I just got back from the Philosophy of Computer Games Conference in Madrid last night and despite the jetlag, I have to say it was a really worthwhile experience. It reminded a bit of the Under the Mask conference I attended in Luton last year in terms of the intimate and fairly relaxed atmosphere. Small rooms, Spanish hours (meaning everything starts 30-60 minutes late) and frequent breaks all seemed to contribute to this. It was a great chance to meet people and I managed to connect with a number of researchers who are or have been working on topics related to my own research, including Mei Si from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Juan Belmonte from University of Murcia, and Souvik Mukherjee, who I met in Luton.
There was a wide range of topics covered – as might be expected from a theme as broad as “the nature of player experience” – including talks on embodied cognition, zero-player games, aesthetic experiences, relations between players and avatars, Hindu philosophy, (critiques of) immersion, ethics, and phenomenology.
For a small group, Montreal was well represented. Aside from myself, Mia Consalvo, Maude Bonenfant, and Dominic Arsenault also presented. Mia gave a bittersweet rendition of the fascinating work she and Jason Begy have done on the closure of the MMOG Faunasphere, while Maude and Dominic talked about the aesthetic experience of gameplay and introduced an interesting distinction between the pregnant moment (or the moment of suspense) and the moment of grace (resolution) that I had never considered in relation to videogames before. My own talk was titled “Ethical Advocates in Dragon Age: Origins” and was focused on the ethical perspectives of the companions (party members) in DAO and their relations with the player’s character.
Other highlights for me included Gordon Calleja’s keynote on different forms of involvement and incorporation, which he proposed as an alternative to the more nebulous term immersion. Souvik’s talk on simultaneity and avatars in Hindu philosophy/videogames, and Paul Martin’s phenomenological account of playing avatar-based games also helped me to rethink identification and the link between virtual and physical bodies. I think props are also due to Staffan Björk and Andreas Greggerson for interesting talks and their ability and willingness to ask lots of interesting questions. Grame Kirkpatrick’s keynote on the aesthetics of videogames and his assertion that games are cynical and nihilistic (or encourage these experiences) was also notable, largely because of the number of objections it raised from the crowd.
The conference venues were fascinating in and of themselves. The first day took place in an old slaughterhouse that has since been converted into a community media center, while the second and third days took us to a triangle shaped building called the MediaLab Prado. Oh yes and the food was delicious – particularly the paella, the calamari, and the octopus.
So to sum up, I would definitely recommend this conference for anyone who’s looking for a relaxed environment and is interested in fairly eclectic mix of ideas and approaches. You might also get more out of it if you’re more familiar with philosophy than I am, as there were a lot of terms and references thrown out there that I only half understood. That being said, the people that have been to multiple editions informed us that every year is different, so be prepared for that. Next time, there might not be any paella.