Blog's taken a turn towards the diary/confessional tone of late. Well, we'll see where it takes us. I'm sure I'll get the urge to get all scholarly sooner or later. And really, considering my current profession, the two overlap to a fairly high degree.
First: the conference. It was a lot of fun. Our local Game Institute meetings are a pale shadow of yesteryear, which mainly means I get much less chance to talk about videogames with my colleagues than I used to. (My roommate lends a sympathetic ear, bless her heart, but even the world's most sympathetic ear can't entirely hide the sight of eyes glazing over.) So this was a great opportunity to hear some philosophy and videogames. I think what I like most about the Canadian Game Studies Association is that it has a nice balance of age and gender--while it definitely skews towards dudes, the women and gaming panel--called "Sweetheart This Ain't Gender Studies," in a nod to Supernatural--showed how much interest there is. Anyway, I'll give you the detailed run-down on what I found interesting. It'll be detailed, because it's Saturday night and I don't have anything better to do, right? (Weeps inwardly.)
My presentation was bright and early, second on the first day. I think it went well; it was a small room, early in the day, and very little time for questions, so I don't think it got much attention, but someone nominated me for best paper, which means at least one person was impressed by it. That's incredibly gratifying; granted, there were about thirty nominees at the end of the two days, but honestly--cliche as it sounds--it was an honor just to be nominated. On the same panel, there was a friend of mine from Waterloo presenting on "Gone Home," from a narrative archaeology perspective, and she made a good enough case of it that I was finally convinced to play it. I guess I've been holding out in some sense of game scholar "you can't tell me what to play." Also on the panel was a guy presenting on violence in "Harvester," which sounds like creepiest game ever.
After the break, I attended a film studies / CGSA panel on Bioshock, but one that focused more on its reception than the game per se. Jessica Aldred presented on Levine's positioning as an aueteur designer, especially in light of the rumored Bioshock movie. Eben Holmes presented on katabasis in Bioshock, which basically means a descent, and I was terminally distracted for the rest of the presentation thinking about videogames that had the player work through particularly grueling ascents or descents. The ones that came to mind were the Tower of the Magi in Final Fantasy VII; the bonus dungeon in Final Fantasy Tactics; various locations in Dark Souls, spanning both upwards and downwards; the pinnacles in Assassin's Creed. Definitely feels like I'm doing more heights than depths there. Hmmm. At any rate, it just feels like the player has accomplished more when the game explicitly has a vertical aspect to their progress. Rounding out that panel was Felan Parker's "Bioshock and its Critics," which expanded on some of the issues he raised in his First Person Scholar piece. Free plug!
After lunch was the keynote from Jennifer Whitson, which looked at her experience working alongside one of Montreal's game incubators, and the kind of terrifying success rate of indie developers for free to play (failure rate may be a more accurate term). Next, I attended the aforementioned gender panel. It's always eye-opening to be reminded of all the things I don't have to face, in part because I refuse to play online games, but mostly because I'm a white male in a white male dominated field. One of the best things to come out of the presentation is that I learned about a new (new to me) game scholar, Professor Kishonna Gray, who's done a lot of interesting work on race and gender as playing as a black woman on Xbox Live. Worth checking her out.
Finally, the last set of the day that I attended was a panel on the PC Engine, a fairly obscure (by Western standards) machine that rose to prominence in Japan during the Famicom/Sega Megadrive era. Martin Picard introduced it generally, Mikael Julien looked at the eroge form that flourished in the market (though this was stuff mostly for titillation rather than narrative, coming out largely before the visual novel's heyday), and Carl Therrien's study of the cutscene, where he made the general point that it has a history that predates Final Fantasy VII, a history that often gets ignored for a focus on techology and graphics. I'm not one for platform studies, for the most, part it was a good reminder of how gaps exist in the popular game history narratives.
The last thing of the day before the two hour ride home was the President's Reception, at which we hung out for a few hours. I'm terrible at such events; I really should have stayed longer, and gotten to know a few more people, but I had the welcome excuse of a ride home waiting for me. Take that, attempts to socialize! Although, to be serious, I did meet a few people, most notably a FPS editor who, prior to this, had always been a presence on the other end of a phone. Nice to put a face to the disembodied voice.
Day 2 and a list of all the many, many papers I wish I could have attended but missed, tomorrow.