Last month, TAG welcomed Yann Seznec, Game Designer in Residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art Game Lab in Baltimore. Yann is an artist and musician whose work focuses on sound, music, physical interaction, games, and building new instruments. At TAG he gave a super short Microtalk, participate in our weekly game night, gave a workshop and much more. He is here to tell you about his experience:
A few weeks ago I had the immense pleasure and privilege of visiting TAG to spend a week learning about what happens in the lab, meeting the people involved, and generally throwing around ideas. It’s hard to overstate what an amazing opportunity this was for me – I had first learned about TAG several years ago when I was teaching at Abertay University in Dundee, when I spent an afternoon looking up university-based game labs around the world. I was intrigued by the model TAG laid out, focusing entirely on supporting research and development (whilst most other game labs are linked primarily with undergraduate teaching activities).
So I was very pleased that as part of my current role as Game Designer in Residence at MICA I was able to spend some time in Quebec exchanging thoughts and testing out ideas – this coming after Scott de Jong’s super fun visit to Baltimore the previous week. My excitement was compounded, perhaps, by how much I love the city of Montréal – it certainly appeals to my own linguistic and cultural background, being half-French and half-American. I love places with complicated identities that require constant navigation, discussion, and compromise (perhaps it’s no accident I lived for so long in Scotland…).
I started out with a tour of the facilities to learn all about how TAG works. Gina proved to be a fantastic host, showing me all of the amazing studios around Milieux and introducing me to so many fascinating people. I was really struck by how the structural and contextual decisions made at the outset of starting an organization can guide how something develops. At MICA, for example, the game lab is really embedded into the structure of an undergraduate art school program, so we have a huge focus on teaching studio classes and helping the students learn both fundamental skills and conceptual frameworks that can guide their own creative work. Virtually all of our activities, therefore, stem from that fundamental context, and there are a number of wonderful benefits from that. I learned about a different approach at TAG (and Milieux more generally), which focuses instead on research, mainly by post-graduates, PhDs, and faculty, providing a space to work, a community to share and test ideas with, and a platform for spreading and supporting projects. This leads to a different feeling in many ways from MICA, but one with incredibly high quality output and a rhythm that isn’t as connected to the academic calendar. However I found it oddly comforting to know that different approaches stemming from fairly different situations can be equally valid and vibrant.
After my tour I settled right in, it felt surprisingly natural to just work on a few ideas and chat to everyone who came into the lab. I was very pleased to be given the opportunity to share my own work at a Microtalks event which featured some beautiful projects – I loved 2XTWEETSXMODEMSXTEXTXTWEET by Cyrus LK, which in some ways leans into the use of sound as an inefficient data transfer method, exploring how digital words can be subverted, manipulated, and distorted.
I also got to test some work-in-progress projects, which gave me a fun glimpse into the methodology and concepts that are being explored in the lab. Jess Marcotte’s physical game in a suitcase “UNLOCK. UNPACK.” was particularly interesting. I love tangible controls, and I am a great believer in the alt.ctrl movement and how physical constraints can open up new horizons of interactivity and experience, but this game managed to move beyond that by also implementing emotional artifacts from previous players who had solved the puzzles before me. It created a lovely handmade connection with everyone who had played it in the past, people who I would likely never meet but I somehow got to know by playing the game. Perhaps it’s just because I was in Quebec, but it oddly reminded me of the particularly French linguistic distinction between “savoir” (to know an idea) and “connaitre” (to know someone or something). At the end of UNLOCK. UNPACK. I felt like I both knew how to open the box (je sais maintenant comment l’ouvrir) and also I knew the people who had played it (je connais tous ceux qui l’ont joué).
As part of my stay at TAG I also got to run a mini workshop – in the spirit of testing new ideas I decided to try something entirely new, and started with a short talk about my ongoing project about Prayer Requests. Whilst we couldn’t light candles inside (a running issue with that project…) we did manage to track down a new set of prayers and use my light sensor system to listen to them in a number of different ways. It was a great chance for me to really delve into what made the project interesting for me and try out a few new things.
I did so many things during my week in Montreal that I even ended up making a list so I wouldn’t forget – other highlights that I don’t have time to write about include sitting in on one of the weekly design meetings, testing a generative murder mystery narrative game, eating a delicious lunch with TAG members, recording a podcast, playing Psychologists at the weekly gameplay session, an extended chat with Enric about alternative controller games, and probably other things I didn’t manage to put on the list!
In between all of those things I was also trying to get a little side project off the ground, which I informally started late last year – a Compendium of Unplayable Games. I love the idea of rulesets for games that can’t be played for social, physical, economic, or practical reasons…perhaps speculative games like that can reveal interesting themes and issues in a way that other creative forms can not. I got a few fantastic examples from some TAG members, so I’m going to try and put that all together in the coming weeks.
I’d like to thank everyone at TAG for being so welcoming, particularly Gina and Lynn. It was a brilliant opportunity, and I’m looking forward to seeing more wonderful things come out of a long-term friendship between MICA and TAG.