Playful 2011 – a day of games, playing and sci-fi presentations

Emma, Jaron and I spent the day at Playful 2011 on Friday, listening to all kinds of people talk about media, technology, games and playfulness in general.

NB: Because we were sitting upstairs the only photos we’ve got are of the tops of people’s heads, so I’ve borrowed liberally from other attendees’ instagram streams. All photos link to the owner’s stream. Thanks!


It was good fun, although the talks were a bit of a mixed bag. There was some great stuff from Al Robertson, Matt Sheret, Richard Lemarchand and Louise Down, among others – but also some weaker talks and one that was essentially a twenty-minute advert!

More after the jump…

Visions of the future

There was a sci-fi theme to the day, so a lot of the talks touched on the various visions of the future set down by people over the years, from brilliantly old-school “visions of the future” illustrations to super-modern nanotechnology fantasies. Different speakers talked about their attitudes to the present, and hopes for the future, and what we can learn from the past.

Al Robertson started the day with a nice talk about why sci-fi is great: describing the sleight of hand pulled by many authors when they use the fantastical absurdity of sci-fi settings to discuss issues like racism or slavery.

There was some grumbling from Marcus Brown about how we find it incredibly hard to look past a middle-aged man’s vision of the future – although the “we” in that sentence was hotly contested by most people in the room who weren’t middle-aged men.

Brendan Dawes said that we were living the future that we’d been promised, and we just needed to start fiddling with stuff and building our own toys to appreciate it, in contrast with Toby Barnes, the MC/compere/curator, who was disappointed that while we had iPads we still didn’t have any Death Stars.

Games and the gamers that game them

The talks that were about games themselves were really interesting: Richard Lemarchand, Lead Game Designer at Naughty Dog, talked about his experiences of working on Uncharted 2. Specifically, he described the creative risk they’d taken in including the “Quiet Village” level, a peaceful stroll through a Tibetan village that rewarded the player who took the time to explore and interact in the middle of a run-and-gun action/adventure game. Richard said, and I completely agree, that this shows there’s a real appetite among gamers for sensitive, intelligent games and gameplay rather than just more clone corridor shooters and sequels. He name-checked the Graveyard as a great atmospheric, experiential indie game – I’ve not played it yet, but it’s on my list.

Emil Overmar from Toca Boca spoke about the kid-flavoured apps and games they were making, which look great. I’ve not actually played any of their apps but from the clips he showed they look lovely; gorgeous, well-thought-out games and activities that really make use of the capabilities of touchscreens to help kids play. A lot of the things he said really resonated with the processes we went through with CBeebies Singalong – really making games for kids rather than just making the same old games just with kewl graffix.

Freudian Cthulu doodle

There was a smattering of live competitive doodling in the form of “scribble tennis” throughout the day, which saw illustrators compete with each other via an overhead projector and sheets of acetate. This got really surreal really quickly, and what started with an artist’s impression of the Lovecraftian god Cthulu being drawn to that gallery music ended up with super-pugs being thrown into toilets, and then someone drew boobs all over everything against a background of Jay Z, and everything got a bit Freudian.

Must dash

A lot of the talks ran over, which gave the day a bit of a rushed feel, unfortunately, and some of the talks left me feeling more hmm than aha, if that makes sense. But still, it was a nice day out of the office, and it’s always good to hear different opinions! Also, there were a lot of people with moustaches and all kinds of outlandish facial hair there – but then that’s London for you.

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