On Gameloop: Boston 2012

I went to Gameloop.

I had a multitude of reasons for going. I wanted to go hang out in Boston and meet a lot of people that I knew from the internet. I also wanted to talk to people who make games. I feel very strongly that the people who study games need to make an effort to understand the conditions, technologies, and cultural assumptions that make up the industry that provides them with the products that they study. I want to avoid what Eugene Thacker calls “vapor theory” –theory about material things that divorces itself entirely from material reality.

Going to Gameloop is all about making myself a better, smarter academic, but there is something magical about the entire encounter. The Boston game crowd made me feel incredibly welcome, and I honestly think that some amazing stuff came out of the sessions that I attended. Obviously, I’m going to break out some specific information below.

Before I get into the exegesis of my notes, I want you to know that James Schirmer has already transcibed some extensive notes on the conference. He scribbled away at a superhuman pace during the sessions, and if there are any differences between what I am about to write and his Field Notes-written craft, you should probably default to his account as The Truth.

So, without more preamble, I am going to write down the talks that I went to and what I remember about them. All of the titles are approximations; I didn’t write them down for some reason.

~*~

Art Games From a Game Design Perspective led by Alex Myers

The impetus for the talk was a frustration on Myers’ part. His personal experience with discussions of art games at conferences has generally been focused on the question “How do we get our games in galleries?” Being committed to smashing the gallery myth, Myers’ was instead interested in talking about art games and how we can make more artistic games that exist in the same lived space as all of the other games that we play.

The talk made an early move to talk about interactivity, as Myers claimed that the “21st century change is interactive design.” I think this is a brilliant political move as far as the efficacy of art in games is concerned, and so I was really charged when he said that “playing a game is about a player being in control and not a designer.” While I’m not sure that I agree in total, it was at least refreshing to hear someone take a hardline stance on the player-game relationship.

The last half of the conversation gravitated toward good examples of art games, or art that makes use of game design principles, or meditations on what games are, so I am going to end by linking to as many of the things that were mentioned as I wrote down.

Also, another random quote that I wrote down from someone: “Subversion is a crutch.”

~*~

Game Conferences Suck led by Courtney Stanton

This session was, generally, about the various discriminatory practices that make game conferences difficult, and hostile toward, a number of minority populations. I was interested in the topic because it is an issue across disciplines and industries–as James Schirmer pointed out in the session itself, academic conferences rarely take things like discrimination seriously (e.g. the backlash that the Gendered Conference Campaign has experienced).

I also think it was important that fewer than half of the people in the room had any experience in the games industry–there was no interest in hearing about possible issues of access to a games conference at a games conference, which saddens me to no end.

I feel like two major points came out of the session:

1. It is absolutely possible for discriminatory practices to change. For example, there are basic practices that are easy for any conference to accomplish in order to make the conference a safer space in regards to sexual violence. An anti-harassment policy is a great place to start (look for GDC’s harassment policy and be shocked when you can’t find it).

2. We should begin to think new forms of conference. John Richardson pointed out that there are serious issues with travel for a number of people who he has worked with through AbleGamers, and that expanding the notion of “conference” into the digital realm could help give a number of people a feeling of authentic community without putting them through undue economic and physical stress.

Additionally, Alex Myers and Darius Kazemi brought up the fact that they attempt to do specific kinds of outreach through the game design courses that they have taught.

~*~

Video Games and Philosophy led by Darius Kazemi

This was an informal session that was thrown up between sessions. There wasn’t much time, so we ended up going around in a circle and saying what we were interested in as far as the intersection of the two topic areas. I mumbled something about nonhumans and how I think that video game ethics can point us in good directions, particularly in how we interact with opaque beings like animals.

I remember being both pleased and bored in equal measure with the responses that were given, but I really enjoyed Alex Myers’ response to “why are you here?” (it was also the only one I wrote down). He said he was interested in “the nonmeaning of spaces that are only existent because of meaning.” Total brilliance.

~*~

Games That Hate You led by Cameron Kunzelman (me)

I proposed this session based on my own research interest in games that hate the player; specifically, games that try their hardest to eject the player from the experience. This talk was more organic than most of the others that I went to, and that is probably because I had very little prepared, ever definitionally. However, it went very well, with most of the people in the room at least attempting to come down to some agreement about what it means for a game to “hate” the player. Obviously, that is an impossibility, but there was a valiant effort made.

