The place was deserted. At first, I thought we might have stumbled into the wrong building, but when we stopped at the information desk, we learned that we were in the right place. We walked into a long hallway with tables set up along the walls. Tables with empty chairs. Tables with no displays.
A young man appeared from an adjoining room. He looked visibly frustrated and walked straight over to the us. He launched right into a string of complaints about the lack of participants and presenters. When we first started talking to him, I assumed he had some affiliation with the convention. But as he talked and I spent some time looking at him, it became clear that he was just a regular videogame nerd. His clothes were wrinkled, and he looked like he’d just rolled out of bed. My suspicons were proven correct when, just as abruptly as he’d walked over to us, he walked away without any indication that was what he was about to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were the first people he’d talked to that week.
We followed him into the room. He’d quickly crossed it and sat down at a computer, fluidly immersing himself in some indie game. We looked around this larger area. There were people here. Not many, but some. We stopped at the first table, where we met Chad Stafford, a local artist. We paused to chat with him for a bit and look over his wares. I’m in the market for a game artist, so we talked shop for a bit. Chad used to work for THQ, a now defunct game company. He had some cool artwork and a fresh style.
Next, we stopped by the Word Realms table. Word Realms is a single-player RPG that operates a lot like scrabble. Basically, you get in these battles with other characters and you fight them by selecting words to spell form your bank of tiles. The better your word, the stronger your attack. We sat there and played the game for a while and talked to the guys at the booth. They were very happy to talk about the game and were clearly enthusiastic about it. As someone who is into the education potential of gaming, Word Realms had an immediate appeal for me and I plan on downloading it in the near future.
The last booth we stopped at was manned by the convention’s primary sponsor, the University of Advancing Technology. In addition to having information about the school, there were several computers set up showcasing some of the projects that their students were working on. The offerings were pretty amazing, and I lost a fair amount of time playing each one. There was one game that utilized the gro-sensor of an iPad in a game where you chase down your enemy. Another game, which I didn’t get to play because it was so popular, was more emersive and made use of 3D goggles. My favorite game, though, was an aesthetically beautiful Braid-influenced puzzler.
After exhausting the few vendor tables that were available, we watched some Convention-goers (people were gradually starting to trickle in) participate in a live action Pacman game. As we’ve all assumed for a long time, the ghosts cheat. It was a great idea, though, and one that I hope to replicate in one of our libraries in the near future. It’s a great real-world tie-in to videogames. It was certainly enough to get me thinking.
We attended one talk while we were there. In a big empty room, we watched Michael Hicks talk about storytelling in videogames. Hicks created a game called Sententia. Hicks described his efforts to apply life lessons that players could take away from the game without using words. Instead, he talked about setting up difficult situations and strategic actions to impart his themes for him. It was great to hear designers actually talking about putting this level of thought into their games.
In a way, this convention was a huge disappointment to me. I was more engaged for the two hours I was there than I have ever been by any library conference. They had unbelievably cool content and interesting speakers. What is a shame is that the event was so poorly promoted. This thing was such a great idea, but there’s no point in executing such an idea at such a grand scale if no one attends. This thing deserved to have people there. I know it was the first time they’d done it, so I hope they get better at promoting the event. I can offer two pieces of concrete criticism (if any of the promoter happens to see this): 1) I couldn’t actually register for this thing until within two weeks of it happening, and 2) If I hadn’t put a reminder on my calendar to keep checking on the event, I would have forgotten about it. After the first time I heard about it (in July, I think it was), I never heard about it again.
That said, I am so glad I got the opportunity to attend this event (for free, no less). These are the kinds of things that library folk interested in games need to be attending. Forget talking about gaming at an ALA meeting, get out there and talk abotu games where games are happening. You can do more real, tangible things in your libraries by connecting with local indie developers and companies than you ever could by talking to a group of librarians. In these two hours, at this one deserted conference, we found a potential artist for the software we’re developing, an indie game company that’s interested in giving talks and leading workshops in our branches, and the outreach arm of a local educational institution that will bring a mobile makerspace (complete with those 3D printers everyone’s raging over right now) into our library for travel expenses.
Fun had. Things learned. Connections made.
Check and mate.