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Top 5 Talks I Would Attend at GDC 2013 (If I Was There Instead of Hamlet)

Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If you hadn't guessed already based on my extra posts Hamlet's attending GDC, the Game Developers Conference, in San Francisco this week--and I am so incredibly jealous of him. The conference is being attended by flocks of people I respect and is packed to the gills with interesting panels and events, I'd be crazy if I didn't want to be there.

While I'm not sure what's on Hamlet's schedule, I know exactly what I'd be attending if I was there myself...

5. Scapegoats No More: Improving the Public Image of Games

First of all any panel with Ian Bogost, one of the most influential academics in gaming, has a pretty high chance of being brilliant, but this one is of particular interest. Video games have had PR problems for a very long time (longer than I've even been alive) but things only seem to get worse as games become even more popular. If a criminal owns even one game there's a good chance it will be mentioned at some point when the media begins dissecting their life--even in the best case scenario gaming and gamers by association don't get a whole lot of respect. It's a problem the industry has been struggling to solve for awhile and things aren't going to change overnight, but it's an interesting and important discussion to have regardless.

4. Rethinking How We Build Games and Why: The Papo & Yo Story

Papo & Yo is a game about a little boy, a monster, and his imagination... But it's also the story of a game developer's complicated, uncomfortable, and even tragic childhood. Like any other form of expression, games can be a powerful tool to work out some of the baggage we accumulate in our lives. As creator or even player games can provide incredibly cathartic experiences, and highly personal storytelling can make a game resonate with its audience. This is definitely something that I wish fewer developers shied away from, and I'm sure this is going to be a moving and inspiring talk for developers, journalists, and players alike.

3. Equality or GTFO: Navigating the Gendered Minefield of Online Gaming Spaces

Anita Sarkeesian. If I need to say any more than that, this probably isn't the talk for you. The advocacy track at GDC is pretty strong this year, both in terms of race and gender issues in gaming, but Anita's animated and approachable style mean that this will undoubtedly be a highlight.

2. Saving Doug: Empathy, Character, and Choice in The Walking Dead

Like just about everyone else, I absolutely loved Telltale Games' The Walking Dead (not to be confused with The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct) largely because of its captivating and highly emotional story. In the past few months it's been interesting to hear what the developers themselves consider its shortcomings. If you haven't played the game, there are many important choices the player makes that the game tracks and at the end of each episode you can see how many other players made the same choice. Telltale didn't want to have obviously "Good" and "Bad" choices, so they always wanted the number of players who took choice A to be just about equal to those who took choice B.

In most cases they've succeeded at this, but the character of Doug is one of the most notable exceptions: When presented with the choice, very few people chose to save Doug, an agreeable guy (I remember literally nothing about him beyond that) over Carly, an attractive gun-weilding journalist. Telltale's The Walking Dead has plenty of amazing characters standing alongside a few that fall short, and anyone interesting in writing (for games or otherwise) would benefit from hearing what distinguishes them.

1. Experimental Gameplay Workshop

This event isn't just appealing to me because Linden Lab's Emily Short and Richard Evans will both be there, likely showing Versu (Emily is also giving a talk on Versu earlier the same day.) In this workshop, every member of the long list of presenters will be sharing games they've developed that feature off-beat or outside-the-box gameplay. Students, studio pros, and indies will all be presenting work that in the past has included Katamari Damacy, Braid, and Portal, all in the hopes of inspiring fellow developers and members of the industry to pursue less than traditional game mechanics. Given the indie game boom of the past few years (and recent mind-bending games like Antichamber) there's no doubt that a lot of amazing (and insane) work will be shown this year.

If you're curious about what else is going on this week you can take a look at the complete GDC 13 schedule here.

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Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.


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