The Guardian GameCamp

By Kieron Gillen on May 5th, 2008 at 7:26 pm.


I spent my Saturday at the Guardian-run GameCamp in That There London Town. It’s an unconference. The idea being to get a number of people in a room for a day and improvise a conference, basically. About 120 people were there, of which a good chunk were a cross-discipline mix of developers (Mainstream, ARGs, indie, pen-and-paper, whatever), journalists, academics and general thinking-bods, and the remaining places filled by interested parties who applied for a ticket. Which was lead to the sort of social cocktail equivalent of the end-of-party one where every bottle in the house gets emptied into a glass, briefly enters someone’s stomach before finding its final resting place down a toilet. Except more fun.

It went a little like this.

To my amazement, I actually was in the vague area of GameCamp when it started at 11. I’d just flown in from the Ukraine, and only touched down at 10:20. Sadly, it took me an hour and a half of dragging my weary ass around London to locate the place. I arrived sweaty and pretty much incapable of stringing a sentence together. So same as it ever was, really.

I’d missed the start, where people work out the… well, running order. Basically, anyone with an idea for a session or a desire to run one, put up a card with the title on in an empty slot. It lead to a board which looked like this…

Abstractly I could have lobbed my idea into one of the gaps, but I decided it was far too late for such stuff. And I hadn’t brought the vodka I required to really make my East-European Developer Story thing work. If I’m going to get anyone to turn up and listen to random anecdotes about the oddities of Russians and friends, Vodka was going to be required. I ended up just eating masses of the splendid Chocolate brownies, catching up with old friends, chatting nonsense with new acquaintances and turning up at whatever panels caught my eye and/or were being ran by associates. Nepotism=Win!

First one I sat in on was a Religion and Games one, ran by Gobion of Serious Games-specialists Red Redemption and Ex-Editor of Edge and now freelance Margaret Robertson, Margaret Robertson. Since he was raised in a Shamanistic tradition and she was raised what seemed fairly high-tradition Church of Scotland, this set the tone for what was a really broad look at a broad topic. While there were much decent and intelligent things said, I ended up finding it somewhat frustrating – it dwelt on the how while not touching on the more important “Why don’t they?” How’s are easy in games design, but it’s just back-seat designerism unless you actually do it. When the most obvious mainstream gaming religious statement in the last twelve months was Assassin’s Creed expressed disavowal of any religious position… in a game about the fucking crusades, this felt a little too much like Fiddling near a burning Rome.

Next one I wandered into was Ste Curran’s one. He writes about it here, but was him doing a live performance of the piece he wrote for Rossignol and My Lost Book. It’s called Telling Stories, and is basically about how the best anecdotes about games are the magical moments when people share a gaming moment, technology interjecting with humanity and enabling The Funny. David Surman and myself interjected a couple of short anecdotes of our own. Surman’s involved Vomit and mine involved a remix of a Resident Evil 2 anecdote I used in the distant past to open a Fear article I wrote for PCG. Which seemed to go down okay. Ste says he’s going to lob his piece online in a couple of weeks, so I’ll save my few critiques of it for then. It’s an inspiring speech which pre-empted Wii’s (and even provides idealogical weapons to use against the backlash against Those Sort Of People being the main purchasers of a console) success in a great way… but while it contains truth, it doesn’t contain the whole truth. Lob it online already, Ste. I’ve got things to say, man.

Then after some lazing around and watching Matt Jones try and assemble a Elektroplankton orchestra, I went to Ex-Lionheaders Tadhg Kelly’s panel on… well, it was the most rambling of the day. A small group of people – Tadhg, Positech’s Cliffski, a lady from HSBC who came along to GamesCamp to have a nice nose and myself were probably the most vocal, but it kind of grew from Tadhg’s interest in deseminating the idea (basically) that developers really should learn flash and make a game they give a damn about, that they control, and could express some ideas. The idea that seems most common among people entering games development is that they’ll go and work for 10 years and then get a chance to make a game they want as a designer… except that’s just not true. You join a company at a low level, you’re almost certainly never going to be a lead designer. You’ll be better off, in every conceivable way, moving outside the mainstream, even if you planned to move back in eventually. Lots of other stuff too – whether Russian developers can be funny (Answer: Yes), how many problems in games are just problems in business, the importance for people like (er) me to actually help spread the idea that you can make a living off Flash Games that aren’t complete rubbish, whether the average mainstream-entering developer actually is culturally aware enough to even care about any of this and… stuff. Stuff and things.

And then was mass eating Jelly beans and a grand people’s revolutionary party meeting where we had the chance to make one-minute speeches arguing that people responsible for certain things were put against the wall and drilled full of holes. And then someone else got to make a one-minute counter-speech. And then a vote, to decide the course of the revolution. I successfully managed to get those responsible for all corporate control over a format’s games gunned down. Everyone on Twitter narrowly escaped, I believe.

And then everyone went to the pub, because the pub is a lovely place.

General impressions? Well worth doing. Perhaps my one worry is that while there was a broad cross-section of people in the general idea-space of Games there, it wasn’t quite as culture-mix as I could have hoped. While there were moments of inspiration – anyone who walked away with knowledge of Pen-and-paper Mormon-inquisition RPG Dogs in the Vineyard, I suspect, has had their horizons broadened – generally the ARG/Pen&Paper/Mainstream Gaming remained determinedly immiscible. ARG people seemed to go to the ARG seminars, the mainstreamers went to their own ones and the possible impact of the event was a little blunted. But that’s probably idealism speaking. The other thing which amused me was that, on average, the people who were involved in Pen & Paper games were noticeably more verbally communicative and demonstrative than any other field. Or, at least, louder, which is almost as good.

