Monday, October 3, 2011

Notes on 'Experiencing Stories with/in Digital Games' Colloquium

You've probably heard it before: we've got a long way to go in finding artful ways to meld great storytelling with the traditional mechanics of digital games.  Being a computer scientist, I usually see the attempts of improving the state of the art from the technical perspective, but this past weekend I got to learn more about what the humanities researchers in academia and the writers, artists, and designers from industry have been doing at the Experiencing Stories with/in Digital Games colloquium held in Montreal.

 Screenshot from The Graveyard, one of the indie games discussed by panellists.

Saturday's events were open to the public and consisted of four panels, each focusing on a different game, followed by a keynote by David Cage, creator of Heavy Rain. On each panel, two academics presented their work surrounding analysis of the game from a range of perspectives, from utopias to infinitude to fear as the story.  Then the academics and someone who worked on each game got a chance to discuss the work presented or the game in general, followed by audience Q&A.

Personally, I found the industry perspective the most interesting.  This has to do, in part, by the style of the presentations made by the academics.  Apparently the norm for this field is to read an elaborate prose (with no apparent pauses for a chance to digest) during a presentation.  While the words they were speaking sounded like they would be a pleasure to read on my own, there was no way I could possibly keep up with the complexity as they read them aloud.  It seem that computer scientists are not the only ones who don't understand that written and oral forms of communication are not at all the same thing.

In any case, I took live notes as best I could during the talks (please excuse any poor spelling and grammar!) and have made them available online for you to check out.  Despite not immediately understanding a lot of what I heard during the day, I could tell there were some really interesting topics to think about further.

David Cage's keynote was quite well done.  He certainly missed the opportunity to discuss what was wrong with Heavy Rain and only focused on what he thought was good, but his overall introduction to the world of interactive storytelling was well crafted and enjoyable.  Whether you agree with his philosophy or not, he did offer much to mull over.

On Sunday, a set of round table discussions were held so that students could discuss their work with feedback from the presenters of the previous day.  After lunch, we all sat in a circle and had a general open discussion about storytelling in games.  I found this part of the event to be incredibly valuable for both what I'm working on and for thinking about story in games in general.  In particular I got some amazing feedback and new ideas about my taxonomy of techniques in non-linear fiction (which I'm now thinking of changing to a set of spectra on storytelling thanks to all the new ways I have to look at the topic).

Attending this event has really made me feel good about choosing story and educational games as my main research area, and I'm feeling really energized to dive into this field even deeper.  And who knows... maybe I'll be able to play a small role in bringing us closer to that elusive goal of having great stories and great games be one and the same.


Lorraine said...

Thanks for the notes, Gail! I'm studying story-game constructs, too, though not as an academic. Very much a DIYer these days, Found you at Gameful, btw.

Gail Carmichael said...

Cool! Hope you found the notes useful. :)

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