Student conference report: Video Games & Virtual Worlds, POCOS.

This post has been written by Sean Oxspring, a 2nd Year Games Computing from the University of Lincoln. He recently attended at the 3rd POCOS Symposium, which discussed the fundamental tasks around the preservation of video-games and digital worlds.

In the 1920’s movies were not considered as a significant cultural object, this meant a great deal of films to not be archived for the future and they were lost to the ages… unfortunately history is as per usual repeating itself – only this time with video-games.

Oliver and I travelled along to the POCOS symposium in Cardiff in order to be a part of a discussion on the future possibilities of games archiving in this country. Other attendees ranged from games designers to archivists and librarians, all interested in preserving the history and future of games for both research and cultural purposes.

We received a great deal of information on the problems surrounding preserving games, some were similar to other forms of media, but a great deal of things were different. Several speakers talked about the great deal of metadata surrounding games, hardware specifications, software, user created content, patches etc. etc. the huge amount of metadata surrounding games makes it hard for archivists to decide what is important to keep and what researchers will not need to know in the future.

Ian Livingstone discussing the importance of games culture.

The vast majority of games preservation today is done by private collectors and through legally dodgy websites. IP is a very big problem as a lot of publishers do not wish to release their works for archiving as the public would have access to them – meaning in the future they might lose out on selling their retro-titles as a re-release (Nintendo’s WiiStore being the most obvious one). Some archives have copies of very old games, but are unable to show the public as they find it difficult to get permission to display them in exhibits (IP being owned by several people made it hard to get hold of everyone’s permission).

Richard Bartle spoke on the problems with preserving an MMO game, the main problem here is that although it would be reasonably easy to preserve a server and the client software – you would only have half of the picture, as an MMO’s main reliance is its players. Bartle described it as ‘evacuating Leicester and then covering it in clingfilm, then coming back in a hundred years’ the cities structures would be preserved, but the people living there make the city what it is. As such to fully understand an MMO a great deal of player metadata would have to be preserved along with it.

Ian Livingstone gave a talk on his history in the games industry and ran with the idea of games being of a phenomenal cultural value. He showed how Tomb Raider became a hit with both sexes, and the great deal of adverts that used Lara Croft as a spokesperson.

Dan Pinchbeck talking about why history matters for game development.

Dan Pinchbeck, the creative mind of ‘Dear Esther’, did a presentation entitled ‘Standing on the shoulders of heavily armoured giants’. He expressed the point that we needed to remember and preserve gaming history in order to understand how to design better games in the future.

Later on both days we split into groups and discussed ideas about games preservation, and how we can tackle such a task in order to avoid losing games in the future. There were several problems to tackle: What to preserve, Who would want access to it and the most difficult one being whether or not we can get publishers to give up their IP for archiving purposes.

DIGRA Board Game Panel and Keynote Online

The organisers have put the videos from the board game events at DiGRA online. As fun and interesting as I remember.

Dr. Reiner Knizia is one of the world’s most successful and prolific game designers. He has had more than 500 games and books published in many countries and languages worldwide with sales totalling over 15 million games. He has won numerous international awards.

Reiner Knizia: Maximum Impact Game Design from Utrecht School of the Arts on Vimeo.

The panel brings together academics and practitioners from both sides of the digital gaming divide. They will attempt to explore what makes the modern board game interesting, and discuss the opportunities and challenges this evolving form of play presents and the impact that board games, and their study, should be having on game studies as a whole

Panelists are:
Reiner Knizia (​english.htm)
Chris Bateman (​about.html)
Andrew Sheerin (
James Wallis (​spaaace-people)
Douglas Wilson (​index.php/​Douglas_Wilson)
Armand Servaes (

Panel on Modern Board Games from Utrecht School of the Arts on Vimeo.

Ben’s DiGRA Roundup

T’other week I was fortunate enough to attend the DiGRA conference with our Frebeluxian PhD student, Oliver. This is the 2-yearly conference of the DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association). I’ve fancied going for years, but combinations of timing and expense have made it difficult. This year I was fortunate enough to have two things accepted into the conference, and the faculty challenge fund award to send me to the Netherlands to participate.

My paper presentation was called “Social Architecture and the Emergence of Power Laws in Online Social Games“. This is a central part of my PhD thesis that argues that the social effects of game design decisions are measurable using a branch of graph theory called SNA (Social Network Analysis). It is more exciting than it sounds (really!), since it demonstrates social activity in games follows a power law. This means that about 10% of players are responsible for over 50% of the social interactions in games. This is a huge deal since games are usually designed (and studied) based on the way that 10% behave. My argument is that the quiet 90% are much more interesting and important.

