5 Tips for a Good (Games) Conference Experience

Phew, I just got back from Finland and Germany and two amazing conferences. Whilst my body is thoroughly exhausted (thanks, sports!) my mind is more energised than ever. So, you have my apologies for the click-bait-y title, but this experience has truly been unique in that it is the first time I wasn’t physically ill from anxiety at a conference.

The entire process of conferencing is extraordinarily stressful. There’s the expense, travel, immigration, presentation-nerves, big social groups, fears of audience reaction, paper writing, possible rejection, misunderstanding, language barriers, unfamiliar cityscapes, tech failures, dead batteries, expensive mobile service, and more. Whilst there’s no way to lessen the natural anxieties which arise from travel and conferencing,¬†I’ve found some ways of refocusing or perhaps distracting myself to be effective.

(I’m very much inspired by Nicolle Lamerich’s style of blog post here- and hopefully she takes that as a compliment ūüôā . Although probably unique to games-y type conferences, there might be wider¬†relevance.¬†The tips here appear in no particular order and come only from my personal experience.)

1. Play!

You are a games scholar. Remember why you became one? Oh yeah, because playing games is totally rad!

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It seems funny that play is ingrained in our everyday lives to some degree, but when we go to conferences, we stop.

Conference schedules are jam-packed with events from morning to night and I’ve often felt an immense amount of pressure to attend every talk, read every paper, do all the things, and to do so I’ve had to sacrifice play-time. I realised that for me, play-time is me-time. A quick 5 minutes on the 3DS or a drop in play session in the arcade is like a stress-reset switch for me. It gives me a chance to switch focus from an otherwise highly stressful situation and just catch some bugs with a net in my AC:NL village. It is also a great conversation starter, I might add, and the StreetPasses are nice too.

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No, I have no idea why I am making that face. Yes, this was a selfie. Yes, I could have easily taken another.

 

For the last DiGRA, I never bothered to go to the Blank Arcade¬†because I was too wrapped up in attending every talk and tweeting every session. It took me until this year, sadly, to realise I had fallen into the particular type of productivity-driven thinking which I loathe. Especially since, in this case, it can be productive for game scholars to play games! (This actually clashes against my own reading of Huizinga, but hey ho, this is a blog post, deal with it.) Conferences are not a competition- they are a venue for exploring individual interests. If you’re interested in games, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing.

2. Talk to Everyone

This is something I really struggle with. I am not a social person by any means- I can spend blood points to boost social stats for a fixed duration, but then I’m torpor’d (VtM players will get this reference). I find social interactions tense, tedious and exhausting. Playing my 3DS between talks or interactions helps, but doesn’t fully alleviate the stress I feel during strained, worky, networking type conference conversations.

I suppose my point here is that if you’re going to be socially awkward and struggle, then do so with everyone. Don’t try to make a powerplay by brushing past a student to talk to a professor- or if you have to- then excuse yourself and try to be polite about it. Or just be generally awkward and horrible to everyone¬†equally. ūüôā

And as an aside, if someone is awkward and horrible to you (like I probably was), it usually isn’t personal. They, like me, might just feel stressed because of myriad other factors.

3. Embarrass Yourself

Embarrassment is a fun topic, right Sebastian? I suppose embarrassment is a sliding scale and different for each person, but I feel like the more you can intentionally embarrass yourself in socially allowed ways, the better.

Most conference days end with a chance to experience embarrassment first-hand. Whether it be karaoke, danceoke (see below), a football match in which you injure your knees so bad you can’t walk properly for three days (also see below), or a group night out, these events not only help blow off steam, but also help the social lubrication of the conference.

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Danceoke led by Jaakko Stenros at University of Tampere. I didn’t actually participate in this event for the health and safety of others. My dancing is a little bit… erm… dangerous.

 

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I maybe got a wee bit competitive during three-team football… Photo credit to Xavier Ho.

 

Compared to the stress of letting your team down, embarrassing yourself with an injury or by being over-competitive, conference presentations seem like a walk in the park. I think this is for two reasons. First, it¬†brings down risks to self-identity. A whole group of people are re-assuring you that it is okay to not be the rigid-professional at this given moment in time- it is in fact socially unacceptable to do so. Secondly, being silly or embarrassing or playful together is a bonding experience. Hard to be nervous in front of an audience that you’ve played with.

4. Eat Whatever

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Seriously. Just enjoy not having to cook for once.

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No rules apply. You want a breakfast beer? Do it. You want dinner at 15:00? Go for it. Most people will be so jetlagged that they won’t notice or care and will probably assume you are also jetlagged.

5. Humour

I recommend a humorous approach to life in general, but particularly at conferences. If you can get your audience to chuckle at least once during a conference presentation, you’re probably doing something right… or you have a funny topic. Obviously humour isn’t always appropriate, but I am sure you can figure that one out on your own.

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The Goatse of Grief Play by Jaakko Stenros.

