Edinburgh International Entertainment Festival

26 08 2005

In his opening keynote, Adam Singer, CEO of the MCPS/ PRS Alliance and a resident on the Britain’s mighty OFCOM regulatory media board discussed gaming’s supposed inability to regard itself as a true medium.

“More than entertainment, more than education, games have the opportunity to be a medium. They are not in my view, a medium,” he said. If you are wondering what a medium actually is, Singer had an explanation, “A medium makes you laugh, cry and become aroused. It creates excitement. Games can’t do this.” He explained that there are three qualities that a form has to possess in order to become a medium – stories, truths and eroticism, “because there is no such thing as a major medium that is not involved in pornography.”

Singer went on to draw the usual analogies between the games business and the movie business; that in some way we can benchmark the maturity of the game against the film. But his argument – that it took film many decades to evolve, and games are at the same early stage in their journey towards legitimacy though – is getting tired.

Whilst the formal construction and the visual language of film has progressed immeasurably over the century, film itself as a medium for content delivery has stayed comparatively still. Comparisons between Birth of a Nation and Grand Theft Auto might be entertaining, but are not particularly helpful in moving the idea of games forward.

Singer argues that until games unify their form of delivery, they will never become a real, grown-up medium. However, while one can see some economic benefits for that it would also cancel out the true richness and value of interactive entertainment.

Day Two of the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival has been incandescent; a bright day of opinion and debate about the future of gaming.

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It began this morning with an industry panel in which industry luminaries including Ian Livingstone and David Yarnton were invited to respond to a series of rants. The highlight was a blazing attack at retail from Epic’s Mark Rein, railing, possibly ranting, against the practice of selling pre-owned titles.

Rein was furious at the money that he believes is being stolen from IP originators, and is aching for the day when the retailer is cut out of the deal. Ian Livingstone was suspicious, “You cut the industry out, next you’ll want to cut the publishers out and get all the revenue directly. You can’t have it all ways son,” he said.

A session was also organized looking at how online games can function as an environment not just for gaming, but as a social space in themselves. The discussion took in love, friendship, community building and then went on to examine not just social, but anti-social behaviour. The discussion was summed up by NCSoft’s Jeremy Gaffney ,”I know people who have met online and gotten married. I know people who have often divorced in real life because
they were cheating online. It’s just life with a wire in between the two people.”

Highlight of the day, and possibly the festival was a spectacularly lucid and entertaining session examining interactive narrative, ‘The Plot Thickens’. Ken Perlin demonstrated his work in narrative research and a proposed new model of thinking about interactivity as it relates to story. He is developing a procedural model, trailblazing techniques that have been adopted most recently by Ken Birdwell at Valve for Half-Life 2.

Charles Cecil, the session chair, announced that Warren Spector claimed at last year’s GDC that Ken Perlin will change the face of gaming as we know it. He’s probably right. He was followed by an assured talk from Matt Costello, writer of seminal CD-ROM title, 7th Guest and most recently Doom III. Matt gave a very professional account into his ideas about how story relates to interactivity – and then how interactivity relates to story. Brilliant ideas, brilliantly explained – this is the kind of session that EIEF should become known for.

Fred Hasson, CEO of TIGA and founder of the festival sums up the events goals neatly. “What we’re trying to do here is establish a new forum where the industry speaks in a more cultural way to itself and to the other media that converge around their talents and skills.”

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