The second event was a panel and keynote. This was the result of an evening’s discussion with José Zagal, during a conference in Finland, where we bemoaned the general lack of board game related work in game studies (with exceptions!). We decided to do something about it, and when the DiGRA deadline rolled around, we submitted an idea for a panel discussion between famous tabletop game designers. It was accepted, so then we had to pull out all the stops to make the best event we could.

We were ridiculously fortunate to have an amazing group of people accept our invitation to appear on the panel. The discussion itself was to a completely packed audience, and was rich and varied, talking about narrative and the nature of experience, ethics and aesthetics. We are assured there is a video of it which we will share when we can.

It included Chris Bateman, who designed several pen-and-paper RPGs, co-wrote the inspirational text book 21st Century Game Design and worked on many digital games including Discworld Noir, Barbie Horse Adventure, GhostMaster and Motorstorm Apocalypse.

James Wallis (from Spaaace) designed best-selling story games Once upon a Time and Baron Munchausen, and published countless fantastic pen-and-paper RPGs including Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Violence: The Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed.

Andrew Sheerin, from Terrorbull games, a group who are using board games as a medium of satire. Their most famous game War on Terror: The Boardgame has shocked and awed thousands with its cutting portrayal of modern politics as a game of bluster, betrayal and balaclavas. Their latest game, Crunch: the Game for Utter Bankers, allows players to experience the politics behind the global financial crisis. Andrew wrote up his experiences on the panel (and DiGRA generally) on his blog.

Douglas Wilson, from the Copenhagen Game Collective, studies folk games and the possibilities of the physical spaces between rules and cheating. His games, including B.U.T.T.O.N. and J.S. Joust are a joyous mix of play, mischief and violence.

Armand Serveas, from the Stichting Spelgroep Phoenix represented the local games community in the Netherlands, who are active in evangelising games as a hobby, and in addition translating games for the Dutch language.

Finally, we had Reiner Knizia. If the name is not familiar to you, it should be. He is simply the most successful game designer in history, having designed and published well over 500 titles in his career. Games like Lord of the Rings, Heck Meck, Lost Cities and Through the Desert have won countless awards and entertained millions of players all over the world.

The panel was preceded by a superb keynote by Reiner, who kindly shared his ethos of game design in a charming and funny way. He also kindly brought along several hundred copies of his classic dice game Heck Meck, which he gave away free to everyone at the conference.

The talk covered a range of topics about game design based on his oeuvre. He discussed how the desire to “fix” Monopoly lead to Through the Desert, and how Heck Meck was his attempt to create a better, more social version of Yahtzee for mass appeal. He also talked about convergence and the success of Wer War’s? as a digital cooperative family board game.

One of the most valuable insights for me was into his involvement with the recent LEGO board games. As he described it, you get to buy another Lego kit and basically get the game for free. Since Lego intrinsically allows the players to rebuild the model, the inclusion of a modifiable die purposely provokes the Lego player to break his rules and come up with their own games.

Reiner Knizia

Overall DiGRA was an experience to say the least – the organisers tried to capture the essence of play and bring it into the dry and sometimes boring conference experience, and at least for me, they succeeded. I was quite overwhelmed on the first day since I gave my paper presentation and had to organise the panel and introduce Reiner’s keynote, but once I settled into it I had an absolute blast. The whole event was peppered with joy. I got to play a ton of games I had wanted to try for a while, including B.U.T.T.O.N., J.S. Joust, Space Hulk: Death Angel and Nidhogg. I also discovered a bunch of exciting new games that I might not have seen otherwise.

Other standout moments for the conference were the keynotes from Bernie DeKoven, author of the seminal The Well Played Game, and the Skype keynote from Antanas Mockus Šivickas. This in particular was a truly inspirational keynote, from a man that was mayor of Bogotá and used playful means to create social change. From dressing in spandex as “Super Citizen”, to hiring hundreds of mime artists to poke fun at traffic violations, he really embodies the power of a playful nature.

I’ll finish with some random photos of games played during DiGRA, but the one thing you must watch first is the video of the opening party. I was going to write about it at length, but it was just such an odd thing for an academic conference that you probably had to be there. It somehow included an intimate set with scratch legend Kid Koala, Dutch pro-wrestling, Chicken races and pillow fights…

SUPERBUTTONKOALAPARTY from Utrecht School of the Arts on Vimeo.


J.S. Joust




Sexy iPad game "Fingle"
Oliver Playing a Chicken Racing Game 15 September 2011

(Photos by the Utrecht School of the Arts)

Conference report: DiGRA 2011

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.