Meaningful Play 2010, Day 3

The premier academic game conference wraps up.

Circumstances conspired to prevent me from attending the first part of the conference on Saturday.  I was disappointed to miss the morning keynote, The Intellectual Life of Online Play, presented by Constance Steinkuehler of Games + Learning + Society, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which could have been fascinating.  I noticed previously that keynote speakers were being videotaped, so I will keep my eye out for this one.  Since I had already missed part of the next session, too, I chose to take a deep breath rather than rush back for a paper session on Ethical Reflection in Games.

Fortunately, I did make it to the conference in time for Zombies vs. Knaves: Playing Games in Cultural Institutions, a panel presentation that demonstrated the (proper) use of games in a variety of museums, plus a college library.  I was impressed with all of the games: Whyville at the (virtual) Getty Museum, Minnesota 150 Challenge at the Minnesota History Center, Human vs. Zombies (ARG) played at the University of Florida Library, Mysteries of Ancient Art at the Getty Villa, Spy in the City from the International Spy Museum (DC), and Pheon at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  The latter game is actually an extensible framework to which other educational or commercial entities could add their own challenges over the next year.  It is great to see such positive usage of games as a platform for exploring and learning.

A short break for (provided) lunch was next, during which I had a little time to quietly reflect on the conference, and also peek at the score of the Michigan State vs. Northwestern football game.  (MSU won a great game, but the score was looking pretty bleak for them at that early stage.)

The last keynote of the day/conference was Looking Outside In: LEGO and the Evolution of Play, given (primarily) by Helle Winding of LEGO Universe.  Last time, on the second day of Meaningful Play 2008, we played with Play-Doh during a keynote; this time everybody got LEGO, with which we built all manner of ducks (some more abstract than others).  On the day after the European launch of LEGO Universe, and just three days prior to the worldwide launch, the talk centered around the history and philosophy of the LEGO Group, and how it led to this latest online game/world.  It looked like a really cool project but, frankly, there was not much enlightenment to be gleaned, either from the live presentation or the several produced videos that were screened.

I was surprised to learn, during the talk, that LEGO was in serious financial trouble a few years ago, and I was even more surprised to hear that the product is considered “for boys” by the company itself.  For the record, I took my six LEGO blocks to my wife (who is definitely not a boy) and she enjoyed building a duck more than I did.  That may not not hold true for LEGO Universe, which was designed for a specific market, but I do not see anything inherently masculine (nor feminine) about the plastic blocks.  [Suggestive, perhaps, but not gender-specific.]

Anyway, this was followed immediately by the Conference Closing and the announcement of the Game Award winners, based on judging among the 24 selected submissions to the Game Exhibition (on Thursday).  These winners were:

It appears that the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab had a good year, with three games earning multiple awards and mentions.  I also noticed that a couple of the other games could use a little help in the marketing realm.  Here are two quick hints…  First, if you want to have links back to your game (from, say, a blog like this one), establish a canonical web page where the latest and greatest information about the game is published; second, in order for people to actually be able to find said page, try to be consistent with your game title (including punctuation like, you know, hyphens).  A downloadable or online playable game or demo is always appreciated, too.

The conference left me, in a phrase, “emotionally uplifted, physically drained.”  I am really inspired by the thought and effort that goes into all of the different areas of game development, and it is always great to meet so many wonderful people working in the field, either professionally or academically.  At the same time, I am exhausted, having tried to attend the conference while continuing to maintain a degree of business and personal normalcy (all on the weekend with the inaugural F1 Korean Grand Prix running sessions in the middle of our night).

After I get some sleep, I have a number of ideas to try out, and I expect to benefit from a burst of energy achieved via networking with colleagues.  In any event, I now feel safer with my little guard duck (of LEGO) watching over me.

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