MIT Hosts Conference on Cultural Significance of Games

By Dan Teven The Computer and Video Games Come of Age conference opened today, giving Massachusetts Institute of Technology students the chance to hear an impressi...
By Dan Teven The Computer and Video Games Come of Age conference opened today, giving Massachusetts Institute of Technology students the chance to hear an impressive list of guest speakers. Although the conference is free and open to the public, it was not widely publicized. About half of the approximately 450 attendees seemed to be from MIT, with a minority contingent from Boston-area game development houses like Looking Glass, Turbine, GameFX, Stainless Steel Studios, and Harmonix. The conference is co-sponsored by the Interactive Digital Software Association and MIT’s Program in Comparative Media Studies, a first-year department that’s not to be confused with the famous Media Lab. There were no holographic game interfaces or wearable computers to be found. In fact, it felt more like a "GDC Lite", with an overly long keynote by 3DO’s Trip Hawkins but without the technical sessions or the hangover. Trip’s big theme? Computers need to become more natural to use – and they will. For both content and style, the speakers from academia acquitted themselves better than those from our industry. However, many respected developers have yet to speak, such as Hal Barwood, Peter Molyneux, Gabe Newell, David Perry, Bruce Shelley and Warren Spector. The best session of the day belonged to Geoffrey Goldstein, a psychologist from the University of Utrecht. After debunking the notion that games are addictive, Goldstein explained the difference between aggression and mere aggressive play. Boys running around and yelling on the playground are engaged in aggressive play, because they don’t really mean to hurt each other. On the other hand, girls who say “let’s have a party on Friday night and not invite her” are actually the aggressive ones! Doug Lowenstein of the IDSA talked about demographics, revenues, and piracy. Lowenstein’s best moment was his story about walking into a software store in Singapore, realizing that everything around him was pirated, and noticing a “Shoplifters will be prosecuted” sign by the register. MIT’s Henry Jenkins introduced the conference by citing Gilbert Seldes. In the 1924 book, "The Seven Lively Arts,” Seldes argued that comics, jazz, and cinema should be taken as seriously as ballet or opera. Jenkins drew many parallels between video games and these forms of expression, and in particular, between games and cinema. (We’ve all heard the movie comparisons before, but I suppose we should be grateful, because Seldes also tagged vaudeville and musical revues as “lively arts”.) The conference concludes today, with sessions on the Aesthetics of Game Design, Games and Education, Games as Popular Culture, Games as Interactive Storytelling, and The Future of Games. More information and proceedings from the event can be found at

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