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10:07am on Friday, 10th April, 2015:

Unidirectional Talk


I gave a talk yesterday evening to Chris Weaver's game design group at MIT. As I and MIT are separated by a distance of some 3,302 miles, we used Skype.

I'd spoken to Chris over Skype a couple of days earlier, and I ran an echo test just before the call was due, and it all worked fine. However, when we connected for the talk, I could barely hear him. I looked at the call settings and I could see the volume coming in was fine, it just didn't make any sound in my headphones. I could get other sounds in my headphones, and I'd been playing Rise of Venice for an hour beforehand, but I couldn't hear much at all. We tried reconnecting (and in my case rebooting Skype) but to no avail. One of the MIT students talked me through changing the call settings, which did make a difference: I couldn't hear anything at all after that.

So it was that I spoke for something like 45 minutes while being able to see my audience but not hear them. It was weird. I enjoyed the talk myself, but had no idea how it was going down with the students. I couldn't tell if they were amused, bemused, bored or enthralled. No-one in camera shot snuck out, though, which I took to be a good sign.

I was only aware of having made one faux pas, when discussing designing games for a particular demographic of which you're not yourself a member (as the class was designing games for children in the 4-6 years age range). The first demographic that came into my head was "gay people", because I've had discussions on this very topic with gay people so have an inkling of some of the issues. That wasn't the faux pas, though: the faux pas was that I was talking from my own perspective and so referred to them as "them". This gave the impression that I assumed that all the students were non-gay too. I should have made it clear where I was coming from and said "suppose you're not gay" at the start. Sigh.

I probably made several more faux pas, but as I couldn't hear the audience gasp with alarm am blissfully unaware of them.

The Q&A at the end was effected by having people type questions into Skype at which I could give rambling responses at length. This is where the fact I was talking to MIT students became apparent, as the questions were rather thought-provoking. The fact I was talking to Americans was also apparent, because the students typed with their faces right in front of the camera so I got a great view of the dazzlingly white teeth that most Americans seem to possess.

On the whole, it was a little odd giving a talk with only visual feedback, but I suppose deaf people have to live with that day in, day out.

I never did find out why Skype messed up, as an echo test immediately afterwards worked just fine, too. It was probably caused by nothing more serious than our respective government security agencies listening in.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).