Meaningful Play 2008, Day 3

The conference draws to a close.

Thankfully, the final day of the conference was a “half day”, though it only lacked one session relative to the previous two days, and added a catered lunch (instead of a longer break at that time), plus a short period at the end for game awards and conference closing.

The morning keynote was The Play of Persuasion: Why “Serious” Isn’t the Opposite of Fun, by Nick Fortugno of Rebel Monkey. He began his speech by addressing the myth that “serious” means that a game is not fun, compelling, or engaging. Then, he set about dispelling this myth through analysis of three representative games: Shadow Of The Colossus, an artgame which implements a classic tragedy; PeaceMaker, a serious game that presents a message; and McDonalds Video Game, a propaganda game with a statement to make.

The next two periods were devoted to an extended paper session, From the Keyboard to the Game Board (Parts 1 and 2), which ran non-stop for 135 minutes and still was running short on time. However, all seven papers were worthwhile, and the session as a whole was excellent. Better, the audience was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about board games, in addition to digital games. Briefly…

Brian Magerko discussed the work of The Digital Tabletop in analyzing the game mechanics of designer board games, presenting case studies of some popular board games.
Brian Hayden detailed the development process of his board game, Pigs in the Poke, which applies anthropological and archaeological data about tribal cultures in Southeast Asia to game mechanics.
Ben Medler stated that all games are based on conflict, and then compared conflict mechanics in digital games and board games, subdividing the types into mechanic/social and anonymous/tacit categories.
Ethan Watrall presented a study (conducted locally) that surveyed HeroClix players and determined that those who played primarily for enjoyment were likely to involve themselves in the “storyworlds” for the characters, existing in books, comics, movies, and other media, while those who played for the competition were unlikely to do so initially.
Scott Nicholson, of Board Games with Scott, discussed the relationship and history of games and libraries and presented loads of information, some of which can be found at Library Game Lab of Syracuse and Games in Libraries.
Francisco Ortega-Grimaldo talked about his design of a series of games that present the issues of immigration (between the United States and Mexico) in board game form, in order to encourage discussion.
Michael Ryan Skolnik (with whom I had a long conversation during and after the Happy Hour Gathering) presented his ideas on theatrical aesthetics in games and why eschewing immersion, or “presence”, may produce a more meaningful experience.

With no time for questions, we moved quickly toward the ballroom in order to pick up our “old fashioned BBQ lunch” before the final keynote. I got the very last hot dog, despite there being many more buns available, so those behind me had to make due with hamburgers, chicken breasts, and a whole host of supporting food items. Everything I had was tasty, including some excellent brownies.

The closing keynote was The Great White Whale of Meaningful Play, given by Tracy Fullerton of the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab at USC. She discussed two games under development where the team is seeking to create a meaningful, almost spiritual, gameplay experience: The Night Journey and Walden, a Game [trailer]. The former is being developed with the help of artist Bill Viola, who contends that half of an art experience is in the viewer (or player, in this case). The speaker did admit that this kind of project is probably only feasible (currently) in an academic and/or experimental setting, and not as a commercial game product.

The last item of “business” was the announcement of the awards in the game competition, which were:

Note that the Best overall game pick has been featured on Gamasutra in the article, Persuasive Games: Videogame Vignette.

So, Meaningful Play 2008 came to an end with no definite plans for next year. However, the organizers will be conducting a survey of attendees to determine when and where to hold the next edition. The one thing that is certain, though, is that this conference was worthwhile.

I have three goals when attending a conference: to learn, to network, and to be inspired. Meaningful Play provided ample opportunities for each.

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