PlayX Seminar: Computer Games Coming of Age

The latest edition of the yearly Play seminar, PlayX, took the opportunity to look back on how games have evolved during the last 10 years.

It was a classic  windy and rainy day outside. One of those classic Scandinavian days in the fall, where the thick watery clouds block out the sun, as a warning of even darker days to come. But none of that mattered much to the about 150 people hushed together in the largest of the three cinemas in Cinemateket, the cinema of the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen. Recently fueled with coffee and croissants, the attendees ushered into the soft red seats to get ready for a day of games and culture.

The occasion was the 10th Anniversary of the annual Play conference, held by the Creative Europe Desk Denmark, the game education DADIU, and the Danish Film Institute. And with a roman numeral, the title of this year’s conference was PlayX, and the theme was, quite fitting, looking back. What has happened to games the last 10 years? Are the challenges the same? And did the future turn out to be something completely different than what we thought it would be 10 years ago? That was the theme that both the domestic speakers, and the ones coming from abroad was going to address this windy day, on the projection’s screen.

 

Stadens illustration of the matrix of creatives industries, that games are caught in. Photo credit: @vigild

Stadens illustration of the matrix of creatives industries, that games are caught in. Photo credit: @vigild

First up, the Film Institute’s own Simon Løvind, the person responsible for the institutes’ game support program, gave a quick rundown of what had happened in the Danish games industry for the last 10 years, after which he relinquished control of the stage to Inga Von Staden – media architect, educator and coach for the creative industries.

From a position not quite in the center of the industry, but more perpendicular to it, she told her story about how she had seen the business evolve over the last 10 years. She outlined how games are not standing on their own, but are part of an interconnected world of creative businesses.

Games are in the forcefield between media, digital tech, business and arts & crafts

She also pointed out that the games industry is pulling along a lot of associated businesses, such as distributors, facilitators, sub-contractors and press. So the impressive numbers we have seen from the games industry in the latest years are actually even bigger when looking at the impact games has had on the economy. But she also warned that we, as the games industry, have a responsibility to reflect different value systems in the things we do, and that we have to remain inclusive instead of just being content with our economic importance.

 

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Jonas Heide Smidt

Then it was time for Jonas Heide Smith, PhD in video games from the IT University of Copenhagen and co-author of the textbook ‘Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction”. Today, however, Jonas Heide Smith’s talk had the not very uplifting title: Everybody plays, no-one cares: The strange cultural evolution of video games in Denmark. 

Smith’s observation was that games today enjoy no more respect as a cultural medium in the political world than it did 10 years ago. He illustrated this by pulling out quotes from different Danish minsters of culture over the years. The quotes showed, if anything, a regression in the perception of the medium, with the most astonishing of the quotes coming from previous minister of culture, Carina Christensen.

Games differ from other fiunding-entitled art forms, since they are more about movement and action than language

 

 

costello

Matt Costello

Next up was Matt Castello. As narrative of Jack-of-all-trades, he has contributed to such diverse products as  The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage, G-Force, and Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as written episodes and created TV formats for PBS, Disney, SyFy, and the BBC. At PlayX, he offered his own unique take on looking back at the industry.

He asked people in the audience to think about that special place in their childhood that meant something special to them. Some place they played and hung out. And when he asked each of the participants about their special place, it turned out that these places always came with a story about being imagined as a secret missile silo or something like that. Costellos point was that this is what we have to do with our storytelling as well. Find that magic – those stories attached to places – and use them in your stories for games.

Oh, and he also had people on stage to show how expectations can influence your experience of stories. Letting himself be tied up, and making water disappear in a cup to prove that this is storytelling as well.

 

Jesper Juul. Photo credit: @jonassmith

Jesper Juul. Photo credit: @jonassmith

After that, it was time for one of Nordic Game Bits’ own members to take to the stage. Yes, full disclosure, it was me speaking next, with a presentation outlining the evolution of the Danish Games Industry for the last 15 years. I wont’t toot my own horn here, but any interested parties can find the presentation on the official speakers list here.

After that interlude, it was time for Jesper Juul to tell the audience the story about games’ continued obsession with cultural acceptance and legitimacy. The talk centered around the concept of the indie game movement and was aptly titled “In the gutter, looking at the stars”

Juul identified three specific periods, which had each had their influence on the definition of the indie movement. 1st phase: Avant-garde envy. Break all the rules that we don’t teach anyway. 2nd phase:  AAA-envy. Your game will be terrible. And finally the 3rd phase: Be Indie & innovative: (Hint: we want a pixelated platformer). While the indie movement has gone through all these stages, the movement has always centered around some central terms such as authenticity, honesty, personality, minimal, and complexity. And in the end, the indie genre will probably never reach a stable form. As Juul concludes:

There is no end point. The definition of indie … and games,  and art,  will always be contested. So just keep on swimming in the sea of culture!

 

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Nick Fortugno

Ending the main programme of speakers was Nicholas Fortugno, who told the story of how he was invited to arrange a game jam at the White House. But that was only half the story. Because the point of Fortugno’s story was, that the fact that he had been invited to arrange a game jam at the White House was also an indicator of how far “serious games” had come in the US. And even though USA is not normally known for large amounts of state funding, Fortugno could report about a number of different funding programs,  and even went on to say that “This is almost Canada-like levels of funding!”

Finally, it was time for a short round of micro-talks where, among others, the recently appointed head of IO Interactive, Hannes Seiffert went on stage. Most interesting, however, was the brave presentation from Lohika CEO, Henrike Lode, especially in the light of the latest debacles around Gamergate. So without further ado, let’s just let her have the last word from this year’s edition of the Play seminar.

Slides from most of the presentations can be downloaded here.

Henrike Lode

Henrike Lode

Jesper K. Kristiansen

Multi-passionate game developer and journalist. Has been writing about the Danish games industry for more than ten years, and creating audio design for both Danish and International games for almost as long.

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