Transmedia Victoria and the Global Game Jam

Transmedia Victoria and the Global Game Jam are not necessarily connected by anything more than time, both taking place as they did during the same week at the end of January, but because of their proximity, I found my thoughts on both connecting with the general uncertainty that grew out of the end of last year – and going a long way to solidifying both what the spectrum between art and business looks like for me and where on that continuum I want to be.

Here, in no particular order, are some of those thoughts.

Experience of a transmedia project, at least those showcased at the event, follows a model of explorative play for the audience.

There’s a lot of overlap in how the narrative experience unfolds and some of the core experiential aspects of games and play, but what interests me is how those can be fragmented. I have an upcoming essay on the use of metaphor & the importance of temporal continuity in how videogames connect with their audiences, and it struck me that transmedia projects are perhaps closer to the staccato experience of non-digital games rather than the continuous experience of digital.

Narrative is of less interest to me than play (sometimes)

Which is an odd thing to say as a writer, but from a design perspective the most inspiring talks and subsequent conversations from Transmedia Victoria were with Tassos Stevens from Agency of Coney and Steven Mitchell Wright from The Danger Ensemble about theatre and play and those development processes.  I’m still filtering through exactly why this is, but the further I get from working in studio development, the more I find myself interested in the underlying humanity of why we play and why it’s important.

What do the systems we create and follow say about us?

In my experience, the dominant model of games creation on the studio side solves, with varying degrees of success, the production problem. The idea of the game is formed, that idea is built, then at the end, if there is time, it is tweaked as much as possible to make it fun.  The dominant activity is production of assets with the aim of the final project being brought in within its constraints.

What’s interesting to me is that this seems to be the model adopted by the game jam. What is rewarded is a finished game produced within the constraints of limited time & manpower – essentially rewarding solutions to the production problem. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – and I think the Melbourne IGDA did a great job with organisation and the participants produced some really interesting projects – I’m just curious about alternatives.

Around Transmedia Victoria, I was reminded that there are other models out there that game developers could benefit from exploring. This raises some interesting questions – what does reward then look like?  What systems do we build to get there? How do we possibly marry the two to get the result we want? And how does that impact where we might sit on the creative-business continuum?

What if, rather than the creation of a single game, we rewarded the creation of as many ideas as possible? What if rather than solving the production problem, we ignored it and purely improvised our way through the early design space? What if we we learned better how to keep our options open rather than closing them off before exploring them fully? How would we reward that in the sort of structures that had a game jam? And how could we fit that into solving the production problem?

And what does the fact that these are the systems we follow say about us as developers or creatives?  I’m not sure entirely, but I suspect I’ll be thinking a lot about it between now and Freeplay.

It’s the work that matters…

Transmedia Victoria was worth it to be reminded of this. I didn’t agree with all of the speakers, nor was I convinced that it was a space that I want to work in (although I have some projects that are locative or playful), but it reminded me after a period of uncertainty of the bits of games culture that I care about and that it’s much closer to the creative end of the continuum than the business end.

…even if the audience is small…

Andra Sheffer, the Executive Director of the Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund, said this pretty explicitly in one of her slides and made the point that those audiences can be more engaged and give great feedback.

She also pointed out something that everybody at some stage has butted up against: “There must be ONE guiding vision to ensure consistency and enforce creative and business decisions”. Nice to hear it from someone in her position.

…and find the Wow factor

I’ve written a little bit before about original project development & ideas, but this connected to some other thoughts and conversations I’ve had through the years reflecting  that it isn’t enough just to have an original idea, it’s important to have an inspiring and compelling original idea.  There are many ways to arrive at that, but the trick is recognising one when you see it and having the courage to chase it. I’m not quite there yet, but moving into 2011 after a difficult end to 2010 is about finding that courage.

Thanks to Christy Dena & Eve Penford-Dennis for organising Transmedia Victoria and to the IGDA Melbourne for organising the Game Jam.  You can see slides of the TMV presentations here, with video to follow, and can play the Melbourne Game Jam Games here.

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