Over the course of the hour, the tone of the conversation oscillated from high theory to “armchair” levels of critique and comment, which worked at the time, but isn’t really worth writing down here. The room settled on some basic facts about games that hate the player, including the idea that a game can do basically anything to a player as long as it respects the player’s time.

There are a couple of direct quotes that I wrote down during the session, both of which carry some of the lines of argument that the session ended on. Joel McCoy stated that “nothing a game can do to you is unfair,” from which he moved into an argument about metagaming. The player always has the ability to transcend the problems, and the very medium, of a game. In this paradigm, a player could be faced with a situation where she would be forced to hack the cart to win a game and it would still be considered “fair.” I have to admit that I find this appealing. Another argument made in the closing moments was from Josh Diaz, who said that “unfairness is a design failure of communication.” That is, if you ever feel like a game is being unfair to you, there was a problem in the design.

Some games mentioned in the session:

  • Demon’s Souls/ Dark Souls
  • Spelunky
  • The Void
  • Mega Man 2
  • Super Meat Boy

~*~

Women In Games led by Courtney Stanton

This session started with the decree that we were not going to be talking about fictional women in video games. Not huge breast sizes or Bayonetta. Instead, we were going to talk about real women in the workplace in the games industry, which led to some really great practical results from the talk. The session broke down into three main parts.

1. How To Be An Ally – The topic opened with a question about how to get more female applicants in video game companies. There were various answers; you can actively recruit women, you can put women in charge of hiring, and you can make sure that your office seems like a positive place for women to work. From there the conversation moved into how a person, particularly men, can be better allies in the workplace. One way is to take concerns that women have seriously–for example, not immediately denying that a woman might be being discriminated against. An extension of that is airing concerns about sexism in the workplace; one participant remarked that it took very little cultural capital for him to express his distaste and anger about sexism at the office and that he did it often.

2. Methods of Resistance – I don’t have a better word than “resistance” for this strain of argument in the talk. One participant said that a woman in the games workplace had to “out-man the men” in that she had to become more commanding and put up with less bullshit in order to be taken seriously. Another person responded that she often had to force coworkers to look her in the eye while she was speaking. Yet another participant, an educator, explained that she had to act differently sometimes with students so that they would respect her expertise in the classroom. There were various responses to these methods, both positive and negative, throughout the session.

3. How To Get Women Into The Industry – This part of the session was mostly led by Zoe Quinn, and it dealt with the various ways that she ran intros to game development while attempting to stave off unsavory parts of game culture. This included running “socials” where she brought the women she was mentoring and teaching into social monitored social situations to make sure that they were not being harassed or experiencing pushback or harassment.

All three of those conversations produced results and experiential knowledge that gave me ways of combating sexism in the games industry, and I was really happy about that.

~*~

PR Disasters led by Maddy Myers

I didn’t take notes for this session. I was burning out. I’m sorry.

I can tell you what I remember. Myers gave a fifteen minute talk about the things that game studios should and should not do when it comes to a PR disaster. The two big categories, as I remember, were that a post-gaffe studio should either quickly apologize or remain totally silent on an issue. Most studios end up denying allegations of sexism, racism, etc. at length and digging a hole big enough for their entire company + Activision to fit inside of.

They shouldn’t do that.

The latter third of the session devolved into discussions of specific PR disasters and what studios should have done. From my perspective, it seemed like those questions were unanswerable. I don’t know what could have gone differently–what made the Medal of Honor killing of American soldiers different from the “No Russian” response? They were totally different events, and there can be no blanket response. Myers was really up front about that, and I was sad to see people hitting her with examples when she was very clear that she wasn’t a PR expert who could solve all the problems in the world.

~*~

I left for the airport a little too early, and so I had a sad wait for my plane. I drew this weird little comic about my experience at Gameloop. As you can see, it is terrible; my art skills are objectively bad. But the whole thing comes from the heart, and maybe you can see a little glimpse into the pure joy that I experienced at Gameloop.

You can click to make it bigger, I think.

~*~

And that was Gameloop 2012 for me. I loved the experience of being there. I met some amazing people and solidified some great friendships. I plan on going again next year. I hope to see you there.

This entry was posted in Video Games and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Gameloop: Boston 2012

  1. Ben Abraham says:

    That was a cool comix

Comments are closed.