Feral Vector is “a festival about making games and gamelike things” that ran this Friday and Saturday in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. It was staged in a wonderful building with pew-like benches for watching the talks, and a big open space that was often taken up with beanbags and players of JS Joust.
Some favorite talks:
People cheat. Really really really a lot. — Holly Gramazio
Holly Gramazio spoke on cheating. Holly’s talk took us through a hugely entertaining historical overview of ways that people have cheated, past and present, ranging from bodybuilders who get spray tans that enhance the appearance of musculature to a 19th century Go player who was said to have had his best moves whispered to him by ghosts. The talk also went into why people cheat — yeah, sometimes it’s because they want to win or they have money riding on the outcome, but sometimes there are other reasons, like enlivening a game that’s otherwise a bit dull (Monopoly, anyone?) or getting to see outcomes or strategies that they really wanted to experience in the game (the main reason I go to walkthroughs when playing narrative games). She concluded by observing that the stress people feel about being caught cheating, or catching others cheating, is a bigger problem than the cheating itself, and raised the question of whether it’s possible to smooth over such issues through clever rules or social management. “Someone caring enough about your game to cheat at it is kind of a compliment.”
There’s this incredibly complex framework of bullshit… that allows you as an artist to make an object that means more than a big box in a room should be able to mean. — Dick Hogg
Dick Hogg talked about making games, making art, making art that becomes the core of a game, and playful approaches to appreciating and understanding “high” art, via cynical affection. It was not an easy talk to summarize, but part of the point was that even though “high” art is a trendy scene, involving rich people and weird modes of writing and creation, and even though a lot of high art pieces fall flat and fail to contribute anything of value, nonetheless the accretion of cultural power allows for some very awesome things to happen when a piece does succeed. As one of his closing recommendations, he suggested Pippin Barr’s Art Game, which is always a good idea.
Harry Giles (Raik, et al) talked about game poems, poetry that takes the form of short game instructions. These were marvelous, and it’s irritatingly harder than I’d like to find samples by googling “game poem”, since all sorts of other things come up. But the idea of expressing some pithy moment of (say) social observation through the construction of dysfunctional game rules works really well. Besides, I’ve enjoyed Harry’s work for a while now, so it was cool to see him in person.
Tom Betts talked about the mathematically sublime: the edges where Minecraft can’t calculate any further geography, the glitches and flaws of procedural generation; suggested that we should be willing to accept some disappointing output from procedural generation in order to experience its high points; and in general spoke against too much separation between formalism and romanticism. There were also some lovely pictures, which sadly I cannot reproduce here.
Marie Foulston is the video game curator at the Victoria & Albert museum, which is rather marvelous, and spent her talk about what it means for institutions like the V&A to be engaged in game curation, what good video game curation might look like and involve (note: not necessarily the same thing as archiving), and the challenges of communicating why a video game matters to people who might not know what to do with the controller.