Rather than following a track of days, I try to follow some lines of thought, this time. Lets see how it will work out.
The time difference into California is 10 hours, and I have been spending most of the trans-Atlantic flight and the first night here in San Francisco reading. Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson, a gift by friend that seems oddly appropriate for my current condition. As the literary fashion has had it during recent years, this is also a novel about cryptography and hunt after codes, but it is also a novel about jetlags, advertisement industry, search for significant connections (or illusions of such), about the structures of meaning in general.
Brain is the place for meaning, but it is not the only one. Brain is also about chemistry, the rhythms, ebbs and flows that is the way your body swims in the flows of the world. It is hard to discern some inherent meaning in all of this ‘stuff’ we are surrounded by, perhaps even in human relationships, but is the chemistry is right, profound things can happen. Meaning can take place; feeling and sense, depth and beauty can enter the game of relations, equations, structures of the incomprehensible real.
GDC will take this year place in the Moscone Convention Centre, next to the Sony Metreon Centre of San Francisco. During my first night’s walk there with my half-drunk, jetlagged brain, I got in images of game stores, restaurants, a Sony Style store, a movie multiplex. All these images like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that do not really connect. I am considering of finding a drugstore and some melatonin tomorrow.
I just want to say something about the world of mobile data. It sucks. The Wi-Fi systems I’ve installed in my home have got their ups and downs (currently the network does not work, again), but it is nothing compared to the situation on the road. When travelling, I pocket two Nokia mobile phones and my laptop has integrated Bluetooth and WLAN card, plus a brand-new Vodafone 3G data card, but I am still mostly unable to get into the net. The settings, the drivers, the jungle of roaming and (re)configuring: reality mostly means staring at the hourglass counting your moments away. There has been a decade to put this right, but clearly it has not been enough.
San Francisco has its distinct identity, which suddenly reminds me of Kuala Lumpur. Also here, the cultural melange, the irreducible contrast. High-rising financial district in contrast to the Chinatown, and the slums starting just off the shopping centres at the Market street. Also the combinations of Asian cultures feel familiar; the Chinese, the Indian, Thai – not only the restaurants, but also the people on the street have familiar faces. Trying to find a place to have burritos and a beer as a lunch, I end up after long walk to eat red Thai curry, cooked a Mexican-Chinese staff.
The first lecture I participated was Raph Kosters recap of his “A Theory of Fun” in GDC’s Serious Games Summit. I am not going to blog these things with any detail, since I know there is going to be several better reports out there (and since I have the habit of losing myself into my own thoughts and missing the key points of speakers in any case). Raph argued that games are a form of cognitive training, and therefore fundamental for our survival, even. The parts about our proclivity into pattern recognition led me thinking about Gibson’s novel and my own puzzlement over our life as meaning-making organisms. He is also talking about the representative “layer” of games as “dressing”. However, what is surface and what is depth is actually negotiable, as far as I can see. Our minds are capable of taking in multiple structures as foundation for meaning-making. And there are cultural reasons why certain people are inclined to find their meaning in interaction or problem-solving, and others in storylines, characterisation or in unravelling the thematic depth, or “message” of particular cultural texts.
The second talk I heard was by Ian Bogost on advergaming. Most of the media seems to be about advertisement these days, and there are people who claim that advertising is more interesting than the “main content” in most channels. Personally, I am sort of divided. I would use most means of filtering ads away from the programmes I am recording and viewing, for example. On the other hand, some ads are small works of art on their own right, and it would be fine if there would be an “all-ads” channel (or, more likely, a download site) where you could have a look of ads, as much as your heart desires. Keeping track of the consumer society in a controlled way. Rhetoric, persuasion, influence and “message” certainly all relate to the general meaningfulness of communicative action. But especially with covert commercial messages or purposes motivating more and more of our public spaces, it tends to rob something away from the value of attached experiences, I think. Like use of classical tunes in TV ads; suddenly you cannot listen to your favourite composer any more without enforced associations into commercial products invading your consciousness.
I am not probably in the focus audience for advergaming, or even for “serious games” in general (I value games too much in themselves, rather than as tools for some ulterior motives), but both Ian and Raph had fun and informative talks. Still, I might skip the afternoon sessions. I need to work on my GDC roundtable and couple of other work things I carried with me from Finland.