A week ago, the second Turing Festival took place in Edinburgh. The inaugural event in 2011 was astonishingly good. Diverse, eclectic and expert, it pulled in speakers and participants from a huge range of disciplines and, almost uniquely, seemed to focus on a speaker’s ability and knowledge, rather than job title or employer.
I spent the rest of 2011 – and several months of 2012 – telling anyone who’d listen that here was something new, something incredible. An event which looked at all of the ways in which technology is changing the world. It was inclusive, it pulled in speakers from sectors who are still by and large, not considering how their own industry interacts with others or how it is being changed by the endless evolution of technology.
It was, in short, awesome.
So when I was invited to suggest a couple of speakers for the 2012 event, I jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to get someone fascinating to speak to a crowd – in Scotland – and outline all of the reasons that the interactive sector is changing so many things, in so many ways. A chance indeed, to go beyond the games industry talking to the games industry about the bloody games industry.
Of course nothing is ever so simple. My first choice of speaker, the terrifyingly talented and flat out terrifying, Jesse Schell couldn’t be here. He did however, suggest the second speaker on the list – Ernest Adams – who I’d consistently managed to miss at the Game Developer Conference, E3, etc.
Ernest is a renowned game designer, excellent speaker, author, consultant, lecturer, co-founder of the IGDA and generally someone that you’d really want involved in an event which involved games even peripherally. He’s based in Europe these days and agreed, with great aplomb, to come and deliver the keynote.
Which he did. An exploration of games beyond gaming. How interactivity and play are changing, evolving and creating new experiences. Experiences which move beyond fun and into areas that the games industry is, in some cases, studiously ignoring. How can we take everything games do and make them matter more? How do we use the idea of interactivity to build something new. It was a gem. It would have worked for a non-games audience and the main Turing crowd. Maybe next year.
Next up was someone I’ve seen speak several times. In fact I’ve seen him give the presentation I wanted him to give at Turing at least three times. Once to an audience which included Graham Linehan, who enjoyed it enough to hang out with us in the bar afterwards. I’ve even worked with the guy and can, hand on heart say, that he’s someone the rest of the creative industries – and even the start-up sector needs to be paying far more attention to. Colin Anderson is the co-founder and the managing director of Denki. He’s also a friend. Nevertheless, his presentation on consistent creativity is one that you’d benefit from seeing. Anyone who can namecheck Motown, Stock Aitken & Waterman AND Pixar – and make it relevant to everyone in the audience – has to be worth hearing.
Then we come to Mark Sorrell. Mark came recommended by several people I know and like and (mostly) trust. Listen to him they (mostly) said. He’s startlingly tall. He wears suits. Quite well (mostly). He’s got these weird ideas about games and the whole gamification thing. Everythingification and tellification in fact. What could games learn from television – if they were to stop running around and screaming? How the hell can ideas like scheduling and broadcasting be used in games? I, for one, was intrigued. Enough to track Mark down at Develop and demand he come to Edinburgh and tell us more.
I’m glad he did. Apart from the taste in sharp suits, Mr Sorrell is also a gifted speaker, performer and with the sort of keen insight you don’t get from the Marketing Directors of the world. Television dwarfs gaming. By quite a lot. Can games learn anything from the way TV works? Could you insert non-TV elements into TV to make something new and different? How about doing the same for games? Put non gaming elements into videogames and you have a version of the bastard-child gamification that might, maybe, work. In some way.
it was thought provoking, it was funny, it was something I’ve never heard at any of the ‘games’ events out there…
Which brings us sharply on to Tom Armitage. You might need a sit down and have a chum rub Tiger Balm into your temple for this one. Tom is a game designer with Hide & Seek. If you’ve not come across them before, they do good things. Interesting things. Like running real live games, in public, in Edinburgh. On new years day. AND they got several thousand people playing them. Tom was recommended by Ludometrics founder and sporadic guest blogger, Dave Thomson. It was a good call too.
Tom explored the idea that systems are becoming more and more common in the 21st century. Not just within games, but everywhere. Understanding these systems – and how they interact – makes us all more capable, clever and able to make things happen! By playing games, which are entirely systemic, can we understand the world better? It was an information dense half an hour and thankfully we have someone blogging the whole event properly, so I don’t have to do anything as bothersome as checking my notes, or reading Tweets from a week ago.
Which all hung together fairly well. But how to bring it all to an epic crescendo? Being the shameless flack I am, I immediately thought of journalists. They’re impartial, they’re expert, they know about a lot of stuff. They get the ‘big picture’ in the course of their daily activities. Plus I know quite a lot of them. All of which simplified things enormously. There’s one guy I’ve been telling everyone for years is they should be reading. I’ve bored more people, more consistently at more shows than Kaz Hirai, Peter Moore and Reggie Fils-Aime put together. It’s all Rob Fahey’s fault. His weekly column for GamesIndustry.biz is excellent.
