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Brief Reflections on CGSA 2016

Posted by nicwatson

Last month I presented at the Canadian Game Studies Association (CGSA) annual conference at the University of Calgary. This was my first time attending, so here are a few words here about the experience.

CGSA combines together the benefits of big and small conferences. It’s attached to Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is huge, consisting of dozens of association sub-conferences, hundreds of talks/panels/workshops, and thousands of attendees. But each of the sub-conferences functions as a semi-self-contained unit. The whole thing is over a week long, massive, and frantic, but the CGSA enclave is chill, quiet, and lasts for a quite manageable three days (which certainly helps keep hotel costs down).

I didn’t try attending any of the other associations’ symposia, but I don’t think there was anything stopping me from doing so. I don’t think anybody carefully checks badges to make sure you’re a member of the matching association for each talk you attend. In other words, if you’re interested in other non-game topics in the humanities and social sciences, you can avail yourself of the whole range of what Congress has to offer.

The CGSA talks were scheduled into three concurrent streams. Most events were in a traditional presentation + panel form: three or four people make their presentations, and then they all return for a Q&A discussion. There were also several game demos, which made for a nice, hands-on change of pace between the more abstract and theoretical presentations.

The schedule occasionally led to difficult choices between conflicting panels, but also meant that there was almost always something of interest going on. TAG and mLab students made quite a good showing, with Rebecca, Kalervo, Will, Gina, Jess, Squinky, Sylvain, Ryan, and I all delivering presentations (sorry if I missed anyone in that list!).

One of the best aspects of the small conference format was that there were ample opportunities to meet folks in game studies at other universities: I got to know grad students from York, Waterloo, U Alberta, and even two students who came all the way from Austria! On the first evening there, the Association held a kickoff dinner at Big T’s Barbecue restaurant, which was a great way to break the ice and get an idea of who you’re going to be seeing around the conference, while also sampling the local flavours. More informally, on the eve of the last day of the conference, a sizeable group of us spent a few hours chatting and playing board games over drinks.

While CGSA is attended by some of the leading game studies scholars in Canada, I find that it still makes for a nice platform for students who don’t have a lot of past experience presenting at academic conferences. The smaller group, non-pretentious atmosphere, general sense of camaraderie, and the ability to rely on the support and advice of your own peers, all make for a relatively low-pressure environment in which to both share your own research and network with colleagues.

Congress 2017 (and therefore CGSA) will be held at Ryerson University in Toronto – a nice, leisurely train ride away. I hope to see plenty of TAGsters there next year!