I know, I know. I’m a year late. I’m sure that every opinion has been voiced by now. For starters, I’ll give my full experience at the panel, “Game Design Challenge 2011: Bigger than Jesus.” I’ll talk about the ways in which GDC11 was bigger than Jesus, and end with how much of Jesus I experienced at GDC.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. So yea, part of me can’t help but consider being a little offended by the sacrilegiousness. Part of me is a bit too lazy to care, but most of me was excited for some action! To be honest, the description of the event is quite respectful. They simply chose a title that stirs shock.
Each designer must create a game that is also in some way a religion – or a religion that is in some way a game. Every year the design challenge is an opportunity to address a wider issue around games and the larger culture. Increasingly, games are becoming part of players’ lives – through handheld and mobile devices as well as the lifestyle invasion of social network games. Religion can be seen as humanity’s oldest model for a social network, connecting people through time and space by way of community, philosophy, and social ritual. Is designing a game-as-religion really so far-fetched? Perhaps not. Many ancient rituals of divination and devotion, from the I-Ching to the Kabbalah, have extremely game-like elements. And some credit the birth of Scientology with the bet that a science-fiction author couldn’t create a new religion. How will our game designers cope with this holy hand grenade of a design challenge? You’ll just have to find out for yourself. At the session, the panelists will present a unique solution to this game design problem. And the audience plays an important role as well – by voting in the winner of the Game Design Challenge 2011. Expect a free-wheeling session of brave new game design ideas, along with unpredictable debate and dialog.
Someone from Soma Games remarked that it’s interesting to see an industry in the midst of so much innovation and transition seeking meaning. Was this an instance of the game industry looking for Jesus?… Or, less offensively, looking for their own Jesus? I have to say that of all industries, video games is probably the one where you find the least amount of Jesus. It’s because Christians are such technopobes…lol.
Jason Roher was up first. He’s made some elegantly meaningful and beautiful games. I’m not surprised that he won the challenge. His game was called, Chain World, if I recall correctly. (It’s tough trying to remember something you saw a year ago.) Basically, it is a world on a USB stick, and each person plays until they die, after which the stick is passed along and another person gets a turn at life, each person leaving their own impact on the world.
John Romero’s was probably my favorite. At the beginning of his presentation, he presents God as a Twitter account, God6502. God6502 has only one follower, Messiah6502. You can only follow God indirectly through Messiah6502. That, in itself, is well played. So as John presents Messiah6502, he says, “the first 12 followers of this account will be the 12 apostles.”
Besides the people who knew about it ahead of time, I’m pretty sure I was the first or second one, since I was already on Twitter. They had 12 of us lined up front and handed us pads of sticky notes. They said that we had 1 minute to give the post-its out, each person with a post-it of a particular color would be a potential convert. If you think about it, it’s a pretty interesting model for evangelism. I mean, some people would go person to person. You can imagine handing out stacks of post-its per person and having them convert audience members on your behalf as an optimization. I wasn’t that clever. At the end, I think I just threw my pad into the audience.
Apparently, some of the notes had star stickers on them. Each star sticker was to represent a miracle. The apostle with the most miracles won.
I think I might have tied for first place, but I really wasn’t very good at keeping my own score. Anyhow, it was all for the best, b/c the game ended with Romero revealing that he was the messiah and the winner was to assassinate him to take over as the new messiah. I found the game very well thought out and almost appropriately offensive at the end, all things considered.
Jenova’s was probably the only one worth being offended about. It just felt like someone speaking as an authority on something he didn’t know very much about. I mean, when you start saying that religion only exists because of “boredom from a lack of purpose” or a “fear towards death,” you start sounding like you take yourself very seriously. You could compare him to Joel Olstean, and he’d sound just like a televangelist for Atheists.
Afterwards, my friend, Tronster, remarked that he found it ironic I was up front as one of Messiah6502′s 12 disciples.
While the panel prepared for their attempts to be “bigger than Jesus,” we were praying to Jesus every morning at 7:30 am onsite. This past year, was bigger than ever. I mean, getting to Moscone everyday by 7:30 am is no joke. (Our official hashtag is #gdcpray.)
That first morning, I led the meeting of 14 people. We shared about the history of this meeting. We shared about our year. I read from James 5, and we prayed for one another.
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
The next morning, my lil bro Kemp and I met up by 7:15. We prayed for our bro, Grant. Then prayed about jobs. More than ever did people step up to lead and share. There was a strong consistency this year. Hey, if they are willing to title the game design challenge, “Bigger than Jesus,” I don’t see why we can’t have prayer meetings at GDC…lol.
A couple things happened differently this year. First, we had non-volunteer developers from a game company join us. We also had a girl who drove down here from Redding, CA. She was a BSSM student I’d met the week prior when I was at a Bethel Conference. Let’s just say it was quite spirit driven this year around. I even took a group to check out the San Francisco House of prayer (http://sfhouseofprayer.org/).