 

A good sense of humour travels well. Take time to look around and notice your surroundings. Also take time to laugh at the little things. Like this toilet roll holder:

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Heh heh heh. Best bog-roll holder ever.

I’m unsure how many¬†DiGRA attendees bothered to take a look during their walk in to uni, but in someone’s front yard was a big red box (see below).

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Covered in graffiti, I assumed this was a disused cigarette dispenser, but a closer look told me no.

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For the discerning business traveler, this machine dispenses condoms, vibrators, cockrings, and, of course, the famous TravelPussy.

 

 

Yep. Just out in someone’s front garden. Although, it was close to the university and could have been a part of student halls, or maybe even a student prank as I believe these are normally found in toilets. I didn’t actually check to see if I could buy a TravelPussy, a mistake I gravely regret now. Anyway, I got a pretty good chuckle out of it.

5.1 Explore

Piggybacking onto humour is my advice to explore the local area. If you can, try to squeeze in a day before or after the conference to go walking around. If your schedule is too tight, take a midday break, grab a sandwich, and have a picnic.

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The conference police won’t arrest you for missing a panel… unless you’re a presenter.

 

I honestly don’t think brains (well, at least my brain) is equipped to deal with 8 straight days of (net)working from 7:30-23:00. Sometimes you just gotta chill in the woods for a bit… with something you bought from a vending machine in someone’s front garden… ;D

Until next time,

Ashley

 

 

Travel, Charity, and Other Stuff

Hello everyone!

Just a quick post to note my upcoming speaking engagements- if you are the one person who reads this blog who is also interested in hearing me talk- and a charity event I am helping organise.

First up, Adult Play Seminar in Tampere. I’ll be giving a keynote at 10:00 on 12th May in which I’ll shamelessly promote my book, Sexuality in Role-Playing Games, and maybe talk about some other sexy things. I might talk about my new research projects, or I may just talk about how sexy play fun times makes the world go ’round. Haven’t decided yet.

After Adult Play,¬†I’m off to Germany for the Digital Games Research Association annual conference¬†where I’ll talk about the horror genre and Animal Crossing- aka the paper which shouldn’t have been but was. I’m looking forward to making the Powerpoint, actually. I have so many screenshots from that game and most of them are useful in some capacity.

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Someone’s sassy for a bull named T-Bone…
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Yeah, see? It’s a bit creepy.

Last but not least, I’m helping to organise a¬†Really Big Board Game Day¬†on campus benefiting the NSPCC. All Brunel students and staff are welcome to join us for an afternoon of playing a vast collection of board games, both old and new. You can bring an old favourite along or try out something new. The important thing is to have fun and raise money for children in need. A suggested donation of 5 GBP goes straight to the NSPCC’s play therapy programme which uses play to help abused kids learn to trust grown ups again.

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If you can’t make the event, why not use this as an excuse to have some friends ’round and host a board game¬†evening at¬†home? You can still donate some spare change to the NSPCC through my JustGiving page. ūüôā

Well, that just about wraps up this blog post. Oh, wait, one more thing…

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Did I do it right?

DiGRA, LonCon, Utrecht, cosplay, travel, etc…

Soon I leave for the USA and DiGRA, then I’ll be off to London for WorldCon/LonCon3, then Utrecht to teach Summer School! Should you want to see me at any of these events, this post is to outline when/where I will be speaking… and also to give you a sneak peak at some of my talks. Prepare to be underwhelmed by feeble, but well-intentioned, attempts at creativity gone horribly awry (a gamebook to teach qualitative methodology-whaaa?).
Anyway, a-here we go!

DiGRA

3-6 August 2014
Snowbird, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
I present the day before my birthday... w00t!
I present the day before my birthday… w00t!

Should you happen to be headed to Snowbird, Utah for this year’s DiGRA, be sure to come on 5th August and see me talk about Georg Simmel’s ‘adventure’ and how this pause in identity development can be applied to erotic role play in games. For those of you who saw me speak in Tampere in 2012, this presentation/paper is a continuation of the ideas discussed there. I try to tie in adventure games, location, wilderness/beauty of the natural world, into discussions about aesthetics, identity, and player desire. Yeah. It gets messy. I recently re-read the paper and determined I achieved moderate success, but then I went to make the PowerPoint and this hot mess emerged…

What is... I don't even....
What is… I don’t even….
So, yeah, come along, tell your friends, bring your smartphone to keep occupied on Twitter, and prepare to witness what is sure to be the neutron star of my budding career!

LonCon3

14-18 August 2014
ExCeL, London Dockland, UK
LonCon is going to rock. So far I am set to moderate/ participate on the following panels. Locations are TBA, I think, but if you are lucky, you might get to see me cosplay (Scroll down for pics).

