Nordic Game Conference 2013

My third time (I think?!) at Nordic Game Conference was also the best experience so far.

The two days flew by in what feels like an instant, but there’s so much to bring back home.

The atmosphere at Nordic Game is always fairly relaxed and informal, despite the packed program. People are incredibly friendly and forthcoming, and you can’t help but feel at home.

I had so many inspiring conversations with lovely people. Among those, I talked for nearly two hours with Jean-Baptiste Huynh, maker of the cool math-game DragonBox (thx to Mr. Vigild for the introduction). Jean-Baptiste immediately started designing a game for me, which led to the realization, that we want the same – a complete & radical rethinking of education.

That makes for a good afternoon.

The talks

Besides talking to people, there’s of course the actual talks.

Lots of talks.

I can’t possibly decide which was the best, but a few stand out.

I guess the most keynote’ish keynote was the one given by famous game designer Tim Schafer, who is an embodyment of good community relations. People love him, probably because he’s smart, quirky, funny & generally seems to be a really nice guy.

At Nordic Game, he talked about “inspiration driven development”…and a lot of other stuff in a very inspirational talk.

It got even better & more wacky, when he started answering questions and moved away from the more structured part of his talk.

The panel on Walking Dead, “The Talking Dead: Voicing a Dynamic Narrative”, was excellent. If for no other reason, then simply because it was so damn charming, fun and with such a wonderfully engaging energy & chemistry.

Oh, and Dave Fennoy (the voice of Lee):

Susan O’Connor did a very bold & inspiring talk entirely without slides, titled “Play It Again, Sam: How To Connect With Your Audience”.

Richard Lemarchand talked about his transition from AAA-designer at Naughty Dog to teaching at USC Interactive Media Division.

Then there’s Ste Curran. His talk was more of an artistic performance than merely a talk.

And he somehow managed to talk passionately about this (and with a good point as well):


At conferences, I always try to find patterns.

One such pattern has to do with control.

Rapid technological development has frequently been said to allow game developers to acquire increased control of their work, and this was touched upon by several speakers.

The growing importance of new funding opportunities (Kickstarter & crowdfunding most notably) is also known to play a part in the shift.

As a contrast to this, several speakers also encouraged embracing a lack of control.

On a more philosopical level, many speakers were talking about games, play & life.

Lemarchand also credited Amy Hennig for learning the importance of vulnerability

This resonated with O’Connor:

This reminds me of Ian Bogost‘s review of Jane McGonigal‘s “Reality is Broken” titled “Reality is alright“.

See, I don’t think reality is broken. It’s messed up and horrifying, sure, but we don’t get to fix it, ever. It’s flawed and messy and delightful and repellent and stunning. Reality is alright. And I don’t think games are happiness engines, either. They are complex, rusty machines built to show us that the world is so much bigger and weirder than we expected. I play games to remind me of this.

I’m pretty sure games can’t save the world, but they may very well help us understand it just a little bit better.

I would certainly love to see more games try.

Space for improvement?

As stated multiple times, I love being at NGC. I love the atmosphere, and I find many nuggets of inspiration.

Even so, there’s always things to improve.

First off, the BlackBerry commercial running before every talk in the largest theatre was way too intrusive, and often felt like it “invaded” the actual talk.

Also, people are hungry at conferences.

Some people wished for more technical talks, and I can see why (though I probably wouldn’t attend those myself).

I also tend to agree with people, who wanted more surprising talks; a thing we discussed afterwards on Twitter:

Particularly Christian’s criticism made me instantly think of a piece written by Michael Abbott (@brainygamer) last year:

“But as we’ve waited for games to “grow up” and claim their cultural place in the sun, the medium has broadened and deepened beyond our ability to discern it. In other words, as we’ve struggled to affix labels like “art game” and “experiential game” to a broad stylistic spectrum, game makers – mostly, but not exclusively, in the indie space – continue to push ahead, challenging us to keep up and find new ways to critically engage.”

This discussion now continues different places, and it seems people from Nordic Game are actively pursuing it, which I can only applaud.

It’s a wrap

This year I had the chance to contribute a bit myself (beside the gazillion tweets, that comes pouring out of me at conferences), as Thomas Vigild had invited me to be part of the closing session with him & Simon Parkin.

It was great fun & people generally seemed to appreciate the effort:

If we’re allowed back next year, there’s lots of interesting possibilities to iterate on the concept. Perhaps even make it a little less improvisational?

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