GameCity in Retrospect: Polemics and Playgrounds
Newport and Narratives
Once again, on the top of the list will be my conversations with the academics and students from the Uni of Newport's game design department. For the last three years, busloads of students from Newport have come to GameCity and this time they showcased their games to hundreds of visitors. I didn't get to see the games themselves but managed to chat with some of the designers (now famous as Angry Mango Games) over a curry lunch. They are designing games about concepts that are offbeat in game design terms: Mush is a platform puzzler for Windows Mobile 7 where the player controls an orange fluffy character by tilting the phone. Even more unique is that by drawing a smiley or a sad face on the screen with your fingers makes the creature move. As the Blitz1UP website describes it:
The beauty of this system is that you really feel like you're affecting the little guy's emotions as you play, you find yourself smiling when you make him smile and growling when you make him angry - it really is fantastic fun.I think I'll love this game. Obviously, in terms of narrative the experience is rather ambiguous but as I've always said narrative is experiential and how we construct it around a series of potential events depends on us. I wish I could experience the game first-hand but meanwhile there's a video of the gameplay on Youtube:
From the pupils to their lecturers: the previous evening I met up with the Newport teaching team, namely Corrado, James and Richard. This was the first ever occasion when I had a very serious discussion on videogame narratives in a Wetherspoons . Facing tremendous opposition from each other in a debate between James and myself that was moderated by Corrado and Richard, we came to an agreement about the need to redefine / understand what narrative means and to move towards an experiential model of narrative. Perception, affection and action - does that sound familiar at all (check Deleuze in Cinema 1)? The experiential notion of narrativity (if such a word exists) is something that I have highlighted extensively in my research and of course, it is sooo hard to disagree with a polite person like me. Anyway, Corrado has played STALKER (or valiantly tried to) and we both remembered having discussed the gameplay in relation to ludic agency about a year ago at DiGRA. We were dangerously close to another polemical discussion of agency when both the food and the drink had run out and it was time to leave.
I've written about Keita Takahashi sometime ago. For those who don't know him, he's the designer for the ever popular Katamari Damarcy and Noby Noby Boy games. Very offbeat, very artistic and not at all like videogames as they are commonly understood.
Anyway, Keita's dream is to design playgrounds. And thanks to Iain Simons (GameCity Director) and the Nottingham City Council, he's re-designing Woodthorpe Park on the outskirts of Nottingham. As Keita demonstrated his transition from designing virtual worlds to physical spaces while retaining all the creativity, the talk on Keita's playground became for me the highlight of GameCity. Imagine having benches in parks that move on rails (which means you can't ask your gf to meet you at a certain bench at a certain time), a doughnut-shaped slide that lets you slide eternally (might sound like a punishment invented by the Greek gods but it seemed to be fun as it was described), a swing that is operated in a partnership with people on other swings and finally, a slide combined with a see-saw. Some of Keita's concepts might not pass muster with health and safety but I must say these are some of the wackiest ideas that I have ever come across for parks and playgrounds. It was interesting to see some very gamey creativity translated into more tangible play experiences. I wish Keita and the Woodthorpe Park project the very best. Finally, if he ever designs an entire city, I will go and live in it.
One of the many fun things in Keita Takahashi's playground
Networking Not working
The 'Notworking' event where I met the Newport guys among others was supposed to be a networking space for game professionals. Hosted in a hard-to-find bar called Nihon the not working title was quite apt for it. Nevertheless, the nature of the event meant that that despite the lack of any 'event' as such people did get to meet and chat so it turned out okay, I suppose.
After a full 8.30 to 5 Thursday, I was in no mood for any encounter however romantic but curiosity got the better of me and I went to check out the only GameCity event by an NTU student. Doing her PhD on interactive media, Rebecca from the College of Art & Design organised a virtual meeting place within its real counterpart in Lee Rosy's Cafe in Nottingham. I was allowed to talk to some of the participants in the 'romantic encounter' to find out what they thought of the event. The environment looked very Second Life -ish ... it probably was an SL scenario. The event had participants adopt fictitious personae and interact with each other in the cafe in a sort of group chat. While initially interested, some of the participants I interviewed seemed to have been tired towards the end --- the need for virtual seats was strongly felt. Also people wanted to sit down in pairs and talk to their partners instead of talking to everyone in the cafe. Finally, there were some clamours for more freedom - people wanted to touch things, order coffee etc. Personally, although I've seen this done before in other places but such 'encounters' between the real and virtual worlds are always intriguing in the variety of responses that one can get.
What I missed ...
I missed a lot, sadly. My one big gripe against the festival is that it does not think of people who have to do a day job but are also interested in videogames. So what did I miss? I missed a great event on the soundtrack of Limbo, another one on the music for the forthcoming Harry Potter game, a very popular demo event for the Kinect and let's see ... yes, Jonathan Blow on game design. Quite a lot of misses considering that this might well be my last GameCity.
'Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material [...] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning' - Italo Calvino