This past weekend I attended the “Experiencing Stories with/in Digital Games” Colloquium, which was hosted here at Concordia as part of Entretiens Jacques Cartier 2011. Here are some of the highs and lows (mostly highs) as I saw it.
One of the highlights from the EJC conference for me was definitely hearing the perspective of Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn from Tale of Tales. They are really pushing the boundaries in terms of how we think about and define videogames. Their approach to games as an artistic medium was refreshing, and provided an interesting counterpoint to the industry model, which generally treats games as products first and foremost. Their arguments, I thought, were well-founded and they had no trouble distinguishing what they liked about most games (very little) from what they didn’t. It was also interesting to get an inside perspective (what little escaped from the shackles of non-disclosure agreements) on how writers in big companies approach their work, or should I say craft? While it didn’t exactly encourage me to take up videogame writing as a career, it did help to demystify the process for me. It’s no wonder so many games are so similar to each other when so much of it is based on what developers think we want, which is inevitably based on what we already have.
Among the academic presentations, I was especially struck by Darren Wershler’s talk on circulation studies and Brian Greenspan’s treatment of NPCs as political agents. Both of these talks were part of the Assassin’s Creed panel, and while I haven’t played the game, I’m now planning to play it just so I can watch the flow of the crowd. Marcel O’Gormon’s talk on infinity and finitude changed my perspective on borders in games, which I have been thinking about for a while now in relation to quests. Bernard Perron’s argument that mood prepares us for emotion, and Sébastian Genvo’s concept of playability and éthos ludique were also good take-aways.
The only downside to making popular games like Mass Effect the subject of a panel: we can’t always suppress our inner fan. As a result, much of the talk was directed more at highlighting what makes this game great, rather than critically investigating the role of narrative in the game. The same might be said of Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
The student roundtables the following day were extremely useful for me personally. I was able to get a lot of constructive feedback on my own thesis work, which is related to quests in Dragon Age: Origins, as well as discovering what some of my peers are up to. Listening to the various presenters debate the finer points of narrative, meaning, character, agency, etc. was fantastic, and even after a few days of reflection, I’m still trying to process everything I (hopefully) took in. Thanks to Bart, Lynn, Bernard, Jason, and all the other organizers and volunteers that made this happen – it really was a great event and a weekend well spent.