop gaming. It was a good discussion, without too many surprises. One of the keenest points that Douville made, which I paraphrase here, is that AAA titles are doomed by their need to turn a profit, and they will always be power fantasies about saving the world so that they sell to the new generation of 14-year-olds. The proposal for more small- and mid-budget RPGs was reasonable, and I love Eschalon as an example of a game targeted at adults. I wonder if, as the age of a gamer continues to rise by about a year each year, if there's not a market for more narrative experimentation in the AAA realm---but I understand that publishers of these huge games must be risk averse.
The panel is also where I learned about the 4-minute Morrowind walkthrough. Douville referenced this as something that should not be possible, but I think it's great, an indication that mastery of Morrowind actually means something.
I attended a community meeting in the afternoon as well, and it was good to see that this community—like every academic community—has trouble deciding how to steer. There was a lot of discussion about next year's conference in terms of date and location, followed by another long discussion about the following one. The FDG group began as a heavily-Microsoft-sponsored conference that took place on a cruise ship. The last few years, the conference has moved off the boat, but they are considering a return to that format. The reasoning behind is that all of the attendees are forced to interact by the physical constraints of the ship, and that this leads to more exchange of ideas and community-building. This sounds great as an outcome, but as an academic, one has to deal with third-party suspicion of quality because, hey, it's on a cruise ship. These arguments went in circles for a bit, and I don't envy the board their need to make a decision on this.
The banquet was rather good despite the cash bar, and I got to sit with Brazilians and Canadians, so we had the Americas pretty well represented. Afterwards, a group of about 20 walked a few blocks to the Flying Saucer for drinks and discussion. I had a great time, sitting near two excellent storytellers. Two things I learned:
- "Without pressure, there is no learning" is an excellent teaching philosophy.
- "Interdisciplinary work doesn't mean you correct other disciplines" is a great idea for a T-shirt.