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GAMES GAMERS PLAY


Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2011 Feb. 28–March 4, Moscone Center, San Francisco ATTENDED BY MORE THAN 19,000 GAME-DEVELOPMENT PROFESSIONALS, INCLUDING PROGRAMMERS, ARTISTS, PRODUCERS,AUDIO ENGINEERS,ANDVENTURE CAPITALISTS


GDC is the longest-running and largest event of its kind in the world, bringing together more than 19,000 game-develop- ment professionals for hundreds of education sessions (sample title: “How I Got MyMomto Play Through Plants vs. Zom- bies”), networking, new product launches, and demonstrations of the latest technology. Developing a game for that audience “is like being asked to


cook for Mario Batali,” said Colleen Macklin, an associate pro- fessor of design and technology at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, and a member of Local No. 12, a non- profit collective of four game designers who have created two games played atGDCand other conferences. One of them was called Backchatter, and was based on conference Twitter feeds. Backchatter has been played successfully at several conferences, Macklin said, but it has certain limitations. Players have to be online and using Twitter in order to participate, and interrup- tions toWi-Fi access pose problems for gameplay. For GDC 2011, LocalNo. 12 designed The Metagame:


The Debate Game, a card game “which has nothing to do with technology,” Macklin said. Players received mini-decks with cards bearing the names of various games, along with cards asking questions such as “Which game is more influential?” and “Which game should never have been made?” Players


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CARD-CARRYINGATTENDEES: The Metagame, a simple card game about games, was a runaway hit at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Designers attributed its success to its simplicity and relevance to attendees.


chose game cards from their decks in response, then defended their choices, with bystanders choosing the winner. The Metagame was extremely successful. Local No. 12 distributed more than 2,000 decks of cards atGDC2011—as many as were available—meaning that more than 10 percent of atten- dees played. One of the reasons that the game was so popular, Macklin said, is that its objectives connected directly with some- thing that people already were doing at GDC: debating the mer- its of games. Macklin said: “A conference game has got to connect to the core of the event.” Another reason that the game worked well, Macklin said,


is that it was very easy to learn. Novice game designers some- times make the mistake of creating games that are too compli- cated and take too much effort to learn. “Simplicity really is important,” she said.“We knew we would fail if the game was too hard to understand. There has to be an easy way in, so players can get started.” The Metagame also was designed so that players themselves


would help it go viral—players who recruited other players got bonus cards. And finally, Macklin said, the game attracted play- ers by creating “a kind of exciting spectacle” through the debates. Players making their arguments drew in bystanders, who then became part of the game by acting as judges. “It really was so much fun,” Macklin said. “The conference takes over San Francisco. You would go into bars near the conference cen- ter at night, and people were playing The Metagame.” Beyond the fun, the designers intended to encourage more sophisticated, critical analysis and discussion of games. At a conference for game developers, “it’s important for all of us practitioners to be aware of the formal quality of games and be able to talk about them with some depth,” said Macklin, who also directs the PETLab, a public-interest game design and research lab. “I am interested in how games can help us be smarter people. Games are great at helping us understand the world. They have been around since before written culture for a reason.” 


—Barbara Palmer


FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.gdconf.com and http://localno12.com/games


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