A description of GameLoop as well as notes on last year's unconference are available from co-runner Darius Kazemi here.
"Art Games from a Fine Arts Perspective," Alex Myers presiding
The purpose of this session was to think about art games from an artist's perspective rather than that of a designer or developer. In Myers' opinion, using contemporary game design as a medium for expression is all fine and good, but that the placement of games in galleries is problematic in approach.
First, there is the myth of the gallery. There is also the movement and removal of games themselves from arcades to homes and now to galleries. Art continues to move in comparable directions and Myers and session attendees rattled off many examples. Some were also quick to stress the need to challenge and question what we consider to be art games, to be mindful of using subversiveness as a crutch because we engage in passive participation in oppression every day.
Furthermore, there are questions of accessibility and legitimacy and the importance of exploring alternative as well as traditional spaces for art and for games, of pursuing "art games for art games' sake." It was around this point that the overall discussion separated art and games, acknowledging how context comes through interaction (sort of) with both. This separation was not an issue as it appeared easier for some to understand how art and games might learn from each other, what it means to make art the focus of a game and if that's even really possible.
In the midst of this part of the session, someone mentioned "MOMA retcons," how certain art movements rebelled and responded to the establishment only to be included and/or canonized later so that the general public might "step back and respect" them. Myers also took issue with dressing art up in videogame culture, expressing uncertainty with what such action accomplishes.
To continue the separation and similarity aspect, this session made note of the player-predictability in games and the viewer-unpredictability of art. "What consequences can there be in the digital?" is an additional question that arose, however briefly, in the Philosophy and Videogames (development) session described below.
As the session came to a close, there was a look to the future toward locative art games and emergent objectives, of using the "raw means of abstraction" as the essence of interaction to produce less obvious metaphors that might still be reminiscent of life experiences. In a final address of how to pass the time, a session attendee stated, "We had five minutes left two minutes ago."
Among the artists and events mentioned: Duchamp, Cactus Squid, Brody Condon, the Machine Project, Deep Sea
"Why All Videogame Conferences Suck," Courtney Stanton presiding
Short answer: exclusionary practices. This is a continuing problem at conferences, so there was a stated concern of how to address it. Courtney shared her experiences with and knowledge of unconferences and workshops like No Show. Alex and Darius framed their K-12 and college-level classes as forms of outreach.
Part of the intent is to have more conversations in more places, to have more welcoming spaces as well as perhaps more separatist spaces, all so that the big conferences aren't the only spaces anymore and more people interested in videogames can say, "There's someone/something here for me."
It was around this point that Johnny(?) brought up issues of accessibility, stressing the potential complications of distance and physical spaces for those with special needs. Conferences tend to ignore, overlook, or assume too much when it comes to policies that ensure safe, welcoming spaces, but much the same also happens with regards to special-needs considerations.
So, how to community-organize for everyone? Attend to privilege, acknowledge the popularity of past panels, get away from predatory logic and what conferences tend to sell attendees on, realize that what happens at conferences is often someone's first impression of the industry.
"Philosophy and Videogames (Development)," Darius Kazemi presiding
In true unconference spirit, this was sort of an impromptu session jammed in during the lunch hour. Darius started off by noting how architecting a game engine addresses philosophical questions and what it's like being forced to write those ontological rules, thereby revealing the purpose of the session overall. Attendees then shared their own reasons for being present, including ethics, the nonhuman turn, "old thinkers," games as reflections of humanity (or not), game tendencies, natural human states, absurdism, existentialism, inherent systems of meaning, theology, life and death in games, less definite spaces, what philosophy can provide, systems construction.
Of course, it proved impossible to address all these interests. One of the first questions raised was that of combat being the dominant/lone interaction of a game and how player perception can be influenced as a result, how we can come to see the "real" space on which a game space is based as "where people are supposed to get shot." This can be most pronounced in FPS games set in New York, Los Angeles, etc.
So, how to get away from this possibility? Decenter player privilege, embrace the core ambiguity and flexibility of game design. This somehow led into thinking of the computer/system as adjudicator, a computer's sense of justice, and what it means to follow laws and rules vs. understanding them. Kirk can probably speak more and better about this, but there was another question raised: "When is a rule going to make something stupid happen?" One answer was the A.I. Director from the Left 4 Dead series.
No one mentioned Bioshock during the session, which was nice.
"Games That Hate You," Cameron Kunzleman presiding
Things got started with a focus on games that provide active punishment for playing them as well as the appeal of playing these kinds of games. There's a nostalgic aspect to them, to their punishing difficulty, but Cameron also wanted the discussion to move beyond this. Rather than just an address of difficulty and punishment, the discussion moved into the realm of clear disrespect for players and what we perceive as unfair.
Hateful or not (perhaps), there needs to be respect and trust on the part of both the designer and the player of the game. Wrapped up in all this, too, are understandings of content value and experience and how games reward certain player behaviors or don't. There was mention of a game in which the player can realize that "you're fucked 5 minutes into a match." This led some to ask how can we as players tell when a game respects our time. During a sub-discussion concerning sadomasochistic aspects of games, one attendee admitted, "Alt+F4 is my safe word."
I'm not sure this session stayed on topic as much as it could have. This is more of an observation than a complaint, though, given bits and pieces about motivational environments and the absence of them, the idea of "hard simplicity," how and why players react when a game denies, exhausts, or robs their agency, and how some violations of player expectations can be fun.
"Women in Games," Courtney Stanton presiding
Unfortunately, I missed a good chunk of this session. It was clear upon entering the room, though, that this wasn't a session about portrayals of women in videogames but an industry/workplace talk.
One woman shared her experience of being mistaken for a marketer instead of a programmer because she "dressed nice." A few others observed how sexism in the videogames monoculture can be just as bad in indie as AAA, if not worse. This is because the legal liability that exists in AAA doesn't have an equivalent in indie.
There was also discussion of what it takes to be heard, the sacrifices and personality changes some women made to fit in with the guys. A later shift to education focused on priming the next generation, looking at the importance of support for those experiencing sexism as well as the worth in correction and even embarrassment for those causing it. We need to not only let people know that they're wrong but also show them how and why.
Similar to the earlier session about why videogame conferences suck, I felt exhausted at the end.
"Roguelike-likes," ??? presiding
I spent too much time in my own head during this session, which began with some discussion of roguelike characteristics. These included procedural generation, discovery, capacity for surprise, permanent risk, adversity with interesting/intersecting consequences, and systems awareness. Regarding the roguelike aspects of accumulation and loss, one attendee commented, "The better you do, the more it hurts." In other words, the greater a player's progression through a roguelike, the worse a player's potential 'death' becomes. At the same time, starting over may not be so terrible, given acceptance of failure beforehand. A roguelike, then, forces us to admit that we have nothing to lose. Well, except maybe time.
Having somewhat defined characteristics of roguelikes, discussion moved into the application of roguelike aspects to other kinds of games. After naming titles like Dark Souls and Fallout, the latter of which diverged into a discussion of sub-optimal builds, there was some brainstorming about FPS roguelikes, social roguelikes, and even how a movie like Groundhog Day could be seen as roguelike-like.
Among roguelikes named: Nethack, Facade, Brogue, Spelunky, Epic Dungeon, Realm of the Mad God.