It was a crazy week.
I couldn't capture the feeling in a photo, but if you'll look at this picture of the morning meeting with about 350 volunteers in a room, you might get an idea of how large the conference associate program is. Every year a veritable army of bright-shirted folks flow through the Moscone Center, checking badges, staffing talks and sessions, giving directions, and generally doing work that you might call "behind the scenes" except the shirts are so bright that we're not capable of blending behind anything.
The Puzzle Pirates flickr page is updated with pictures of the conference, including the show floor, conference associates lounge, and some pictures of Three Rings' own Captain Cleaver talking at various summits. Videos will be uploaded onto the YouTube page and should be available later today.
I had the fortune to run into Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games again this year. He remains a great conversationalist, well-mannered gentleman, and all-around nice guy. Hermes introduced several fellow volunteers to Tribes, so we had fun chatting to him about that.
For this entry only, I'll be forgoing questions and focus on writing about the exposition floor I saw at the GDC this year, which had a lot of displays and ideas that interested me. Hope you folks don't mind!
The expo theme fit very well with the keynote speaker this year, Ray Kurtzweil, who is well-known for speaking about our increasing ability to consciously change and "evolve" ourselves through technology. With a number of Three Rings' staff having a fascination with the martial arts, which is all about consciously changing oneself through discipline and training, I found it fitting in more ways than one.
The thing that impressed me most this year when I wandered the various exposition booths was the popularity of what are referred to as "serious games". The category names are rather misleading in my opinion, but "casual games" are what Puzzle Pirates and many of the mainstream computer and console games that we know would fall under- that is, games that are designed and played purely for entertainment. "Serious games" are games that are meant to help with a "real life" purpose, such as using motion sensors to aid with exercise.
Using video games to aid things such as response time and training is certainly nothing new, but it seems to be coming more and more into the mainstream eye and into private consumer use. For example, one of the more popular booths this year was NeuroSky, a headset that reads your brainwave frequencies and your pupil dilation and uses these responses to power the game. Basically, the more you focus on an object, the more your game character can pick it up and move it about. Think "the Force" from Star Wars.
This is basically a private version of a type of therapy called biofeedback, in which sensors read your brainwave patterns and help train you to control types of behaviors such as chronic pain or attention deficits. By monitoring your brainwaves, the programs give you immediate feedback when your mind is "focused" or when your brainwaves are following the desired patterns, and over time you train your mind to operate in the desired fashion. The problem with these therapies is that they are often not covered by insurance plans and are expensive. I'm incredibly excited to see things like headsets being developed for private use with personal consoles or computers.
We have had a few very touching stories here at Three Rings about our game Puzzle Pirates helping distract ill players from chronic pain or discomfort. While this was not our original aim in designing Puzzle Pirates, it's amazing to hear about the incidental benefit that this game brought to some folks, and it made me think about the potential of "casual" or "entertaining" games to positively affect people's lives outside of gameplay.
One morning, I spoke to a fellow female volunteer about games and our contrasting attitudes about exercise. She has a hard time working out regularly because while she logically understands its benefits and necessity, she doesn't feel any progress or benefit immediately when exercising. If anything, exercising makes her feel worse at first because she gets sore and tired. It takes weeks before the benefits such as an improvement in her appearance and stamina make themselves known.
In contrast, I practice martial arts and exercise several times a week because if I don't, the drop in energy and spirits affect me immediately. I feel less motivated at work, more frustrated by things, and fundamentally more dissatisfied with myself. Sore muscles make me laugh. In essence, I have immediate feedback built into my body, and she does not.
There's a gap here that games could fill, by making fitness and conditioning a game with immediate feedback built in to reward and motivate those people that do not naturally have the crazy endorphin release that exercise fanatics do.
(Tangentially, those of us living in urban areas have less physical space to move in than our rural counterparts, and I think games can work very well with adapted physical movements and exercise in a more restricted space. Countries such as Japan and China have longer experience with population density than we do, and you can see it in the Japanese calisthenics and exercise programs that air on public television and in tai chi routines developed specifically to be performed in the 9 square foot space of standard Chinese apartments. Is it any wonder that Japan produced the other hugely popular display of GDC this year, WiiFit?)
I really want to see more crossover and less of a distinction between "casual" and "serious" games. We already know that game companies in the "casual" sector are great at making extremely fun games (even if their websites need more automatic volume control). "Serious" games have great ideas but aren't nearly as experienced in making fun games that people enjoy playing. The combination of the fun people experience when playing popular games combined with physical benefits like improved fitness, better alignment, regular physical therapy, better concentration, or controlling chronic pain? It makes me want to jump out of my seat and run around, I get so excited thinking about it.