Tuesday, November 19, 2013

PRACTICE 2013 post-partum

This year, I gave a talk at PRACTICE (more on that later) and I had a pretty good time in general. I think now (a) I am slightly more patient with board games (b) I love Nordic LARP even more (c) I have more respect for the depth of thought that goes into a lot of games that I will never ever play ever. Someone asked me what I thought the overall theme of the conference was, and I think a lot of it was about game developers honing our "awareness" of each other. The schedule was diverse:

I watched talks on breakdance competitions and maintaining authenticity; the spatial mathematics of roguelike movement; the simulated story physics of Roman political intrigue; a weekend-long Battlestar Galactica themed roleplay game on an actual decommissioned destroyer; how League of Legends thinks about readability in character design, and much more... and I think generally everyone was reasonably earnest about listening deeply to each other, which is probably the most important requirement for good conversation. There was relatively little fundamentalism going on, which pleasantly surprised me. Almost everyone recognized that everyone had something useful to share.

They did lower the price of a pass this year, but I still think the price is quite high (base cost: $350) which makes attendance cost-prohibitive for the many people who would've wanted to attend but instead preferred to pay rent or eat food. I hope the conference organizers continue to lower the price next year as well.

I attribute some of PRACTICE's evolution to the earlier influence of Different Games this year, a completely free games conference that focused on inclusivity and acknowledging alternate experiences. Maybe Different Games has changed the terms of how a games conference (or at least ones in NYC) can continue to operate while claiming to be in the public interest of starting a public dialogue -- who gets to participate in this dialogue, and how do we listen to each other? And even if you don't actually care, then at least you must pretend to care? Norms are changing for the better.

Like, I doubt Warren Spector has ever played a Twine game. (It's okay if he doesn't like them. I'm talking about whether he's even aware of them.)

Now, here in the NYC games scene, if you haven't played at least a few Twine games, then you are pretty out of touch and kinda irrelevant... specifically, Warren Spector came across as pretty out of touch and kinda irrelevant. He answered questions that no one asked. He posed "emergence" as a compelling quality of games (no, really?) and posed Dishonored as a "player-driven" game -- a game whose defining quality is giving you a choice between not shooting men or shooting men or shooting men up-close. Has he ever played League of Legends, or Go, or Poker, or football, or breakdance battles, or Sleep No More, or vogue balls? Dishonored is a fun game, but it is not much of a break from Deus Ex in 2000, more than 13 years ago. The mechanisms running through those games are well-understood and accepted... now what? What else can you bring to games today? It made me and many others wonder: perhaps Warren Spector isn't actually an authority on games anymore, assuming he ever was? Maybe the only thing that Warren Spector is an authority on is Warren Spector?

That realization lead to a sort of strange consensus among many attendees. I was prepared to go to war against formalists and simulationists and board game geeks, to defend the value of personality and fleeting feelings and small love poems, against people who think the entire gamut of human experience is best represented as a payoff matrix with graphics.

But war was made impossible when we glared at Warren Spector -- when we set this spectacled strawman aflame and basked in the warmth of countless glowing embers. So instead, we roasted s'mores over the sizzling corpse and shared ghost stories. We were too hungry to argue.