Day One at GDC

by Goldie on March 6, 2012

in Games

For the first day I spent most of the time in the IT summit sessions although I did slip in to a few sessions from some other tracks.

This is my first time here, and given my mostly academic experience in the field (aka I’ve read some books and jotted down some ideas but haven’t built a game yet) I tend to think I have an outsider’s or at least a n00b’s perspective on things.

Following the principle of begining at the begining, the introduction speech by Ben Sawyer brough up good points that got me thinking.  I liked how he brought up the pluses and minuses of both gamification and Serious Games.  One of the advantages of gamification is the augmentation of existing services with a small set of changes, but that ultimately it is only a piece of the picture, and not truly gaming (and honestly rather focused on extrinsic motivations.  The lightweight changes and the the “reduced gamey feel is, however, helpful in some environments.  

Serious games, on the other hand provide a more complete expression of gaming. It isn’t just a reward system tacked on afterwards. Serious games developed as games, and essentially are games. While this adds to their effectiveness, this also presents challenges in areas outside of traditional arenas for gaming.  Conservative environments (education, corporations, etc.) often flee In fear if it looks too much like a game.  (Ok, maybe not flee in fear, but at least reject the game.  N.b. I expect this will change over time, but in some places time slogs along a bit slower than others).

So the challenge becomes, how can we bring real features of games into the broader world, without causing the fight or flight reaction in those we are wanting to adopt these tools.  How can we apply these lessons learned?  I could feel the spark of an interesting intersection of ideas which I will have to ponder further when I have a bit more time.  

The talks I attended were great, and it was interesting seeing certain common themes or patterns in the development of the games presented:

Many projects started, or at least were able to get off the ground when the went as simple and as minimal as possible and then iterate up from there. 
Most talks included the point that It is very important to know what you want to achieve,be it knowing the domain of the task, or knowing what changes you ar looking for, or what information you are looking for.
Test and watch how features influence behaviors and see if that is in line with the goals. Sometimes features you think will help either get in the way or have unexpected side effects.
Perhaps most interestingly was seeing the number of projects that involved the reuse of or building on top of other platforms, sometimes in unexpected ways  (Mechanical Turk, google maps, google mail, game mods, etc.)

Beyond the specifics of the talks started pondering pondering if a game is always the answer, and if not how does one determine the balance? There was one talk where someone was talking about how they created a game for an interactive learning center, and the response was so positive that they decided to make all the exhibits a game. This sparked the question – is all game for the best, or are ther skills, or rather the opportunity to develop certain skills that would be lost? Are there different approaches to teaching that might reach some people better than a game? This is hard to judge because being a game is not just one mechanism or one methodology of thinking – so is my question one truly of balance or more a reaction to the cultural influences from the society I live in.

Overall it was a good day of learning, and of ideas that have gotten me thinking.  I’m looking forward to day 2.

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