There were 4 of us who took a cab to check out SFHOP. When we showed up, there were 3 older people there in a big empty room. I feel like there was a mutual exchange of encouragement on both sides. If anything, it was very quest like. Party of 4 going to receive prayer from the elders at the house of prayer.
Chris, from Soma Games, led one of the mornings, sharing scripture. We gave testimonies. We shared our visions, hopes, and dreams. Each morning we paid attention to the needs and life situation of each person and edified/encouraged one another.
The last morning was especially memorable. Eddie and Carl led. A verse was shared in regards to the presence we have in this industry. Carl talked about connecting. Grant shared and prayed as well. If anything, I believe that something has started.. Perhaps, a love revolution every morning at the GDC– a door has opened that no man can close. It truly is nothing that any of us are doing. We just simply show up and things happen.
Our family within a family within a family
Bigger than Jesus? Sure, why not? Jesus did say after all:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
The Jesus experience doesn’t end for me there. I took a trip to visit my brothers and sisters up at University of California, San Francisco. I stayed with Johanna, a dental student and went to church with her on Sunday. I was seriously exhausted. To get home, I’d have to take the Muni to BART, then to Caltrain, then to bus 17, then take a bus 16 to my house with all my stuff. Good thing I’d left most of my schwag with the UCSF students.
Johanna’s church had an interim pastor. Pastor Barney, a spirit filled minister who used to shepherd a foursquare church in SANTA CRUZ. It was so odd hearing him preach about the streets that I live on. Not only that, he’d invited a couple to talk about their experiences. This couple was from Santa Cruz and was driving straight back to home. I slept the whole way back.
“What’s an Xbus?,” I asked myself. I knew I’d find out at the CGDC, after seeing it as a listed activity during the conference.
The Xbus is a converted 40′ transit bus that has been outfitted for 16 person multiplayer LAN link video games. It has 16 networked Xbox 360 game consoles so that means that each player gets their own 27” HDTV. There is a 13kW onboard generator that supplies power for everything so it doesn’t even cost you for electricity. We even have a soda machine onboard. We provide everything for the ultimate gaming experience.
(Description taken from: http://www.xbusgames.com/about-xbus-games/)
I checked into the dormitory that first night, but got sidetracked by all the amazing videogame demos and conversations all around. Late into the night, a crowd of attendees poured in with the look of satisfaction from a series of free-for-alls or, perhaps, having blown up a fair share of Covenant Elites.
The next morning, I found this 40 foot transit bus in the parking that had been remodeled into a 16 person multiplayer LAN-mobile. You can find out more about this invention here.
I was compelled to not only try it out, but to pray for this bus and its owner. Now, you never know how people will respond to prayer, but I soon found out, he was “part of the family.” In addition to the birthdays, bar mitzfahs, and bachelor parties, he often donates this vehicle for the use of youth groups at retreats, camps, and churches.
What he didn’t realize was that this vehicle was a great encouragement to me and this conference. He didn’t even realize that he was parked outside a Christian Game Developers Conference, so I made sure to connect him, as he has a unique perspective on our industry.
In Christian circles, I am constantly having to swallow the bitter rhetoric that leaders use to vilify God’s technology, and here was a man, sharing God’s creation with his people. “Don’t worry, it won’t bite.”
God’s kingdom is constantly being extended by the creative and entrepreneurial minds of his people, and in this case, giving new meaning to the term “mobile gaming.”
About 2 weeks ago, at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, CA for Foundations of Digital Games Conference, professionals gathered to present academic efforts in “all areas of research and education involving games, game technologies, gameplay and game design. The goal of the conference is the advancement of the study of digital games, including new game technologies, capabilities, designs, applications, educational uses, and modes of play.”
In case you missed it (and other than what you’d find in the conference proceedings), we shared every meal, played several games of poker, and sang show tunes as Jesper Juul played the piano (for not one but) two nights in a row. I have to admit that I’m lucky enough to both love what I do and all those in my professional family.
The Game Developer’s Conference is less than a week away, and for those who don’t get to see what goes on during this amazing week, we, at the Expressive Intelligence Studio, put together a mini documentary about the “People Behind the Products.” Now, we aren’t film-makers at EIS, but in addition to doing some awesome research, it’s important to make the things we do accessible to especially those who only experience games as consumers. To be honest, the best part of what I do, isn’t that I get to “play games,” but that I’m able to be part of creating games.
This last weekend, I participated in the Global Game Jam. Basically, you form teams with the people at your development site (mine was UC Santa Cruz), and you get 48 hours to make a game. The topic this year was deception, and our game needed to have either skunks, monks, or punks in it. We went with skunks.
Since we (my team) were all programmers, I decided I’d like to experience (for once) the other side of things and worked on the art, music, and sound. Now, many people think that I make games for my degree, which isn’t quite the case. As a result of my studies, I do occasionally need to build some interactive experience to test the technology I’m developing, but I’m not in school to learn how to make good games. I’m in school to figure out ways to make games better or easier to create.
