Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) is an interdisciplinary centre for research/ creation in game studies and design, digital culture and interactive art


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Notes from the Media In Transition ’10 conference

Posted by nicwatson

TAG folks made a good showing at the Media In Transition 10: Democracy and Digital Media (MIT10) conference in May, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with talks by Sarah Ganzon, Jessie Marchessault, Ryan Scheiding, and myself. The two-day event, hosted by the Comparative Media Studies department, featured fifty-four panels and over 200 speakers from around the world — it ended up being quite a bit bigger than the organizers had anticipated.

My prior conference experiences have ranged from mega-conferences like SCMS, with enough events to fill a 250+ page program booklet, to CGSA — technically one of the association sub-conferences of the ginormous Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, but with a self-contained, small-group feel (as I have described previously).

MIT10 was somewhere in the middle. It still had some of the smaller-conference feel like CGSA, in that it you would see familiar faces at each talk, and didn’t have to trek for 15 minutes to get from one panel to the next, and it was actually possible to read through the entire schedule in one sitting. People were approachable during breaks and at the reception (where they also had amazing mini-quiches!). But it was big enough that there was always something interesting going on — always at least 5-7 panels to choose from, thus avoiding one of the downsides of CGSA’s three-stream model, which is that sometimes one just isn’t interested in any of the three things going on during a time slot.

Actually, I suspect the organizers expected something more along those lines, and ended up scrambling to accommodate an overwhelming response to their CfP, with some unfortunate consequences. A couple of us found ourselves on panels under topic headings that we didn’t really feel were the best fit for our presentations. It was particularly frustrating that almost all of the panels on games-related topics were fit into the same time slot, which meant not only were the audiences fragmented (at my panel, panelists outnumbered non-panelists), but those of us who were presenting on games didn’t have the option of attending the other presentations that we most wanted to see. A multi-stream model, with talks loosely organized into topic-based streams that distribute similar subject matter to different time slots, would have been preferable. (It also didn’t help that my talk was on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the conference, on a gloriously beautiful spring day, when many of the folks who didn’t have to rush to the airport may have decided to enjoy the weather instead… and I can’t really blame them.)

My own presentation (see abstract here) was based on a slice of my dissertation research, and thus served as a kind of a test drive for my PhD defence presentation, which came a month later. It helped to hear what people wanted to know more about, and what kinds of questions they had — including those from different disciplines; that was at least somewhat useful for anticipating some of the things my examination committee would ask about.

As for the content, I talked about how Minecraft modding practices have evolved from a collection of tactical, ad-hoc solutions, to a set of highly rationalized, strategic methods, with modders co-regulating each other’s practice. A link to the full dissertation will be up on the TAG site by the end of the summer!