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A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of presenting a paper at DiGRA’s annual conference in Luneburg, Germany. You can see that one here on researchgate or academia.edu.

I’ve been to many industry conferences over the past couple of years, but this was my first academic one. Luneburg happens to be a beautiful corner of Germany, if you’re ever thinking of somewhere to go.

Things that were different were no marketing BS or people stealthily pushing their product in the name of something else. At this conference at least people are upfront about pushing their initiatives or ideas – perhaps best exemplified by the ‘abstracts’ strand of talks, where people with semi-formed ideas not quite yet ready for a paper open them up to critique and discussion, which is refreshingly honest. True, some of them are better formed than others, but that’s admitted upfront. I’m not sure if this is usual for academic conferences, but it seems nice if it were the case that this exists elsewhere.

Things that were the same were beer, interesting conversations and meeting a wide variety of people with similar passions to you, which is always nice! It was a lovely atmosphere and you could feel all the ideas and thinking swirling in the air, especially after a few local lagers…

There were only a few things that I would liked to have been different.

  • It was a fairly small conference (about 250 people I guess?), although I was reliably informed that this is actually quite big for a Games Studies conference (not surprising really). Yet despite this there were 6 talks on at a time, meaning that you would end up with only 5-15 people on average in each one. Whilst I can see that DiGRA would like to give exposure to a wide variety of ideas, I felt that this was too much going on at one time (especially considering that many of the rooms were a big distance from each other). It meant that I missed a good number of papers I was interested in because there would be 3 per session, meaning on average there were 18 an hour being delivered! Again, great amount of content (and later reading), but I would have preferred a little more focus and thematic grouping to the papers. I had to miss several I was interested in because I was delivering my own presentation!

  • In a weird sense I felt as though being quite ‘grounded’, for lack of a better term at the moment, seemed to be frowned upon. It was almost as though I wasn’t using enough fancy words to be there (I usually try to avoid highly specialist terms when making a presentation because you can never assume that other people have a clue what they mean – neither should you.)

  • There is a very heavy humanities basis, which is understandable – it seems to me that the majority of people in Games Studies as it stands at the moment have moved across from disciplines such as film studies, literature or sociology. I would like to see some more design/HCI oriented thinking present. If DiGRA is to continue being a good focal point for what’s happening in Games Studies (and I think it should and does a good job at this in the main) then it might need to work a little harder on encouraging a broader range of disciplines to participate. Note, I said a broader range of disciplines, rather than more material – so I’m not contradicting my earlier point!

  • Few talks had ramifications on new production. Whilst new understanding of what’s already here is important (we really don’t understand much about games at all!), I would have like to see some more talks that really interrogate the core forms and structures of some games in a way that would affect new production. One paper I saw presented that I really enjoyed in this vein though was by Geof Kaufman from Tilt Factor on making games to change attitudes and prejudices.

So, next time, DiGRA is going to be co-located with the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Scotland. It’ll be interesting to see what backgrounds and disciplines are represented there. In the meantime, I’ve got CHI Play to look forward to, which I would imagine would be very different indeed!

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