GameCity 31st October 2008

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Finished work at 12, today. The ludic compass on my feet suddenly activated itself and set itself a course for the various venues of GameCity. I've been to the last two iterations of GameCity and loved them. Nottingham Trent and GameCity have always had much to do with each other and that is happy news for me. Somehow, this GameCity, however, falls slightly short of the high expectations raised by last year's event. The keynotes are pretty much the same as the first year and this time, there's no Keita Takahashi and Alexei Pazhitnov. Moreover, instead of the beautiful Broadway, it's moved to the darker confines of the nightclub GateCrasher. Not that I'm being posh (maybe just a tad) but to me this encourages the perception of games as being a marginal part of culture or 'teenybopper activities' as they have been unjustly perceived. That marginal feeling grew stronger when I visited the new home of this year's Indiecade exhibition: at the back room of The Malt Cross (a Nottingham pub), almost impossible to find and with the games huddled together in uncomfortable groups of three.

Gamecity, however, never fails to charm. Attended a curry lunch cum lecture on the BBFC's game rating system. It was a good event and the speaker Jim Cliff certainly knew his videogames well. What his talk revealed was how difficult it is to create the parameters by which one judges videogames. The BBFC, PEGI, ESRB and the rating systems all over the world vary so much in their notions of appropriateness that the standards for videogames emerge as a very complex issue. I was quite entertained by Cliff's examples of the alien-human sex scene in Mass Effect that got a 12 rating and the Simpsons game which got 'pg' even though it mentions words like 'milf' etc. The games that did get more restrictive ratings (15+) were ones that showed a lot of realistic human gore. According to Cliff, the difference in perceptions about ratings is vast: in Germany, apparently, this isn't as much of an issue and the ratings are affected all that much because of portrayals of violence and in France, portrayals of sex are even more leniently judged than by the BBFC or PEGI. Finally, that bit of shooting those lilliputian humans from the helicopters cannon (so shockingly close to reality) is apparently classifiable as 12 +. It should be normal for thirteen year-olds to be able to consider blowing up fellow human beings if they look tiny enough; if you have a problem letting your kids shoot at point-blank range , give them a chopper fitted with cannons from which they can shoot like gods. Like Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now they won't mind smelling napalm in the mornings. Classification, it seems, has a long way to go: first, however, we need to make up our minds about what really is violence.

As I was musing about Cliff's extremely thought-provoking presentation and teasing out its deeper implications,I happened to meet another very interesting and surprisingly not-so-well-known (in the UK at least) gaming personage. I bumped into Gerard Jones, the author of the best-selling Killing Monsters and was lucky to be able to spend a very interesting hour discussing his book, zombies, player psychology and of course, my pet topic - narratives in videogames. I did not know of Killing Monsters before meeting him; now, it seems a must-read. Jones, of course, concentrates more on Quake and Doom, with a brief discussion of Half Life. We were speaking of perceiving monsters as the 'other' and whether it is a different experience to shoot humans than it is to shoot monsters in a game.

Talking of monsters, I had an interesting zombie-experience while sitting in Starbucks. A woman in zombie fancy-dress (going to the zombie competition in GameCity)suddenly emerged from the ladies' and for a split second, i was in another world madly looking for that shotgun.

Then, of course, my lunch break was over.

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