The GDC 2010 Microtalks session was a frazzling experience in many ways. The format of the event essentially assures it. Ten lecturers -- all from different sectors of the game industry -- each spoke for five minutes and each were allowed to use 20 different slides. Naughty Dog's Richard Lemarchand set the stage for the speakers, announcing the theme of the talks as "come play with us." The goal of the microtalks, said Lemarchand, was to help game creators capture the "radicalizing exuberance" of games and give them the energy to "transform the world" through the power of play.
The resulting cavalcade of images and ideas -- ranging from methods of play to behavioral economics -- is a bit difficult to distill. Thankfully, we were taking notes. There was too much at the event to condense here, but it was definitely a thought-provoking event. We've highlighted a few of the more interesting speeches after the break.
Kellee Santiago, thatgamecompany
Ms. Santiago's lecture centered on the joys of play. She expressed her belief that games impart joy that's felt "between friends and strangers." But playing a game online certainly doesn't, Santiago lamented. Playing online doesn't evoke a sense of play for Santiago, but rather "violent competition, a sense of anonymity that allows us to abuse each other, sexual harassment and a general sense of dread." Furthermore, she stated that "there isn't much of a will to change that," noting that many developers simply accept it as "an inevitable fallout from being online."
Santiago rejected this notion, saying "it's just lazy design." Multiplayer, she said, is now too often treated merely as a technical feature. "I would like to see more people asking, 'Why should we play together?,'" encouraging developers to discover how multiplayer can create more "truly memorable experiences."
She closed her speech with a slide of the typical ESRB warning displayed in online games: Online interactions not rated by the ESRB. "This is no longer an acceptable answer," said Santiago, "Stop being lazy. We can do better. Let's really start inviting the world to play with us."
Jane Pinckard, Foundation 9
Jane Pinckard's talk centered on love. Specifically, she noted that a lot of games do a good job of engaging the logical, puzzle-solving areas of the brain, but not many engage the emotional areas. "We've gotten really good at asking that question, 'what does the player do?,' and now we're starting to ask the question, 'how does the player feel about it?'" She added that players want to feel "deeply connected," saying, "we all want our brains to release those juicy, delightful chemicals that make us feel warm and fuzzy."
This, said Pinckard, is the domain of the limbic system, the portion of the brain where emotions reside. It's also where the instinct for play is housed. She noted that games are just starting to explore this kind of connection, saying that games have a rougher road than films and novels, because they require us to actually "live through" the emotions, rather than simply depicting them. She noted a few examples of love in games, including Final Fantasy VIII, Nintendogs and Dragon Age: Origins.
As for how to better approach love in games, Pinckard suggested that designers utilize the same elements found in everyday personal relationships, elements including humor, adrenaline, self-expression and vulnerability. She also said that players should be presented with unique objects of affection. "We're superheroes in the game, we deserve a superhero mate," she said, adding that the lovers in Fable II felt "disposable."
In conclusion, Pinckard said, "I don't really care about the Citizen Kane of games. I want the Pride and Prejudice of games."
Suzanne Seggerman, Games for Change
Suzanne Seggerman closed the microtalks with a discussion on the potential for truly meaningful games that "take on real world issues." She set up context for her talk by highlighting examples of culturally meaningful media the world has known. Chief among them was Bob Dylan who, according to Seggerman, "did what he loved and made a serious impact on the world" simply by utilizing his medium in a "raw and powerful" way.
She went on to reference An Inconvenient Truth and Dr. Strangelove as examples of meaningful films, adding that many such "issue-based" films are widely acclaimed, even nominated for Academy Awards. "Games can do this to," she said, "It's just a matter of time." Television, too, has its own culturally relevant media, with Seggerman referencing M.A.S.H., saying that meaningful entertainment doesn't have to be preachy.
"Do you want to spend the next two years making a me-too first-person shooter alone in the dark, working on the next BFG that's blue instead of green?" she asked. "Why not be remembered 200 years from now?" She then announced that a slot at next year's GDC Microtalks will be reserved for anyone that creates a game as the result of this year's session.
"Right here, right now is the next Dylan, Dick or Dickens of games, someone who will be remembered 200 years from now for their early and transformative work in this field." She then challenged everyone in the room to make an impactful game. "No matter whether you do it for the talk, you do it for the cash, you do it for the sex, or you do it for the best reason of all: to make a mind-blowing game, that shows the world that this is the greatest medium of our time, and that time has come."