The PLAY17 Gaming Festival – Where Creativity meets Media Education
Using light and shadow to reach your destination, being in control of time and space, responding to certain stimuli and influencing the outcome of a journey through your decisions; all these unique experiences were presented at this year’s creative gaming festival PLAY17 which took place from the 1st until the 5th November.
The exhibitions were located in the Markthalle, Barlach Halle K and Zentralbibliothek. Video games, artist talks and workshops were designed with the slogan “The Time is Now” in mind which stands for three time-related meanings.
The selection of video games at the festival expressed time in form of their game mechanics or story. An extraordinary example would be Blood Bank (2017), developed by Sébastien Beureuy and his colleagues. In this game the player has to light a real match enabling the character to navigate through a dark castle by holding it in the desired direction. You have to reach the end of the level before the flame goes out. The concept is intriguing and highly creative, however, the circumstances have to be ideal, otherwise the flame will be out way too soon. On the one hand, it is nice to see that something like this is possible. On the other hand, the entertainment only lasts for a few seconds and besides holding the matchstick in the right direction, the player has nothing else to do.
Superhot (2017), designed by the SUPERHOT Team, shows a vastly different approach in terms of player agency. With the help of Virtual Reality, the player feels more immersed in the game world. The shooter has an interesting twist: Time stops when the person playing is not moving and vice versa which results in enemies and bullets not moving at all or in slow motion, always depending on the player. This mechanic allows for strategic thinking and sets it apart from other shooters. From my perspective, as a spectator of someone playing the game, the mechanics seemed to work fine. In my opinion, the setting could be improved although the minimalistic background and colours seem to be their stylistic choice.
The last example I want to talk about in greater detail is The Molasses Flood’s The Flame in the Flood (2016). The game is known for coining the term “Rogue-like”, defining a specific genre. The idea behind it is to explore randomly generated maps of a post-apocalyptical America and by doing so becoming more capable of surviving the wilderness. Ultimately the protagonist dies, however, the character will be reborn –and here comes the unusual part− and the knowledge gained from previous lifetimes helps the player to get to places one could not reach before. On top of that, the art style and sound track are very beautiful. Nonetheless, the gameplay itself is rather repetitive, leading to a similar course of action each round. This aspect diminishes the playability value since the player seems to fall into a routine and there are hardly any moments of surprise the more you progress.
The second meaning of the festival’s slogan “The Time is now” refers to the importance and relevance of media education. Technical devices and the internet have become indispensable media nowadays. In school, at home and at work people use, need and often depend on programs, computers or mobile phones. It seems that more and more teachers and parents approve of above mentioned means for research purposes or pure entertainment. They know that early exposure will help their students and children in their future as well as in their social lives. The gaming festival therefore offered a variety of projects, such as Fortbildung: Games im Unterricht, to inform the audience on how to integrate games into the classroom and how to teach children and students to interact responsibly and to reflect on video games. An interview series called PLAY Couch hosted by Gunnar Krupp, introduced three different, but connected topics. They either revolved around time management, the development of video games until now and what to expect in the future. The portrayal of women and the depiction of historical events in games were also discussed.
On top of that, the festival offered many activities specifically designed for classes. The organisers stated that those were booked out very fast which shows how popular they are. Textadventures – spielerisch Geschichten erzählen, 3D-Welten bauen mit CoSpaces and Game Design – „Zeit ist variabel” were some of the projects just to name a few. There was also a vast selection of workshops open for everyone, such as Interaktives Storytelling or Geschichtsvermittlung in digitalen Spielen. Programming workshops were available for beginners as well as more experienced people, for instance, Zeitbezogenes Game Design mit Unity. During the opening hours of the festival, it was possible to create your own controller, handcraft or even bake gaming-related objects which were a welcome change in-between the talks. Events such as Doomian, The Incredible Playable Show and Escape the Room provided variation and were a fun and entertaining idea for the festival.
Especially intriguing for visitors who plan to work in the video game industry, were the two excursions. Game developers and publishers Daedalic Entertainment, Threaks and InnoGames gave participants an exclusive insight into the gaming business. The broadcaster Rocketbeans.tv explained their innovative take on productions and events concerning everything gaming-related as well as other topics.
In the Zentralbibliothek students from the Universität Hamburg presented their research on certain video games. They are particularly interested in how historical events or similar aspects are depicted and implemented in a game. Visitors could watch a video in which the creators explained the findings of their analysis. Furthermore, artist talks and interviews addressed other relevant subjects. Anita Sarkeesian, member of the Feminist Frequency organization, talked about the portrayal of women in video games. She is mostly known for her YouTube video game series called “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” which caused much outrage and controversy. Critics argue that her claims are misleading because she sometimes contextualizes the topic incorrectly. Furthermore, some of the issues she raises in her series concerning clothes, camera perspective, body structure and character traits can be found in male protagonists as well. How women are represented in video games is, nevertheless, a relevant matter which should be taken seriously. Sarkeesian addresses, for example, the fewer number of female heroines in video games. She mentions Ubisoft’s creative director Alex Amancio who said that the lack of female characters in the Assassin’s Creed series is due to the higher difficulty to animate women. This statement, naturally, led to a huge debate and criticism. Simone Grünewald, art director at Daedalic Entertainment, spoke about her career and work. She additionally hosted a character design workshop where participants could draw their own character with the help of her tips. Yves Regenass, one of the founders of machina ex, commented on how they combine elements from games with theater performances. The audience is involved in the story and animated to participate in the action by making decisions and engaging with the actors or objects on the stage.
The last and rather obvious reason for choosing the slogan “The Time is Now” is the 10-year anniversary of the festival. Back in 2008 it was called “play08 – Festival für kreatives Computerspielen” and took place in Potsdam. Although the event has attracted more and more visitors over the years, further exposure is still needed and desired. The exhibitions were truly fascinating and every talk and workshop was implemented well and with great care. I enjoyed the whole experience and will definitely return next year. It is absolutely worth going to the festival since it has so much to offer and addresses people of every age. A ticket for the whole duration of the event costs fifteen euros for students. Considering the wide variety of activities, the price is fairly reasonable. If you have an interest or generally want to know more about the appeal and relevance of video games and everything revolving around this topic, you should not miss the next PLAY.