I meant to write up GameCamp 5 the week after we went, but what with work and writing and venue hunting for Zombie one thing drives out another, as Barliman Butterbur would tell you.
It was different this time. For one thing, last time we felt fairly out of place as live game designers rather than video game designers; it wasn’t unpleasant, but there was a definite sense that we were in the minority. This time round lots of people were talking live experiences, and mixed sessions didn’t carry the same assumptions about the group. That’s a little fascinating – does it reflect a wider uptake in live gaming generally? Certainly seems so to me – there are lots of folks starting to do pervasive games and interesting live experiences, a burgeoning scene that seems to be moving towards LARP from other disciplines and landing somewhere in the middle. Critical vocabulary is missing here; lots of people (like us) are drawing on all sorts of theory and work in other fields and applying it to making games in the real world. That’s exciting.
The other big change was in the way people at GameCamp talked about stories in games. Last time around, Grant and I ran a session about emergent story, discussing the concept of procedurally and structurally generated narratives that emerge through player interaction with the game, but aren’t “told” by the game. This time I think every story-related session I went to invoked the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic stories, usually with an understanding of emergence. Again vocabulary is missing here; I heard the same (or similar) dichotomy expressed as extrinsic/intrinsic, imparted/created, creator/player, and even cutscene/gameplay. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the greater proportion of live gamers there – the split is much clearer when you’re playing with stories in that space, and it becomes impossible to ignore that the story you’re telling is not the same as the one players are experiencing. But I’m hopeful that it reflects a shift in thinking by video game creators too. Not every writer needs to engage with debates like the location of meaning and the nature of narrative – but if none do, the medium will stay shallow. GameCamp made my literary brain happy and my game brain excited.
Oh, and we made some games, too. Hostage was the most fun. I’ll try to write up the rules soon, assuming one thing doesn’t drive out another, again.
Yesterday was Gamecamp 4, the first one I’ve been to, and I had a properly fantastic time. Some excellent sessions, some fascinating conversations, and some surprisingly forgiving zombies made it a great day.
Here’s what I took from the day.
We like stories in our games, and we like games in our stories, but not all games (or stories) need both.
Boss fights interrupt flow, but can be used to build interesting characters. They can be frustrating (Metal Gear Solid), but when they’re done well and foreshadowed properly, they can also be hugely satisfying (Limbo).
Free play without structure isn’t a game.
Digital games suck at relationships.
A lot of digital games writing sucks, full stop.
Romance and sex in games are two very different things with different problems to be solved.
Some problems being tackled by digital game folks have already been solved by live game folks, and vice versa.
When under attack, people seem to instinctively try to get to high ground. When high ground is not available, they use tables.
Lemon jousting is harder than it looks.
Mechanically, World of Warcraft and Farmville are (depressingly?) similar.
We like our extrinsic motivators without coercive social marketing practices.
Gamification isn’t particularly interesting to people who already make games.
My working definition of emergent stories – stories created by players interacting with game mechanics without a designer getting in the way – is flawed, hugely flawed, but works OK for demonstration purposes.
Emergent stories need space to emerge. People make up stories to fill gaps.
Story can be constructed after experience, collaboratively.
Someone has already run an art heist game in a museum. I really hope they do it again. Soon.
Museums, like news organisations, need help making good games with few resources.
The Keyworth building at London South Bank Uni would be an excellent venue for a full-scale game of Zombie.
The unconference format just works. No bit of my day was boring or slow or non-interactive. I went to half a dozen really interesting talks, and missed about a dozen more, and that’s fine.