Travel problems aside, the Montreal conference was great. The focus was on games and storytelling. To be honest, it's not the approach I would have taken, mostly because it's an approach that seems to be taken so often. But what marked this conference was the way it went about the discussion. Essentially, each panel focused one on four games: Assassin's Creed, The Graveyard, Mass Effect II, and Amnesia: The Descent, with David Cage as a keynote speaker to talk about Heavy Rain. Each panel had two academics, but also someone from the game industry who worked on the game's story. That meant we had writers from Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect II, Thomas Grip from Frictional Games, and Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn from Tale of Tales. And registration was open, for the first 250 people who registered, which meant a lot of those in attendance were from the fan side of things. In other words, we had an extremely diverse group of people talking together. That kind of opportunity is valuable, I think.
In terms of the papers, they were all reasonably good. The fan-oriented questions were a little eye-rolling, especially since many of them asked questions that weren't strictly relevant to the proceedings or basically repeated what someone else already said (ex, Assassin's Creed: How do you balance the Desmond story sequences? followed by Why is Desmond so bland?), and I think even David Cage was a little embarrassed by the number of questions that started "thank you for making this game." But the scholarly discussion was top notch. Certain moments were a little embarrassing for me, personally, on account of my mono-linguist skills; some presentations were in French and the translator occasionally gave up entirely, which left me a little in the dark. I suppose my favorite papers were the ones on spatial exploration in Assassin's Creed, and the visceral elements of horror in Amnesia.
What I really got out of the conference, though, was a chance to meet and talk to some of the big scholars in the field. Admittedly, I'm not the most outgoing person at a conference; it takes some time for me to get comfortable with everyone. But this time around, I met a few people, and made some connections--largely thanks to my supervisor's prodding, I'll admit. To break into self-indulgent bragging, I personally met Bart Simon (director of TAG), Brian Greenspan (director of the Carleton Hyperlab), Nick Montfort ("Twisty Little Passages," "Chasing the Beam"), Mia Consalvo (whom I've discussed previously here), and Bernard Perron ("Horror video games: essays on the fusion of fear and play.") I particularly fear I came off as a babbling idiot to Consalvo, considering that my self-introduction included the phrase "I'm probably going to sound like a babbling idiot." As far as my list of "Gaming Scholars I Must Meet," after I saw Bogost at the 2009 SLSA, the big names left now are Mark J. P. Wolfe and Jesper Juul.
But more than just establishing basic connections (and I'm not going to fool myself into thinking I really developed anything beyond that), the sessions, especially those on the second day, granted some opportunities to really get deep into some game talk with people who know what they're talking about. A chance to talk about Dead Rising with Bernard Perron, who is generally regarded as THE expert on horror video games, for example, was an incredibly useful opportunity for me. And the indie developers, from Frictional Games and Tale of Tales, were extremely forthcoming in their views on what stories in games can and should be.
So to sum up the entire less-than-48-hours actually in Montreal trip: traveling sucks. But meeting people and ideas is worth it.
I would like to point out that this is the first time in ages I've actually finished one of these "trip series." Doing them all at once seems to help.
Next post: something special to celebrate a momentous occasion.