In short: a definite success. I’d go again, if they’d have me. And if they didn’t, I’d write rude things about it here, because I’m petty and sickened with a pitiful sense of entitlement.

[Photos courtesy of Matt Jones.]

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15 Comments »

  1. Andrew Armstrong says:

    Sounds like it was neat! I’ll have to investigate it if it’s on next year, or at least find more about it after it’s on. :)

  2. Kadayi says:

    *senses imminent Deep Shadows article :)

  3. Darius K. says:

    That’s cool. I might try to organize one of those around Boston.

  4. Mazo says:

    Dogs in the Vineyard is so cool-sounding. I’ve had a solemn vow for a while, now, to grab a copy next time I’m not completely destitute. Until then, I’ll settle with Kill Puppies For Satan.

  5. Ben Abraham says:

    Its interesting that alternative conferences like this are cropping up all over the place. I’m attending the “Convergence of the Real and the Virtual: The First Scientific Conference in World of Warcraft” which is on this weekend actually. Slightly different in approach and intention, but creatively skewed towards gamer nonetheless.

    Link to the conferences Wiki page:
    http://convergentsystems.pbwiki.com/

  6. Albides says:

    While there were much decent and intelligent things said, I ended up finding it somewhat frustrating – it dwelt on the how while not touching on the more important “Why don’t they?” How’s are easy in games design, but it’s just back-seat designerism unless you actually do it. When the most obvious mainstream gaming religious statement in the last twelve months was Assassin’s Creed expressed disavowal of any religious position… in a game about the fucking crusades, this felt a little too much like Fiddling near a burning Rome.

    But… what about Zoo Race?

    I’m kinda thinking the how of it is kinda related to the why of it. Like Christian music or books, it’s going to evoke images of a sermon dressed up as art, both of them awful and not very fun. And I know this is unfair, since a religious game doesn’t necessarily have to be Christian (though it’s bound to be the religion we are most familiar with and the faith the word religion connotes to the West) or sententious or boring, but it’s just the idea most secular people have about religion.

    That’s not to say a mature exploration of religious themes is impossible, but I hold no great hope anyone is going to come to it with fresh vision and good gameplay ideas.

    I’ve said before that I’m a huge Elder Scrolls fan, but the lore has always been a huge draw for me, ever since Morrowind. Most people who played it have probably overlooked the 36 Sermons of Vivec, and probably wouldn’t be aware of the inspiration, but it’s an in-game text packed with very earnest occult references, particularly to Crowley and Thelemic theology, initially too esoteric to understand, but which the writer later developed into a full-blown Gnostic sermon, somewhat reminiscent of Alan Moore’s Promethea, but more esoteric and less preachy. And this clever, strange blend of fiction and faith is really what I’d love to see more of, as opposed to drivel like Left Behind.

    Dogs in the Vineyard looks awesome, though, and seems even to be questioning faith itself in the blurb (Does the sinner deserve mercy? Do the wicked deserve judgement?), which seems unusual for a religious title.

  7. Aubrey says:

    Huh, the guy sitting next to me was there! And I missed an opportunity to meet everyone? Including Tadhg? Dang.

  8. Simon Rogers says:

    Dogs in the Vineyard looks awesome, though, and seems even to be questioning faith itself in the blurb (Does the sinner deserve mercy? Do the wicked deserve judgement?), which seems unusual for a religious title.

    It’s not religious in the proselytising sense – it’s written by someone brought up in the Mormon tradition, but is studiously neutral on the rights and wrongs. The players decide that in game.

  9. Bitkari says:

    The Graun really is the only mainstream press outlet that likes us gamers, huh?

    Really good to see these sorts of events, even if they do come across a teeny bit hipster.

  10. Bobbie says:

    Actually, despite Gillen’s unique ability to make everything sound like a poseurish gathering of secretive insiders obsessed with being cool, I really can assure you that it wasn’t very hipster at all.

    I was in charge – how could it be otherwise?

  11. Jahkaivah says:

    HUMAN SNAKE

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    Any event with that many brownies could never be cool.

    Also, the Jelly beans.

    I should have dwelled on them more.

    KG

  13. Dinger says:

    For all the respect I have for Zoo Race, a game doesn’t have to be the analogue of The Story of Chinese Gods. (Okay, I confess, this reference is even too obscure for me. It’s one of those movies that comes on at unexpected moments; for me the first time was after my first Thin White Rope show; here’s a better picture of the surrealism involved if they don’t but me for deeplinking. (Somehow the backblast from all those links makes me grateful I’m not walking funny)), “religion in games” does not mean “confessional games.” Yeah, it’s a touchy topic, but it’s one that all artistic forms of human expression have explored, and not just in some simplistic “The nine = good. Deirdre = many wicked bitches” way (sorry, I, (and Cromwell right beside me) actually thought Chivalry was sweet, so nothing personal).
    Come to think of it, from the Gygax prototype, just about everything else has taken on additional direction, but the “cleric” class remains untouched. I mean, come on, at the very least, you could extend benefit of clergy to laypersons.

    Well, for the first time. You can’t be clerked more than once.

    (wanders off yelling “really, is it so hard for a man to get a tonsure these days?”)

  14. Tadhg says:

    It was a really great – if rambling though mostly my fault – day. There must be more. And soon!

  15. Trippenbach says:

    . . . See you Saturday, then.