It’s high conference season (as it feels like it is maybe half of the year), and the past two weeks have seen me bouncing around between airports, classrooms, theaters, parent teacher conferences, oh, and occasionally, my office. Between the Games + Learning + Society Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, Games for Change in the theater district in NYC, various live streams, and trying to preserve some semblance of a normal work and life schedule, things begin to run together in my head.
But no matter how harried things get, my favorite thing about almost any conference is getting to see a lot of smart people and a lot of interesting games that I might never see otherwise. I’m consistently getting my mind blown in the best way possible. So before my consciousness turns to total jelly, here are three of the best surprises and discoveries of the past few weeks.
I’ve never been a Role Playing Game girl, but Sean Duncan’s session at Games + Learning + Society on this tabletop RPG, designed by Jason Morningstar, totally piqued my interest. Role playing games are a longstanding and beloved tradition in the games world, the standard bearer being the classic Dungeons & Dragons. The formats vary, but generally involve players assuming the roles of different characters in a fictional setting. These players either act out or discuss a story, within a structure of rules and guidelines. (I’m grossly generalizing here, but Wikipedia has a good entry on RPGs if you’re interested in more detail.)
Fiasco is a game where a number of players take on relationships and given circumstances determined by the roll of a small set of dice. The players then act out (through conversation) the way the characters would act in different situations, developing the story as they go. Further rolls of the dice, corresponding with items in the game’s set of rules, more or less guarantee that each of these characters descends into a doomed spiral of disastrous events. Think Dungeons & Dragons meets a Coen Brothers movie. I really enjoyed the session at GLS, but what made me understand the real appeal of this game was when, along with Carla and some other attendees, I actually got to play a full version at an evening arcade. Suffice it to say our final outcome was twisted, horrific, and totally hilarious, and gave me an appreciation of RPGs in general that I haven’t had before.
Thanks to a tip from a colleague, I checked out this horror puzzle game that was nominated for “Most Innovative Game” at the Games for Change awards last week. The fascinating thing about this PC game is that you play it while wearing a heart rate sensor, and the game challenges you to stay calm — in other words, keep your heart rate low — in scary situations. The more higher your heart rate gets, the harder the game becomes, while if you remain calm you can proceed through more easily. Talk about an interesting marriage of game play and story! The game is still in development, but it’s one I hope to be able to play sometime soon.
Firmly in the category of “I didn’t even know that was a thing” is fantasy wrestling. Before Crystle Martin gave a fascinating presentation about it at GLS, I would have assumed fantasy wrestling was similar to fantasy football or baseball. Fantasy wrestling, however, is much more like a Role Playing Game set in the world of professional wrestling. Wrestling fans located all over the world come together online and create their own characters, matches, and rivalries in a collaborative creative pursuit. These fans concoct incredibly intricate narratives, reveling in their fandom as a group and forming relationships in the process. Martin’s presentation focused in part on how, while studying these communities, she’s discovered how many of these fans help each other with their English skills (she has a great blog post about it with more detail). The community gives each other feedback on both their creative writing and their English grammar and usage, and has inspired several of its members to pursue creative writing in their offline lives. This session was for me an important reminder in how games create spaces for growth and learning that we might never expect. That, and anytime you see the picture at the top of this post in a presenter’s slides, you know you’re in for a good time!
So that’s where I’ve been and a bit of what I’ve picked up along the way. Seen anything great recently? Drop us an email at KidsGotGame@NoCrusts.com, follow us @NoCrusts on Twitter, or sign-up to receive email updates from us if you want to keep up to date on our goings on.
Photo © simononly