A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend THATCamp Games. The “unconference” is one of a number of THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) events held throughout the year. This was the first games-specific THATCamp, and as I’m working on further developing my own “making” skills, the bootcamps and sessions proved quite relevant.
When I first read about THATCamp Games, I was pretty excited. If you’re reading this on my blog, you probably know that I study the history of video gaming, and you may have deduced that I’m very interested in the use of digital tools for teaching and research. For me, THATCamp Games looked like an excellent way to level up some of my existing skills and to get some guidance on broadening my skill set.
The first day of THATCamp Games was dedicated to bootcamp sessions focused on specific skill sets. In particular, I benefited from the bootcamp on working with Gamemaker, which is a tool I’ve been meaning to get around to playing with. I also learned about a host of other gamemaking and modding tools. One bootcamp I attended covered modding Civilization IV to teach world history, and another had participants building board games by destroying Monopoly Jr. sets.
The hands-on aspect of THATCamp Games was a great kickstart for me, as I always think about learning tools, as soon as I find the right tutorial set, and consider trying to figure out how to use a program as soon as I can find someone to show me the ropes. Certainly the workshops involved some rope-showing, but they also served as an important reminder that there’s a lot I can teach myself if I just roll up my sleeves and stop worrying about breaking things. I came back from THATCamp excited to play more with some of the tools I’d had the opportunity to work with, but also excited to spend some time with the tools I heard about but didn’t get an opportunity to fiddle with hands-on at THATCamp Games: Flixel, Unity, Inform 7, and Twine, among others.
For someone like me who is interested in teaching game studies, and who is concerned about what it means to be fluent or literate in gaming, the ability to lead students on game-design projects is an exciting thing to have in my teaching tool kit. If nothing else, I will definitely have board- and card-game design projects handy as assignments.
THATCamp Games, like all THATCamps (or, at least all THATCamps to my knowledge) features sessions voted on the morning of the unconference. While I love the flexibility of this model, in that it meant that the sessions featured were the ones the attendees were the most interested in, it definitely took some getting used to. Because the sessions are intended to be interactive, most are essentially very, very large roundtables. The session I found the most provocative, which was a hybrid of several proposed sessions titled “Gender and Video Games/cultural Studies and Queering Video Games,” had around 20 smart, passionate people in attendance. It’s difficult to have a particularly in-depth conversation in a fixed time with so many participants. Many interesting points were raised, and the Twitter backchannel for the session was particularly rich.
Ultimately, the sessions at THATCamp Games felt more like jumping off points and networking opportunities, and considered in this way, the sessions were incredibly rich. The most similar format I’ve seen at a conference is the preformed roundtable session format used for the Flow Conference (which is apparently happening again in 2012). And, as in the case of the Flow Conference roundtables I’ve attended, the THATCamp session experience requires a little bit of letting go, as conversations frequently move in unexpected directions and may or may not fulfill whatever expectations I had when I walked into the room.
THATCamp Games definitely proved useful for me, and I’ll be looking forward to participating in further THATCamp events in the future. More immediately, I’m enjoying seeing what I can teach myself in Gamemaker and getting ready to dig into some of the other making tools I learned about. While the sessions were interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to have discussions with so many smart, passionate people from such a variety of disciplines, the bootcamp sessions were the real high point for me.