MAGFest, day two.
NB: For the MAGFest program, go to magfest.org and look for the Guidebook link. Download the app, then download the MAGFest 11 guidebook.
I made three of the four sessions I planned. Work, the kind I get paid for, knocked out the morning. Speaker sessions at MAGFest are almost always good and frequently are great.
Session one: Video Game Genres
This was one of the better MAGFest sessions I've attended. Genre is a slippery subject, and the conversation among the six panelists was intense, fast, and focused. Rather than trying to define 'genre', which is a tricky proposition, the panelists tried to delineate some of the issues around genre (who deines it? who does the game box labeling? can genres change?) and look at the occasionally special case of video game genres, which overlap with both fiction and film yet which have special subgenres of its own as shaped by interactivity. The panelists wisely avoided throwing up their hands and dismissing the notion of genre altogether on the basis of personal subjectivity. The discussion touched on a number of video game genres; genre versus mechanics; how mechanics inform genre; sloppy application of genre labels by game companies; genre labels as a "me-too" marketing ploy; and numerous related issues.
One hour? Not nearly enough for this topic.
Session two: Video Games and Player Agency
This was a one-man presentation.
The odd thing about MAGFest is that, because of the intensity of the fan community, panelists' names aren't listed in the program--they don't always have to be.
Although not as intense and wide ranging as the genre panel, the discussion was likely informative for those players who hadn't considered the notion of agency. The speaker introduced a few basic defintions and principles--agency as the ability to do things as a character within a given game environment, for instance, and then what is essentially the notion of fair play versus suddenly (and overly) directive game story events, eg, suddenly being sent to prison under circumstances from which the character could have otherwise escaped, but from which the game permits no egress. The audience largely focused on agency through game mechanics, so the discussion tended to be about players' complaints re: specific games. For instance, one gamer bitterly recounted how Fallout 3 left him with a world full of nothing but children because he'd killed all the other NPCs, and the game wouldn't let him kill children (he muttered the phrase "social morality" a couple of times). Generally, though, the panel was interesting.
It's a shame that there are no follow-up panels; this one plus the genre panel could have been highly illuminating.
Video Games and Psychometric Methods
This panel was WAY above the audience's heads. Too bad, again because there are no follow-up panels or discussion to provide combinatorial juiciness.
The panelists did not delve very far into their respective methodologies--a wise choice--and instead reviewed in broad terms their areas of interest and their current projects. One panelist was a video game programmer; the rest were in psychology, so much of the disucssion was devoted to general psychometric methods and data gathering processes. The audience focused on reviews, for the most part, and their subjective nature (despite having pointed out to them the notion that ALL reviews are subjective).
One self-identified "reviewer" asked how to be less subjective.
For cryin' out loud.
I considered standing up to point out that the reviewer's freshman English professor should have taught him this during his first semester of college. I didn't. Just barely.
In broad terms, this panel was worth attending. The lay audience meant they weren't going to to far into their disciplines, which was unfortunate, but they did an excellent job of making their research accessible to the MAGFest audience. That's more difficult than it seems.
Two more days of MAGFest, then a wrap-up.
I'VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!