In 2001, author Ray Bradbury gave an interview to Salon.com in which he suggested video games were “a waste of time for men with nothing else to do.” Since Bradbury’s judgement is undeniably true, it means the many men who invest time in the culture of digital games are free on the weekend of November 13-14, 2010. I wonder if women players are free then as well?
Let’s hope so, because that just happens to be when Gamercamp Level 2 plays out in Toronto. The enchanced sequel to last year’s inaugural event, Gamercamp 2010 promises to be an insightful and entertaining celebration of games, game makers and game players.
The weekend includes twenty-five speakers, including keynote presentations by Jim Zubkavich, creative mind behind UDON Entertainment, Stéphane Boutin, artist behind the look of Ubisoft’s recent Scott Pilgrim game, exp publisher and journalist Mathew Kumar, as well as the dream team behind the upcoming Swords and Sworcery iOS game. Also featured are talks by, among others, Untold Entertainment’s Ryan Henson Creighton, OCAD’s Emma Westecott, IGDA Toronto’s Lesley Phord-Toy and a host of local indie game development talent.
However, far from being a simple industry event, Gamercamp taps into games as conduits of play that tie together developers and players. Unlike events that focus only on the technical or economic side of gaming, Gamercamp provides an opportunity to bridge the distance between creaters and audiences by being designed to provide insight and context about games and their makers, something organizers liken to the DVD commentaries for films.
I asked Gamercamp’s founders Mark Rabo and Jaime Woo about the root motivations behind organizing an event that aims to provide such context and commentary about digital game culture, while providing opportunities for attendees to engage with, learn about, and get inspired to create games.
Says Rabo: “Jaime and I have been gamers from the moment we first laid eyes on an NES. As photographers, filmmakers, and writers, we were always fascinated by the artistry and creativity in video games. Games have grown from a fun way to pass the time to a true form of storytelling and self-expression. But when we looked at existing gaming events we found they were all technical, business, or marketing-focused. Nothing celebrated what we, as enthusiasts, loved about games so we did what any fanatical gamers would have… we created our own event.”
Keeping the enthusiast label in mind, I asked what Gamercamp provides that speaks to those beyond the “hardcore” or traditional gaming audience, given that video game culture encompasses an increasingly broad section of society.
“The idea of a traditional gamer is dead,” says Rabo. ”Today, with mobile, online and more approachable games on consoles we’re seeing what gamers have always known: people love to play. And that makes sense because playing is inherently human; so the new definition of gamer is all of us.”
Extending the idea that we’re all enthusiasts of play, Rabo aims to speak to all gamers: “It won’t be long before playing games is a universal cultural experience like watching movies. This is a big shift and we try to reflect that in Gamercamp with content covering all areas of gaming from console, indie, mobile, and boardgames to the general importance of play in life. Of course, in addition to all the great talks we’re going to be playing A LOT of games!”
By focusing on the fun, art and creativity of gaming, Rabo and Woo hope to bring together older players with younger ones:
“Whether you cut your teeth on Atari, downloaded your first iPhone game last week, or want to know where the industry is going, Gamercamp has something for you.”
There is no doubt about that: Apart from the scheduled panels and presentations, attendees can get their fill of VIC-20 or Dreamcast goodness at retro gaming stations, check out the Hand Eye Society‘s Torontron arcade machines, or play demos for in-progress games being made by Toronto developers. Additionally, Gamercamp’s Saturday evening will be capped off with a “1UP bash” concert featuring New York chiptunes bands Anamanaguchi and Starscream.
There will also be cupcakes. Cupcakes! Ray Bradbury doesn’t know what he’s missing.
Finally, satisfying the spirits of play and playfulness that weave their way through the entire culture of gaming, Gamercamp will feature an 8-Bit breakfast on the morning of November 14th – all to recall the pyjama-clad experience of welcoming the weekend sunrise by wolfing down a bowl of cereal before shaming your siblings in a another round of RC Pro-AM.
Unfortunately, however, the Nintendo Cereal System will not be available for consumption at the breakfast.
“We considered it,” says Mark, “but were a little nervous about the effects of quarter century old marshmallows on the human stomach.”
Maybe they’ll be a little more brave next year – and there will be a next year. When asked about the Gamercamp’s long term goals and how he would you like to see the event grow in coming years, Rabo told me last year’s reception and this year’s excitement will definitely keep the event going. But don’t expect Gamercamp to stagnate like an annualized game franchise:
“Jaime and I have short attention spans so expect each Gamercamp to be different and push the limits of what a video game festival can be. We’ve also got some exciting Gamercamp spin-offs planned but we can’t talk about those just yet – although there may or may not be a sneak peak at this year’s event!”
Consider me interested.
Gamercamp kicks off Saturday, November 13 at the Toronto Underground Cinema and continues Sunday, November 14 at the George Brown College School of Design. For tickets, a full event schedule and speaker info, head over to Gamercamp.ca. A weekend pass for attendees is $30, while a ticket to the Anamanaguchi concert (at Queen West’s Wrongbar) is a little extra and has to be purchased separately.