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The Guardian GameCamp

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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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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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