Two electronic gaming-centric events were held in Victoria, BC on the same weekend on March 12, and that can make for some hard decisions for people wondering which one of the two is the show to attend. Fortunately, Games Without Frontiers (GWoF) at University of Victoria’s IdeaFest has no relation to Peter Gabriel‘s song, otherwise there might have been some conflict. Instead, I had to make a tough call. The one on campus was closer to get to and it had an educational appeal that tickled my fancy. LANtasy at Pearkes Recreation Centre was further away and it had a communal appeal. Ultimately, I managed to hit both. Each had a specific audience they wanted to reach out to and it is not fair to say which is better. It’s easier to reveal what each 2016 event offered.
Games Without Frontiers
GWoF’s goal is to look at what gaming encompasses from an academic point of view. The panels I attended were informational and afterwards, I could talk to the guest speakers about their work.
Here, I saw youths having fun playing MineCraft. LANtasy saw some children appearing, but there was little they could play. Sure, there were two arcade consoles, but those games were of the violent variety. From what I heard, they took to the Victoria LEGO User’s Group (VicLUG) and Commodore 64 Enthusiasts of Greater Victoria for their entertainment quicker than the roll of a die.
In what I witnessed at UVic is a simple show. Attendance numbered roughly 250 during the time I was there after lunch. I explored MacLauren Building’s A and D wings, looking for where the fun was at. As GWoF grows (this is their second year), so will their numbers. I like this event for the reason it brings local video game companies, artists, professors, grad students, undergrads and youths together to look at where technology is going in both the video game, artistic and virtual world. Together, they make up what we as consumers enjoy in a game product.
I talked to one of this event’s coordinators (Ashley) after he hosted a GameJAM brainstorming session. He described the process of how most games are created: it grows from one simple idea to how the interactive elements operate in sync to carry that idea, the plot, forward. Take for example, how many video games work: the avatar or object the player controls occupies a small space on the screen. That never changes. As elements enter this space, the computer has to decide how that object affects the player. Does it award, harm or cause a part of the digital world to change? Writing the code for video games is not easy, and the same rules apply in board or role-playing games.
In the panel about virtual reality, I wanted to learn more about what’s in store for the future. Is VR about putting on a headset so a new realm is projected upon our eyes? The collective answer from Nicholas Zaparyniuk (Professor of Education at Uvic) and Mike Wozniewski of Hololabs Studio (who knows, he might be the next Steve Wozniak) is no. Talk about failed technologies, namely Google Glass, suggests once the holo-wear can project images directly into the eye to overwrite what we see, then what’s immersive will truly be spell-binding. Eventually, we might reach the levels of being able to “jack in” ala the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix or William Gibson‘s Neuromancer. The technology required for that kind of virtual experience is decades away. Today, we are still getting used to the idea of having haptic feedback on interactive screens instead of holography for virtual experiences. Eventually, we can manipulate virtual objects just like in Iron Man / Avengers: Age of Ultron where Tony Stark is manipulating light photons.
On a simpler front, people like Alex Christie and Bernadette Perry are working on realizing the next iteration of hyper-reality in fiction. Essentially, these are Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels, where readers guide the direction of the narrative. Christie’s Master’s degree dissertation examines the relationship of how ideas are managed in text. Meaning is redefined depending on the order of how the words (if not paragraphs) are placed on a screen. Bernadette’s idea is to use augmented reality to help students learn a new language by transforming the every day into objects they can interact with. Her software uses an object-oriented language to define where things take place and players can use their cell phones or tablet to find the virtual world. These realms are not always defined by how people are transported there by a headset, but also in how a camera from that cell phone senses it through geo-location. In her work, students have a new way to develop their cognitive ability with that language being learned. In what I interpreted from her Explorez! demo, she made a werewolf adventure using the UVic campus as the creature’s stomping ground! I had to chuckle when one of the clues involved his lost pants.
Other panels at this show included looking at the role games that can be applied to daily education (Calculus can benefit greatly since these equations are regularly used in engineering and the sciences, especially astrophysics), examining its uses in medical therapy and creating interactive literature (a topic I’m really interested in).
Curiously, LANtasy didn’t consider inviting Reese Giroux to their show. I knew that they had no plans to bring in speakers for their first-year. I hope in a few years time, they will have the resources to do so and include video game voice over talents (hint: please invite Steve Blum). For now, I’m sure these mutual events can spread the love. At GWoF, Giroux talked all about e-sports, the world of competitive gaming, for the entire afternoon. Most of the gamers at Pearkes already know about his experiences because they are living it. But for the curious or uninitiated, this primer would have made all the difference since Giroux explained why this culture exists and how he got to where he is.
For a single day, this event packed a lot of great panels for people to attend and I find that welcoming.