Rob covers the issues and the trends which matter to the industry. With the sort of objectivity and insight which should have gained him more industry awards, trophies and plaudits than his mantelpiece can cope with. But no, in Rob’s carefully considered and always readable columns, he skewers the short sightedness, the manufactured hysteria, the baggage the industry insists on hauling into the future and all of the reasons that the interactive sector continually trips itself up. As such, the awards have yet to materialise, the keynote speaking slots, trucks of cash and high profile industry gigs are not showered upon him anywhere near as often as they should be.
So it goes. The good news is that he was free and happy to head to Edinburgh to speak to a crowd that I was increasingly convinced would be a huge audience of gaming and non-gaming people alike, all aflame to find out how this interactive thing is going to be. Convinced.
Rob, as it turned out, to nobody’s huge surprise, was vey, very good indeed. His presentation (which we nearly derailed thanks to the volume of #tfestgames tweets) considered whether games might, at some point – and in some cases – want to consider growing up with their audience, moving beyond increasingly realistic and stylish ways to portray gunshot wounds, violence and the stereotypical portrayal of women. Not that Rob was advocating every game becomes serious, responsible and proactively humane. It’s just that as an industry we need to think about growing up a little. He went on to list a number of games he’d tried, after a lifetime of gaming, that gave him hope for the future and highlighted digital distribution as a key driver in letting the next generation of developers build the sort of games they want, rather than according to prevailing industry wisdom.
Several tweeters pondered a standing ovation.
Finally. Since there was almost 25 whole minutes free, we finished off with a panel. All of the speakers, plus UKIE’s Euan Mackenzie as the chair, took questions from the audience, from Twitter and generally all agreed that God DAMN, we have a lot of really smart and creative people in this business. Maybe we should try being smart and creative…? Again, I’ll leave the fiddly things like details to Phil and the main Turing blog.
So there we had it. I pushed. I pushed hard. I posted several things on the Scottishgames blog. I hijacked people in the street. I e-mailed every single person I could lay my hands on and generally tried to pack the space out as much as I possibly could.
The side of things didn’t work out as well as planned. There were around 80 people in a lecture hall with a capacity of 300. The people who did make it, by all accounts, tweets, updates and feedback, all rather enjoyed it. Many nice things were said.
We did, about half an hour into the event, start the #tfestgames hashtag trending. Quite a lot as it turns out. And yes, many people migrated from the lecture theatre to The Pear Tree across the road, where discussions continued, deals were struck and much blues was heard.
All in all, it was a good day. I was happy with the speakers. There’s been a spot of criticism about the all-male-all-white-mostly-beardy nature of the participants but I can assure you all, that I e-mailed, spoke to and tried a whole bunch of people who either couldn’t make it, were inexplicably busy, outside the UK and who were all non male, less beardy and just as expert, interesting, innovative and awesome. The speakers you saw were superb, blistering, inspirational – and those who could make it and who replied to my rambling e-mails.
Similarly, I’ve had several people comment on the high level nature of the event and the fact that they’d have preferred more practical and hands-on type information. Which I think needs addressed too. The whole reason for shooting for the high concept, far flung future type speakers and topics was thanks to the excellent Indie Festival laid on by Dare to be Digital earlier in August. And the Develop conference in June. And EIF, also in August. Having been to pretty much all of them, I thought that repeating the same sort of information and topics might be considered slightly redundant. Which is my polite way of telling you to shut the hell up and go to some of the other shows which happen on your doorstep.
Which brings me neatly back to the speakers. I have nothing but admiration and gratitude for everybody who gave up their time and agreed to participate in this first ever gaming future event as part of the Turing Festival – especially as it’s also the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth.
I should also thank Euan Mackenzie for chairing the panel at the end as well as providing guidance and umm, throughout.
What next? A very good question. We’re spoiled for choice in Scotland at the moment. August is swamped with events. Dare continues to grow and evolve and support new talent, Turing is reaching out into all these fascinating new areas and Edinburgh Interactive happens in August too.
If you take the film, book, television and fringe festivals into account, then you can – and indeed I did – spend more than a month out of the office networking, finding out interesting new things and figuring out what happens next. How the hell do we try and tie all of these things together? Without dying, or suffering permanent liver damage?
That’s another blog post. There are plans underway. Watch this space.
In the meantime, Turing remains an event every single digital media, technology and interactive creator, user or business should have carved in stone into their calendar for the year ahead. Next year, NO excuses.