DiGRA Impressions

(Cross posted from Olivier’s post at the LiSC blog)

In recent news, Games Research Group members recently attended the 5th Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference in Hilversum (NL) hosted by the Utrecht School of the Arts. Oliver presented his work on groups and social-emotion driven NPC crowds in open-world games, whereas Ben discussed Power Laws and Social Architectures in online gaming communities. Both papers will be available soon on the UL Repository and on the DiGRA Webpage –  I will update this blog post accordingly.

After enjoying a couple of fine Dutch beers along the quiet canals in Amsterdam, we, as in Ben and I, travelled to Hilversum and attended to the conference opening party, which was situated in “De Vorstin”. To our surprise, the opening party was, to my opinion, most unconventional, and I recall Ben describing it as ‘surreal’. And this is not meant in a bad way, as it was was really fun. There were plenty of games played, and to cite a handful; Joust and B.U.T.T.O.N. from the Copenhagen Game Collective (DK), Winnitron from Dutch Game Garden (NL), and the Do-it-yourself-DJ deck. As the games went on, a guy in a koala-suit, known as Kid-Koala, put a lot of effort creating a real musical ambience among the guests. My personal highlights of the evening were the Chick’n’Run contest, the robot/samurai cosplayers and the wrestlers (!). Ben was right, the party was ‘surreal’. I did not expect something as fun as this.

The conference itself unfolded over the following days. This year, DiGRA introduced a system dubbed MATCH, which is meant to open dialog and to help collaboration. The MATCH system linked conference participants together, who are working on similar topics. During each match, each presenter has a ten minutes introduction time, followed by twenty minutes of discussion time. Speakers were encouraged to present without PowerPoint slides and to use alternative approaches.

I got matched with Joerg Niesenhaus, from the Game Technology Competence Center (Uni Duisburg-Essen), who presented his work about the playful crowd-sourcing to gather data to be used in the context of improving electro-mobility. Our MATCH went really well, and I managed to liaise with Joerg, his colleagues and plenty of other speakers from the conference. I even got congratulated by many to have a fully PowerPoint-less presentation – many people still relied on the good old slides. Hooray!

As there were several matches running in parallel sessions, it was difficult to attend to all of them. I decided to participate in sessions about prototyping, procedurality, animal play, game-labs, metrics and games industry. There were several keynotes as well, for instance Eric Zimmerman proposed to re-think games research, Garry Crawford review his new book, Gentleman boardgame designer Reiner Knizia discussed maximum impact game design and Mary Flanagan spoke about games from a values-oriented standpoint. There were also keynote speaks from Bernie Dekoven, Jen Jenson, Suzanne de Castell and Antanas Mockus Sivickas. Graduates from the Utrecht School of the Arts also presented their work, most noticeable are ‘Herboren’, ‘Mac and Cheese’, ‘Ascendance: Rise of the Gods’, ‘Skizo Kid’ and ‘Fingle’. Brilliant work, guys.

Between the sessions, there was plenty of time to socialise, exchange contact details, and to play board-games which were generously put at disposal by SubCultures. In the evenings, Ben and I enjoyed the local cuisine and local drinks/beers. The conference itself finished on Saturday afternoon, leaving us enough time to further enjoy being tourists in the beautiful cities of Hilversum, Amsterdam and Utrecht.

In short, I thought that the conference was excellent. I got plenty of good feedback about my work and I was able to socialise and liaise with many researchers from different fields. The conference itself was well organised, there were plenty of great speakers and plenty of activities. In one word, it was a proper fun conference. Kudos to the organisers. Guess what? I’m really looking forward to submit another work to DiGRA 2013.

For further impressions of the conference, check out those videos:

Opening Party.
Day 1.
Day 2.
Day 3.