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11:31pm on Thursday, 3rd September, 2009:
It was keynote day today at DiGRA. There were supposed to be four, but one had to drop out following a bereavement (been there, done that) so it meant there were just three.
The first one was by Mark Healey, designer of Little Big Planet, and Kareem Ettouney who was also deeply involved in the design. What they presented was a magnificent manifestation of what designers are. They showed a wide range of cross-disciplinary knowledge (that they didn't seem to be aware was a wide range), they explained what they were trying to do and how they did it (and even why they did it), and they spoke with a depth of understanding that no doubt that their souls were in that game. Everything I tell my students about the ideal designer was there: the imagination, the passion, the desire to articulate something that they couldn't articulate any other way.
Even the "designer fun" thing was there. I got to ask the last question in the Q&A, and asked if they experienced more fun out of designing, playing or having people play what they designed. For Kareem, it was the designing: he particularly liked "jamming" with other designers as a way to help give form to his ideas. Mark said that he didn't usually like playing his games, just designing them, but that he did like LBP and couldn't wait to play with it whenever he could. This sounds like a designing-games-for-yourself-to-play argument, which usually flags up lesser designers; however, when he described what he did when he played it was all to do with using the user-created content tools. In other words, when he "played", he was playing with designing (which of course is the mark of a good designer).
My talk came next. I managed to insult everyone in the audience indirectly at least once, and one of them directly (I told him I hoped he went to hell in a handbasket).
The final talk was by Ian Bogost, which was something of a coup de grace on how to look at games in philosophical terms. I'm not very well read in the philosophy of being (it was relevant to AI, so I read some when doing my PhD, but I only really picked up the basics and I haven't kept current); however, Ian's delivery is such that he leaves the audience with the impression that they know much more than they do, so it was a lot easier to follow than it would have been in less accoplished hands. I also found the conclusion made sense, as it chimed with what I'd expect from the more mathematical philosophy with which I'm a little more familiar.
After Ian's talk I was buttonholded by a succession of people and spoke to them for two hours without a break. I'd still be talking to them now if I could, but the conference dinner came along and I had to go catch the train home.
This is, in fact, why I go to conferences: to talk to people. One of the blessings of universities is to provide an environment in which people with similar interests can discuss ideas in great depth, educating themselves and each other in the process (essentially, what Kareem called "jamming"). I can't do that at Essex because we don't have a critical mass of game researchers (there's me and Simon Lucas, but he's more a games-and-AI person so we intersect mainly in the technical application of AI to games, which is good but very narrow). I greatly envy departments where there are large groups of people who think deeply and originally about games: one of my students once asked why I described ITU Copenhagen as if it were a paradise, and this is why (and as he eventually went there to study at postgraduate level, he'll now know what I meant). For me, I only get the stimulating conversations if I go to conferences or to other universities (or, every once in a blue moon, if someone visits us at Essex).
There's another day of DiGRA, but I can't go tomorrow as I have to pick up and start reading MSc projects ready for interviews next week, so that's my lot.
Oh well, it's back to email and forum postings, I guess...
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