Monday, October 18, 2004

At the Serious Games Summit

So managed to get here, almost in time for the first keynote with Jim Dunnigan. The bit I managed to catch was "Gamers are workers. If you get a person who wants to go through hundreds of pages of game manuals, organise a myriad of little pieces on complex maps and keep track of a complex, evolving story, that's your man!" I guess it can't be said too often.

Ben Sawyer and Ian Bogost (of Watercooler Games) spoke of Project Connect: from A to Z, and spoke warmly of flash games and small, short games. For their use I think the small games are a god way to go, as the games basically demonstrate complex, but finite processes. Their session was however a little sale-strategy heavy for a poor academic, who feels that the point is the games and their structure and function, not whether or enough Ben Sawyer is a good salesman. To this audience that may be the main point, though.

Next session was How can games change future behaviors. This was a both frustrating and interesting session. In a way this put the Serious Games approach sharply into focus for me. The speakers in the panel treated games as algorithms, as training environments and as persuasion tools. And by using all of one side of the media theory, they showed how games can be powerful and influental, and why that is the reason why they should be used by schools, the military and everybody else why might want to influence a game-friendly target group. There was absolutely no mention of the theories and studies used by other academics when arguing that games are not dangerous: in this case they wanted to prove that games can be dangerous, but with a beneficial content, they are good. Only one question really addressed this issue, when a gentleman towards the end asked a validity quesiton:
Validity questions: Teaching Americans about Arabic culture through multiplayer games, why do we find that people either behave like american, Arabians or a third party, independent of both other cultures: Gamers. How will gamers in this case learn anything but gaming culture?
A long and interesting discussion which relates to this came from the "Real Rules" post on Terra Nova.

I met two nice young men immediately after the keynote, and had their company for lunch: Jason and Dennis are both here. I also hooked up with Stuart Moulthrop and met Eric Zimmerman before I hurried up to Monet IV to catch the next session.

The last session before this blogging and breathing break (this is the least airconditioned conference in quite some time) was a panel on Game Based Approaches to Story Based Training. A refreshingly narratology and ludology approach to the role of story in games, it lacked a common understanding of what the story is in a game, how it is represented, whether stories are linear or not. The most useful distinction emerging in the panel was between embedded and emergent stories, where embedded stories are the stories built into the game while emergent stories are the stories the players perceive and create while playing. Nobody disagreed with the idea of games having stories, but I also missed some talk on how stories work as training environments - why is it so great that the games tell stories?

Now I am in a comfortable chair in the lobby, accompanying several other serious gamers who have found a place where to connect. There are all kind of computers here, but interestingly much less macs and more PCs than in the academic conferences.

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