Queerbaiting (Mod)
Thursday 19:00 – 20:00
Fanlore, the wiki of “The Organization for Tranformative Works”, describes queerbaiting as “the perceived attempt by canon creators (typically of television shows) to woo queer fans by introducing a character whose sexuality seems, early on, to be coded as something other than one hundred percent heterosexual.” Coding queer characters and relationships has¬†an ancient¬†history in literature and art of all forms and has often been a positive and necessary means of representing queer people when censorship and conservative moral norms would deem it (practically) impossible. Today, genre shows such as¬†Lost Girl,¬†Penny Dreadful,Orphan Black,¬†Game of Thrones¬†and¬†Defiance¬†prove that same sex relationships do not have a negative impact on genre television viewership and are readily accepted, and invariably welcomed, by the audience. With this in mind, we question the practice of hinting at characters being queer and developing queer relationships. We ask exactly where the boundary lies between¬†fan service, ship-teasing and queerbaiting and whether queerbaiting is¬†homophobic.
Love in Games (Mod)
Thursday 21:00 – 22:00
How do we design love in games, and what does this mean? Creating meaningful relationships in games is becoming something of a holy grail, and there are many ways of representing love in, for and around games. From the heart symbol that empties as Zelda dies, to giving Morrigan presents in Dragon Age, love is a difficult thing to understand, let alone simulate it within games themselves. Yet we ‘love’ games – sometimes too much, and this is key to our relationship with them. Here, we look at the importance of representing and expressing such a complex concept within games.
The Love Games Game
Friday 16:30 – 18:00
We’ve written a book about love in games! But during the course of it, we evolved a game about love, which talks about our love for games. What would a zombie reincarnation of the Zelda franchise be like? How about Super Streefighter II with cupcakes? Come along and play this silly mash up game where we invent some lovely games from the games we love.
Being a Fan of Problematic Things
Saturday 13:30 – 15:00
“I know the writer is a sexist, homophobic bigot but I really love this show and I can’t stop watching.” Statements like this are common refrains but it, and others like it, cause very strong reactions. It causes many fans to feel insulted that their idol or favourite television shows are being accused of some pretty harsh things, yet others feel offended that the fan is still watching despite these things. In this session we ask how it is possible to still enjoy television programmes, movies, books and the works of controversial creators when we as individuals or community groups consider the subject matter or means of representation problematic. We also ask why some fans react so badly to this criticism and if there is a way to make the bitter pill easier to swallow.
Playing with Diversity: Games and Speculative Fiction
Saturday 16:30 – 18:00
Three academics each give a 15 minute presentation followed by a joint 30 minute discussion with the audience.
  • Mika Loponen and Markus Montola, “Speculative Games: A Ludological Analysis of Fictional Games”
  • Jaakko Stenros & Tanja Sihvonen, “Out of the Dungeons, onto the Meadows: Queer Representations in Role-Playing Source Books”
  • Ashley Brown,¬†Elves are from Venus, Dwarves are from Mars: Diverse (sexual) relationships in speculative fictional worlds
  • Diane Carr, “Weird Spheres, Bursting Bodies and Peculiar Tools: Disability, Masculinity and the Monstrous in the Dead Space Series”
Lizard Wizards in Space! Bethesda vs Bioware
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00
Panel examining the impact of Bioware and Bethesda videogames on recent gaming experiences. Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Skyrim have all advanced player experiences in games, providing us with rich worlds, exciting possibilties and diverse characters to play. Both companies pride themselves on allowing the player to choose their own pathway through the game, and to experience each world on their own terms. This panel investigates the strengths and weakness of these games, and looks at the ways they are influencing play.

Okay, so I plan to do a huge cosplay faux pas and re-use my DragonCon Night’s Watch outfit from last year for at least one of the days, but I promise my outfit for the Masquerade (viewing-not participating) will be so lavish you won’t even notice.
viking
I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children, have no fun, etc, etc.

Utrecht Summer School

16-31 August 2014 (I will be there from 25-27 August)
Utrecht
I am very excited to be giving a lecture about my passion- qualitative methodology. Better yet, I get to host a 3 hour workshop on the topic. Woo hoo!
I promise I'll make epistemology fun!
I promise I’ll make epistemology fun!

Unfortunately, my workshop is limited to only 15 students. That’s because I’ve made my own Choose Your Own (Methodology) Adventure gamebook. That’s right. A CYOA gamebook for qualitative methodology. By the end of the course, my goal is for students of all levels to have a working research design with solid justifications for their choice of methods. If you’re new to qualitative researching, consider this a crash course. If you have already done your fieldwork, come along for the section on the relationship between theory and analysis. Just about to hand in your thesis? No worries, come along for a last-minute tune up and make sure you have the vocabulary you need for your defence.

I hope it is as informative as it is accessible and fun. Also, dragons.

A sneak peak! Can't wait to get these printed. :>
A sneak peak! Can’t wait to get these printed. :>

There will be time during the workshop for Q&A as well as a discussion of preference, controversy, and ethics. I’m super excited for this!


I hope to see you all very soon,

Ashley