My envy of those attending this year's DiGRA has me thinking back on my first attendance of the Canadian Game Studies Association's conference at the 2013 Congress of the Humanities in Victoria, B.C. CGSA was my first game studies conference and it remains a high point in my time as a game studies nerd.
Because I operate out of an English department, my area of interest sometimes leaves me feeling like a cuckoo in a nest of some other, much less annoying bird. After presenting on Mass Effect at ACCUTE in 2012, even though it was an excellent conference and I was treated very well, I was hungry for a conference in my field.
Going into the CGSA, I was nervous. Presenting on games at an English conference or being the only presenter on games at a multimedia conference is in some ways an easy job. You may feel like the responsibility of representing game studies as a vibrant and, above all, legitimate field rests solely on the shoulders of some chump who happens to be you, but you're also relatively unlikely to get called out by someone who knows game studies better than you do.
A conference in your field, however, has a whole different set of anxieties, embodied by the large number of brilliant peers you suddenly have. I imagine that every specialized conference has this effect to a certain extent, but when game studies is still being debated in some universities, when the legitimacy of the field itself is still part of the argument that has to be made in dissertation proposals, game studies conferences will continue to be more of a haven (or cabal) than ones on Shakespearean Studies, for example. The presenter swag bag in the form of a Lego figurine whose parts you could swap with other attendees certainly helped this feeling.
Blame the trading of Lego heads or the open bar after the AGM if you must, but for me, attending CGSA was like coming home. Being presented with the sheer mass of brain-power present was like being punched in the neck. But gobsmacked or not, being among scholars who assumed the importance of game studies as a base for other thinking was pretty heady stuff.
They key things I took away from this year's CGSA were three: the dual poles of Toronto and Montreal, the many hats of the presenters, and correspondingly, the exciting range of presentations. While we had scholars from all over, there were substantial camps working in Toronto and Montreal. I'm hoping to make connections in both places, likely thanks to my close friendship with the Greyhound company. I also want to know about game communities in other cities: what's going on in Edmonton and Waterloo?
Presenters ranged from game designers to game studies professors and starry-eyed graduate students in a wide range of fields. Even beyond the interdisciplinarity that typifies game studies, part of what's so attractive about the field is that creators, players and critics so often wear all three hats. It means that conversations aren't limited to the academic perspective and increasingly, it encourages scholastically-inclined game nerds like myself to learn how to create as well as critique (note: my efforts have not yet proved fruitful).
Part of those conversations include presentations like the ones at CGSA this year, which ranged from deeply personal discussions of the relationship between gaming and anxiety (@Forestghost_), MMOs in Russia (Cat Goodfellow, who has the best name in game studies), and the problems presented by gamification (Mark Chen). On a purely selfish level, hearing about such different topics was really invigorating for my own research.
And that, I think, is the most important part of conferences like CGSA. Yes, they make important connections, they encourage cross-pollination and they keep people informed. But they send participants home excited and it's passion and the grim commitment that follows that gets the work done.
After coming home from the CGSA, I finished my dissertation proposal. Coincidence? Mostly not.