Monday, March 22, 2004

Activities at the Game Developers' Conference, 2004

San Jose, California

GDC 2004 was as it always is -- a huge extravaganza most of which I don't have enough time to see. This year was particularly tough: I had so many meetings that I only got to three sessions!

The first was the Serious Games Summit, a follow-on to last year's Serious Games Roundtables. Last year I was invited to give the closing remarks at the Academic Summit, and this year I gave them here. The event was packed with people -- the first half day was standing room only. It quickly became apparent what a diverse group it was: people from the military; from corporate training; from K-12 education; from higher education; from public advocacy groups, government, advertising, and health care. The overall message of the event was, "Games can solve problems," which I thought was an excellent tagline.

The second event I got to was the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, now in its third fascinating year. There was another report from Chris Hecker about the results of the most recent Indie Game Jam, which this time concentrated on games using 2-D physics. Robin Hunicke gave a great short talk on the use of time in games, and there was a neat (and even commercial) game called Katamari Damaci that involved rolling a ball around, picking up more and more stuff like a snowball. But by far my favorite item was an Integrated Development Environment named Rapunsel, designed to teach programming to girls ages 12-13. The creators realized that socializing is a significant aspect of young girls' lives, and programming is often unattractive to them because it's an isolated activity. They countered this by creating an IDE that includes a chat window and the ability to see other people’s code and its output. Programming becomes a social activity in which the girls can help each other and offer suggestions. Brilliant.

The final session I went to was my own lecture, "The Philosophical Roots of Computer Game Design." It was at the very end of the conference, but I'm happy to say that it attracted a standing-room-only crowd and seemed to go over well even though it was too short. My thesis was that computer game development is an activity requiring both technological, rational, classical thought and imaginative, aesthetic, romantic thought. This isn't news, of course, but my observation is that we concentrate far too much on the former and not enough on the latter -- technological determinism permeates every aspect of our work. As a result our works are sadly out of balance. We try to achieve romantic ends by classical means, and that’s an extremely difficult thing to do. You can read the lecture at the link above.