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GDC: The Fantasy of Control Part VII - Somnolent in Seattle

A series of daily scene reports from GDC 2010 in and around the Moscone Center, San Francisco. Part VII: Back home. Trends. Video games.

Matthew Burns, Blogger

March 19, 2010

4 Min Read

[A series of daily scene reports from GDC 2010 in and around the Moscone Center, San Francisco. Part VII: Back home. Trends. Video games.]  


For me, the 2010 Game Developers Conference was a little like standing in the center of a three-way collision between art, technology and business– three trains barreling into each other with the full weight of their cross-cultural inertia behind them, the impact releasing tremendous energy and particles of a new, unknown type.

The trend-spotters registered, of course, the noise around social media (most of it seemed little more than just that: noise) and the still-echoing boom of free-to-play with real money transactions.

Three-dimensional displays requiring glasses continued to confound me as to their worth, even though a man in a business suit I randomly encountered at the Intel booth told me he thought in no uncertain terms it was the future. Strange “virtual reality” peripherals, exhibited at shows like this year after year and to no subsequent momentum, persisted in their search for relevance.

Many of sessions had to do with going or being independent in a world dominated by increasingly monolithic publishers. There was also tangible worry about layoffs, accompanied by an unsubstantiated hope that casual games or serious games might magically pick up the slack in available openings. Cell phones were an accepted, legitimate platform that nobody thought once to deride. Game developers are still mostly white males.

I must remind myself, however, that the eighteen-thousand strong attendance was only a fraction of the total developer community. For everyone who was there, many more stayed at home for monetary reasons, or because were stuck at work, unable to come because all hands were needed on deck for an upcoming milestone.

Some companies are willing to accept only a limited number of “slots,” ensuring that only the most important or most desirous were able to get one. I’d even heard tales of studios discouraging their employees from going at all because they were afraid networking at the show could lead to their finding better jobs elsewhere.

Back home in a familiar bed, recovering from the flu I picked up, I have trouble falling sleep even though I’m exhausted. There’s simply too much for me to be spun up about from the last six days. I drift in between wakefulness and dreams of a type I’ve never had before, feverishly plotting my next steps towards the realization of ideas both new and old. Like a student in a martial arts class, I’m beaten up, but oddly invigorated by it.

“Video games.” Someone started saying the phrase to punctuate the end of conversations: conversations about Bayonetta’s addiction to lollipops, forum-organized Activision “boycotts,” or Sonic the Hedgehog fans. Video games. The usage spreads, because what else can you say about this wide-ranging, incomparable, baffling land, with its sublime peaks and dispiriting trenches, its rich veins and its unexplored territory?


For every promising, flag-waving triumph of there are ten facepalm moments, but we stick with it regardless. We know that despite every disappointment, that there is something special to be found here.

Even Senator Yee in his amicus brief wrote that “the interactive nature of video games is vastly different than passively listening to music, watching a movie, or reading a book.” In this case the video game advocates and their would-be censors agree: games are a medium apart, something uniquely powerful (and perhaps, due to that very power, dangerous).

The natural instinct is to try to take its reins, and steer it like a beast in the direction we want it to go: to wrestle it into a career, or into money, or into the approval of others. We want to take what we see in video games and make it about us; or try to sum it all up in a few easy words or split it into overly simplistic categories. Agendas are advanced, ulterior motives lurk, and everyone holds in his or her mind some kind of ideal state.

But the whole of the thing– this gigantic ball of ideas and expectations and initiative called the game industry– is much too big, too disparate and too absurd to understand in any rational way, except as a inexorable force of nature. So to believe one could somehow control it is nothing more than fantasy.

[Special thanks to Simon Carless and Darius Kazemi for making this series possible.]

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