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The 'GDC 25' Chronicles: Danielle Bunten Berry's Last GDC Speech

Continuing his 'GDC 25' archival research ahead of <a href="http://www.gdconf.com">the 25th Game Developers Conference</a> in San Francisco next February, <a href="http://www.gdconf.com/news/gdc/gdc_celebrates_25th_conference.html">official GDC historian<

Jason Scott, Blogger

November 25, 2010

4 Min Read

[Continuing his 'GDC 25' archival research ahead of the 25th Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next February, official GDC historian Jason Scott unearths the last ever speech at GDC from seminal M.U.L.E. designer Dan Bunten, aka Danielle Bunten Berry.] A strong week of digitizing, with a bunch of hours of audio taken off the tapes. For people wondering, I use a USB cassette player connected to the open source program Audacity. This lets me get the digitization in, clip off the parts where there's no sound or the cassette flips over, and then normalize the audio so the person who sounds like they forgot they were being recorded as clear and understandable as possible. It mostly consists of grabbing tape after tape from the pile (there's 64 in the batch I was sent), running them through, then rendering out to MP3s. Let's be frank - a lot of the audio that is being saved doesn't just sizzle off the page when you read the titles. At least, it doesn't sizzle for me - I run towards talks where the game designers try to share the magic of their craft, or where we have someone who was at the center of an important event give their memories of that event, adding to our mosaic of knowledge with lines of thought or memory otherwise destined to be lost. However, it's not my job to decide what is getting saved. My job is to save, to ensure that what people said and did on these tapes is there for a later audience to use and play when they find something that sizzles for them. Among the tapes, I found one with the forthright title and byline 'Do Online Games Still Suck? by Berry' [GDC Vault audio link]. What I realized very quickly was that I was holding a presentation by none other than Danielle Bunten Berry. Dan Bunten, creator of M.U.L.E., Seven Cities of Gold, and a number of other critically acclaimed titles, had been the first keynote speaker for GDC, in 1988. I am not currently aware of any recording of that speech, although we did provide a report written at the time of what the speech was about. Here, in this 1998 tape, is Dan Bunten, now Danielle Bunten Berry, presenting what was her last GDC speech. Sick and ultimately dying of lung cancer a couple months later, this is possibly the last public recording of her before we lost her forever. To a lot of transgender folks, Dan/Dani's transformation and unapologetic shifting of phases in her life stands as a pioneering or heroic move, even 12 years after her death; while looking for other footage of Dani I found this TG game developer thrilled at a mention of Bunten during a GDC speech. Dani is still remembered fondly by many, including her three children and a memorial site by friends. The recording company blunts the title of the speech in the spoken introduction: "Are Online Games Still Lousy?" Blunting her messages and life are not the way to go. Her voice is raspy, and at various times she moves away from the microphone to cough, but the delivery and core message of the speech is right on. In the beginning she asks the audience to show positive and negative reactions, and says as their "avatar", she'll calibrate the talk based on the how the audience responds. Her datapoint for the acceptance of online life is who in the audience has had online sex. "It used to be it was only me with my hand up." She questions whether experts who think online games are a done deal know what they're talking about. (Berry's interest in the online games space comes from her release of Warsport for the MPlayer game network around this time, and she was apparently also working on an online version of M.U.L.E.) She apologizes for games with her name on them that didn't do well, and is unhappy with sequel-itis infecting the industry. She sees an endless amount of audience growth as more people than the "nerds" start playing these online games. The whole talk is worth enjoying, and ends with Dani Berry demonstrating some games she's encountered online. That is, she leaves in a way that she probably would have liked: playing games. Enjoy the audio.

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