In any case, our game was called “Rovers Inferno” for reasons that aren’t important enough to explain. What is noteworthy is how much I enjoyed code, art, and sound jamming with so many people. Grant it, every girl has some experience drawing princesses, flowers, puppies, and kitties, but the cool thing about interactive media is that these characters need to have a way to respond to human users.
In a lot of ways, as I design the aspects and objects of my world, I get to take on the role of an intelligent designer– god of my own universe. I have appreciation of not just what I do, but more so what and how God must have done it. We are in His image, indeed.
Reasons why I loved Game Jamming:
- I got to use a Wacom tablet for the first time and create art that went into a project (also, for the first time).
- I got to premier my barking and meowing skills (I’d been waiting for the day my barking would come in handy).
- I got to use cool jazz music programs, and even got to feature a short solo on my t. sax at the end of the game.
- I learned about making game sprites (not as easy as it seemed).
- I learned about audio programs and editing.
- I learned I could probably make it as my own mediocre (casual) game company.
- Basically, I was born to make the art and sound assets for a game like this.
See my sprites animated, after the jump
At this point, most people should know of Google Wave. Fewer have had an opportunity to start “waving,” as Google Wave is still in a “limited preview” stage. Usually, I’m not the first in line to adopt a new technology, because I always need substantial convincing for why I should bother. In the case of waving, I had a realization that many of my current communicative frustrations may be alleviated with a reorganization for how I understood conversations. Immediately, I got on Facebook and announced that I’d really really want an invite to Google Wave– I was waving in matter of minutes (Thanks Kyle!).
Around the same time I started waving, I decided to play the game, Braid (I had heard so many wonderful things about this game, and, you know, better late than never). In both of my experiences with Wave and Braid, I found myself re-evaluating the common conventions as I had, from practice, defined. With Wave, the norms of communication is challenged and with Braid, the meta-approaches to problem solving for platformer games. What I’m left with is the realization that time does not immutably flow steadily forward in every context– something that I’d taken forgranted all my life, and when we change our frame of reference, so does our understanding of what is true.
It has to have been 4 or 5 years since I’ve seen a recent Simpsons episode. After catching up on the last few episodes, I can really appreciate how “with it” the Simpsons have been. After all, it’s gotta be relevant if being parodied by the Simpsons. Particularly relevant is episode 21, where Bart’s teacher is replaced with a younger, hipper instructor, Zack– who turns what all the students consider to be “fashionable” into something functional.
Bart: “Then Zack skyped us, live blogged our spelling bee, and friended us on facebook!”
Over winter break this past year, I went to a conference in Chicago for Graduate and Faculty Christians. I found myself having to choose between the Engineering track and the Math track (I went with Engineering). At the conference were some well known researchers, such as Fred Brooks and Francis Collins. It seemed, to me (at least), that this conference would be quite the unique experience (…and I can now say that I’ve sung hymns with a room full of engineers). I mean, how often do we encounter a large gathering of the intersection between Christians and Professors? … I digress; however, within the community of Christian “intellectuals,” there were some interesting presentations on non-religious research. In particular, was a talk titled, “Discerning Technology or Hippocratic Engineering.”
In his introduction, the speaker uses Spore as an example to demonstrate how we’ve managed to take recreate life within technology. He quotes, “SPORE isn’t a game for re-educating the intelligent design proponents of the present; it’s a game for inspiring the intelligent designers of the future.” At such an unusual conference, I gladly found myself at a session where 5 of the first 7 slides were celebrating video games. This leads the speaker into a discussion of “Technology Assessment, an implicit mandate.” He asks the question, should we be creating technologies just because we can?, giving quite a number of interesting cases and scenarios to consider (and concludes with a few under-explained tables and figures– “Base vectors of technological progress” and the “Environmentally Responsible Product Assessment Matrix” for example.) Overall, there was one point that remained unsettling for me….
First, if you haven’t heard about it, come tomorrow (9-9-09), The Beatles: Rock Band is released. In preparation for its receptions, the game has instigated a lively inter-generational debate. The lines are not so clearly drawn as to which communities or generations rest on which side, which makes it quite a unique situation.
Many people, including Seth Scheisel from the New York Times, find that in the sense of cultural influence and pervasiveness, The Beatles game is perhaps “the most important video game yet made.” On the other hand, Ian Bogost can less-than agree with Scheisel’s radical opinions on what seems to be yet another rhythm game. The discussion, mostly followed on Ian’s blog (but also on the initial review itself), crosses from game to culture to history and back. People of different generations and sub-cultures are intermixed and allied in atypical ways. The Beatles fans are excited. The Beatles fans who are also gamers are ecstatic. Musicians are insulted. Game researchers are unimpressed. Anthropologists are interested. Indifference permeates all across the board!
Join the discussion while you still can. Chris Lewis, Mark Nelson, and I, from EIS, have already contributed our few cents.