It’s part of a larger series of events, created by Crossover Labs and The Sheffield Documentary Festival, incorporating residential labs where practitioners from all of the above areas are challenged to work together to create new concepts and eventually pitch to commissioning editors, funders and companies who can help realise new ideas.
The inspiration day featured a diverse array of (incredible) speakers, providing insight into their areas of expertise. As more-or-less professional conference and event aficionados, we were impressed with the speakers taking part. All too often, speaking slots are given to people based on job title, or perceived position within the industry. This can lead to some very important and incredibly dull sales pitches from smartly dressed people.
Jeanie Finlay (twitter) is a documentary maker and digital artist. She started out creating online installations and artwork back when Real Player was still a thing, before moving onto features such as Goth Cruise, Sound It Out and The Great Hip Hop Hoax. Her presentation took in her beliefs – and disbeliefs, inspirations, work to date and an elderly Japanese lady who took pictures of clouds. As someone who clearly lives convergence, or trans media, it was fascinating to hear how she moves from film, to online, creating different types of art, almost in passing, to help promote her films, market to festival goers and reward crowd funding backers. Her next project Orion looks like it will be just as strange and compelling as her other projects. As she said at the start of the presentation – find the small stories and tell them well.
Shay Moradi (twitter) is a partner at Running In The Halls, a digital design agency based in Huddersfield. Neither the words ‘digital design agency’ or ‘Huddersfield’ tend to be considered cutting edge when it comes to actual cutting edge work across multiple forms of media, but Shay’s presentation was absorbing. The company is for the purposes of this audience, a non-games-developer game developer. They’ve created entertaining digital experiences which are, to all intents and purposes, games. Or at the very least game like. They’ve created some of the world’s largest games, projection-mapping PAC-MAN onto the side of a building for The Gadget Show and a Battleship-like game for Stephen Fry’s Gadget Man programme. They’ve created installations including a full ‘virtual reality’ Battlefield 3 simulator, complete with automatic paint ball guns and hemispherical screen and are in the process of gamifying a library. It was riveting. Here’s a company which, to all intents and purposes makes games, yet is almost entirely removed from the ‘games industry’ and its focus on platforms, new IP and rigid definitions of what constitutes a ‘real game’, but instead does fun stuff for a huge range of companies across the rest of the creative world.
Rhianna Pratchett (twitter) should need no introduction. Former games journalist, current games writer, recipient of multiple awards for work on games from Bioshock Infinite, Mirror’s Edge and Heavenly Sword through to the recent Tomb Raider reboot. People working purely in the games sector tend to forget the importance of writing. In film, television and the theatre, it’s impossible to start work on any project without a script, whereas in games it’s entirely possible to complete work on a game before wondering if a writer is a good idea. Rhianna covered the ways in which writing is used in games, primarily large, triple A console titles, from cut scenes, environmental writing and in-level dialogue, to barks (‘aye sir’, ‘yes commander’, ‘moving out’, ‘there he is’, ‘reloading’, etc. etc. etc.) She highlighted for the audience how writers are used in the games world and how, far from being the skeleton upon which a game is hung, the writing tends to be more like the lymphatic system, which does lots of stuff, but no one is quite sure what. Or put more simply, it’s context. Just why are you kicking open this door and killing this next room full of [soldiers/aliens/monsters/zombies/animals].
Marianne Maxwell (twitter) is a producer and audience experience specialist at the National Theatre of Scotland. NTS should be familiar to readers from their work in 2013 with the team at Quartic Llama, creating the audio-only, location-based game, Other, set in the centre of Dundee. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Marianne provided a far more comprehensive introduction to Scotland’s national theatre company and their drive for innovation and engagement. TL;DR summary: wow. NTS are innovating and collaborating like mad. Not just in individual productions, but with locations, accessibility, the way theatre is created and experienced. They’re playing with the whole definition of ‘theatre’ and working with people they find interesting and innovative who can bring something new to the mix. Marianne pointed out that for a great many people, theatre is either a very very infrequent experience, or entirely irrelevant. However, anyone interested in how the whole idea of convergence, trans media or crossover within the creative world should be paying a lot more attention to NTS. Games companies in particular should be racking their brains to find ways to bring experiences to live audiences – or a ‘performance’ to the digital world.
The bonus speaker of the afternoon was Nick Crossland (twitter) from Rckt in Sheffield, another digital design agency, who went through the entire crossover labs experience in 2008. He highlighted the brainstorming, judging and pitching process, which saw his team presenting their idea for NHS: The Musical, featuring performers who were actual patients… It sounds so much better than The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. We’d recommend someone snaps it up immediately. Oh and their Plane Crash online app for Channel 4 just sounds awesome. It upset the Daily Mail, which is pretty much all you need to know.
The final speaker of the day, Rohan Gunatillake (twitter), may be familiar to many SGN readers. He’s the man behind Sync, the Scottish organisation which aims to bring the arts world and digital media closer together, through events such as Culture Hack. In addition to this Rohan is the creator of his own mindfulness and meditation app, Buddhify – now joined by Buddhify 2: The Sequel. Rohan spoke eloquently about bringing something focused on ‘a state of mind’ to something as focused on doing and achieving stuff, as a mobile phone. It seems to be working, Buddhify 2 has fans worldwide and is generating what most game developers would be thrilled to call a ‘real cult following’. Rohan perfectly illustrated the fact that apps have grown beyond any of the confines or definitions which might be applied to them and have become not only ubiquitous but a significant part of people’s lives beyond mere entertainment or productivity.
Then there were drinks.
It was a well organised and well considered event. Every delegate received colour-coded badges depending upon their particular areas of interest (red: art & design, orange: books, blue: film & tv; yellow: games, purple: music, green: theatre & performing arts, black: technology, white: other) and networking with other disciplines was encouraged.
It highlighted for us, a number of issues to do with the role of games within the creative industries and the ever expanding definition of interactive entertainment and media as a transformative technology. Put simply, that digital is the glue that binds the creative world together, as well as helping it create new experiences and reach new audiences in new ways.
Convergence events of this kind are incredibly valuable in bringing together creative industries which remain quite insular and isolated from one another, despite the growing opportunities for collaboration. One of the goals of the Scottish Games Network is to encourage and foster this collaboration between industries and establish relationships with all of the other areas of media and the arts.
Congratulations to Crossover Labs and Faction North for putting together a genuinely fascinating – and useful event.