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NYC Game Salon Discusses Slamdance Controversy

Gamasutra correspondents were present at the first NYC Game Salon at New School/Parsons in Manhattan on Tuesday, where subjects discussed included the controversy over Super Columbine Massacre, educational games to prevent global warming, and a DWI
Gamasutra correspondents were present at the first NYC Game Salon at New School/Parsons in Manhattan on Tuesday, where subjects discussed included the controversy over Super Columbine Massacre, educational games to prevent global warming, and a DWI intoxication sim. The event was a collaborative effort of the Games for Change national and local groups, The New School/Parsons, and the New York City Games Scholars. Karen Schrier of Nickelodeon was the point-person for the event. The event had a Games for Change focus on ethics and values in games and included Jesper Juul, currently a visiting professor at New School/Parsons, and Helen Nissenbaum of NYU as the main speakers. Juul’s presentation, entitled "Actually: What a Game Means", addressed the point that games, more than any other entertainment medium, are believed to encourage the behavior they portray. Inspired by the recent furor over Slamdance pulling Super Columbine Massacre from its competition, Juul looked at meaning in games. He rhetorically asked: has the game celebrated and condoned the actual event any more than the film Natural Born Killers condoned its characters’ lawlessness? He suggests that the title, the aspects of the portrayal left in and out of a game’s depiction, the feelings evoked by the game’s action, irony and other key factors should help us analyze a game’s meaning. His blog post “What Do Games Mean?” covers much of his presentation’s content. Nisselbaum’s presentation, entitled “Values-at-Play: A Methodology for Bringing Values into the Design of Games (and other Information Systems)” was an introduction to the NSF-funded research she and Mary Flanagan have been doing on how values are “embedded into games via activities they’ve defined as Discovery, Translation and Verification. They believe that even HCI (human-computer interaction) components such as a game's constraints and affordances can communicate values. The evening then moved into the invited demo phase. Parsons student Michael Edwards demonstrated a conceptual prototype for a hand-held device game called Inspector Carbone that’s been proposed to the EPA for implementation. The good Inspector must slowly acclimate the residents of Ecoville to the use of technology and practices that will reduce carbon emissions. Next, Lance Vikaros of Teachers College demonstrated Global Warming Interactive by Michael Hillinger. Hillenger’s sim game is meant to be played in small teams in a classroom facilitated by a teacher to open discussions into the delicate balance between policy, economic and scientific advisors trying to reduce a country’s impact on the environment without reducing its GNP or quality of life. See more at the official website. Last, but not least, of the demos was Mark Grob’s DWI learning experience game. Grob’s company, VRShell, is working with the New York State Government and Westchester County to produce a 3D web driving game that simulates the effects of DWI. Players set there level of intoxication and risk running afoul of the law at a DWI stop. The game includes video of the avatar you’ve chosen talking about their DWI experience and an actual police roadblock for DWI. The game backends into the educational courseware package Moodle for student tracking, written responses and more. After the demos, panelists and audience members offered feedback on the games. The night ended with a “networking hour” and some informal demos by “exhibitors” Earth Intelligence Network and Matt Slaybaugh. For future announcements about upcoming salons in New York, or elsewhere, interested parties can visit the Games for Change website. The group is encouraging other local Games for Change chapters to host similar events.

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