This is one of those cases when the further we get from the original event, the less likely I am to remember anything ever. So let's get back to business. When we last saw our stalwart conference goer (me), he was finishing day one of his conference experience. Let's see what happens next.
(Incidentally, I find it kind of hilarious that if you google "cgsa" the first five or so results refer to the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association, which means that the Canadian Game Studies Association has less Internet presence than an association whose big yearly event is their International Turfgrass Conference & Trade Show. It's definitely a number two position that deflates the ego.)
The second day of the conference marked my second day of getting up before 6 am, a situation which is entirely untenable in the long term; I think I'm still walking around half-dazed. Still, our intrepid driver once again made the journey from Waterloo to St. Catherine's, and we were soon on our way--this time, we were a little faster through a construction area, so we didn't have the same problem of almost showing up late. And the good happenings streak continued: the conference organizers gave out complimentary breakfast bars and lego Simpsons characters. I got Mr Burns. Granted, some conferences have catered breakfasts, rather than bars and lego, but on the whole, I'm happy with all the choices that were made.
The first panel was a little out of my subject area, with two presentations on using games in education at an elementary and high school, which I respect as a significant issue, but I'm not personally very invested in. The third presentation, though, was right up my alley--Mark Johnson on the Semiotics of the Rougelike. Johnson has uploaded the slides for the presentation on his blog, at the bottom of this post. His argument that ASCII-graphic roguelikes (essentially, procedurally generated games using letters as graphics where there's no saving) have to be semiotically organized was very convincing, to the point where I think I want to discuss the modern roguelike briefly in my own dissertation. It's very good stuff. And his own game, Ultima Ratio Regum, looks to be this wonderfully complex example of the genre.
After that, I attended a panel essentially composed of First Person Scholar alumni. First was Jason Hawreliak, with an essay on videogames and terror management study; I've heard Jason talk on the subject before, and it's nice to see him progress further in these directions. Megan Blythe Adams talked about collectible death and cuteness in dying in games, with Long Live the Queen as the object text. It was a brilliant study (there's a reason Adams came in second in "best paper" voting), and one that I'm itching to extend to something like Dead Rising or Disgaea; there's a certain amount of play in death and evil in videogames, and Adams makes a compelling case for why that's so. This was followed by Marc A. Ouellette's (the non-FPS contributor) presentation on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and the documentary The War Games. It's not a comparison I would have thought of--but that's because I never heard of The War Games before. I think there's a lot of profitable juxtapositions to be made in terms of videogames and other media, and I'm glad the "no narratives allowed--games must be games" idea isn't stopping that from happening. Finally, to finish the panel with a flourish, we've got Rob Parker on roguelikes; it's really a thorny issue, definition-wise, but he did a good job at picking out the roses. (Does this metaphor work? Eh, it works enough.)
Then it was lunch. Lunch is good.
Next was the second keynote, Carl Therrien on videogame history. Essentially, Therrien wanted to illustrate how complicated videogame history was, on every level. Say you want to preserve a game. But the original parts are wearing out, and any replacements can be pricey or even impossible. Okay, then, you use emulators. But then you get into questions of legality. And you have to deal with the fact that emulators aren't perfect imitations; many are given better graphics to allows smoother running, or are trying to replicate sound technology no longer available. You can record the actions of the community, but that requires a decision (or maybe many, many small decisions) on what a game community is. In short, it's complicated.
The first panel after lunch was a bit of a mixed bag--not in quality, but in subject. We had Negin Dahya presenting on the results of a pilot project where teenage boys played Gone Home. To be honest, this was more interesting than the earlier education-based stuff I was talking about; maybe it's because the game in question is less about teaching motor skills and more about exploring social issues. In a related vein, Sara Mathieu-C presented her early efforts to gamify sexual education for teenagers, one of those subjects that are vitally important, but have people walk around on eggshells and basically throw themselves out of windows to avoid, because it's so hard to talk about. Sarah Thorne presented on Home and the issues of narration it raises. Home is an interesting case in game narrative, because it really gives the players the tools to close the narration themselves, without them even knowing it, in some cases. Finally, we had Graham MacLean presenting on the pen and paper game Polaris, which sounds like a fairly cataclysmic tabletop experience, for someone who wants their role-playing to take on a tragic epic turn.
Finally, with the last panel, there was a special session on academic publishing in game studies. The topic veered into issues of tenure and getting a tenure-track job, which is always depressing, since most of us won't. But the day wound up with the reception and annual meeting, which was a good time.
All in all, one of the best conferences I've been to. It's pretty typical that I'll go to a conference and there will be one or two papers in my area; here, everything is, in one way or another, and that's really gratifying to see.
Oh--almost forgot. I promised a list of all the many, many presentations I wanted to see but didn't have the chance. Keep in mind that this list is incomplete, and based largely on the titles, which isn't necessarily a fair indicator of content. Ahem:
On the Conception of Game Time: the Video Game as the Art of Suspended Time in Space by Charlotte Bonmati-Mullins
Mapping Metroid: Narrative, Space, and Other M by Luke Arnott
Uncovering the Pirate Archive(s): an examiantion of Fan Preservation aned Archival Practice Skott Demming
Assuming Indirect Control: New Techniques To Capture Collective Playbour and Reduce Risk Austin Walker
Gotta Catch Em' All: The Compelling Act of Creature Collection in Pokemon, Ni No Kuni, Shin Megami Tensei, and World of Warcraft Sonja Sapach
Self-Regulation as a System: Policing Pornographic Video Games in Japan Jeremie Gagnon
Visual Novels and the International Fandom Community Domini Gee
From Pain to Pleasure: An Exploration of Rape Fantasy in Japanese Boys' Love Visual Novels Tsugumi (Mimi) Okabe
Dust to Dust: The Empire of Spectres and Speculations in Kentucky Route Zero Daniel Joseph
Equal opportunity Murder: Assassin/s Creed, games of Empire, Colonial Strategies and Tactical Responses Pierson Browne
Man, what a list. The conference not taken, eh?