Overlap - Investigations in new and forgotten storytelling

First Play Sheffield 16/02/12 – Report

Convened to bring together videogame experiences, chat and comparison, First Play Sheffield‘s ‘World 1-1′ transported a dozen enthusiastic advocates to a bare pub function room. Gathered round an Arthurian table arrangement, we each had two minutes to talk about the game of our choice. And the modest setting offered some grand stories.

First up was @Katie_Fenn on Super Metroid. Her look at Nintendo’s space body-horror classic was a new media take on the hero’s journey. Lead Samus Aran’s flickscreen exploration progresses from right to left – an unnerving switch for a genre the audience was used to progressing in the opposite direction (although not such a shock for Manga readers). I loved the suggestion Samus’ inquisitive, fateful wander(lust) towards a subterranean, hellish climax recalled Kane’s journey in sci-fi rodomontade Alien.

Staying in the cold, empty depths of space, @allegary spoke about lonely-as-hell trading sim (and transmedia dark horse) Elite – and his awe at the game’s vast procedurally generated universe. First Play’s Clare highlighted the focus on older games as a characteristic of this first event. Tthere might be something in the likes of Elite’s character that suggests itself as a fitting subject for the support-group allusions of First Play’s round table format.

Braben and Bell’s classic is a frighteningly austere and fatalistic game – my main memory of playing it on a rubber-keyed Spectrum was of dashing my ship repeatedly on the game’s black diamond space stations. Gary brought the awe of this vast universe to the surface with a sparse, rangy testimony which also highlighted the contemporary conversion Ulite as one to investigate.

No less deathly was @EddSax‘s talk on the ASCII-based Rogue-like, Dwarf Fortress. I download, attempt to play and throw my arms up in the air in bewilderment at Dwarf Fortress with the regularity of a clockwork mule. Edd’s talk reminded me of the game’s tenet ‘Losing is fun’ and Bay12′s almost bottomless models for deciding which characters will drown in moats and which become master furniture makers.

The discovery of hidden depths was something of a theme. @jdreimann spoke about World of Goo – a game he made his own T-Shirt for when he realised there was none commercially available – and the slow burn realisation that all was not what it seemed in this green and bouncy world.

Also discussed was the equally cute and interesting Skylanders, which sees players purchase toys with RFID chips that allow them to be uploaded to an online portal where they do battle. This was the only one that made me feel old, and I was never a fan of Spyro, who seemed very much an end-of-days mashup of Scrappy Doo and Poochie, so I was pretty upset to be won over by its resolutely charming ad almost immediately.

My presentation on Suda51′s Killer 7 was a suitably flashy victory of style over substance and something of an anomoly. What First Play Sheffield really highlighted was the character of these games. This had its reflection in a broad demographic of attendees – and our coming together in a hidden space of the Rutland Arms felt like a Bard’s Tale-like bringing together of disparate characters.

The first in a proposed regular monthly event, First Play Sheffield creators Liam, Chad and Katie described this as a usergroup. It’s a suitably technological labelling and the term’s heritage in shared knowledge resonates with the format. But this was also the start of a community.

Succinct and focussed, this was an opportunity for the kind of chat and insight that occasionally floats through one’s mind but rarely winds up anywhere else. Like the stripped out bar and dusty fridges, the walls of the Rutland Arms upstairs room were bare. The chance to fill it with stories, notes, maps and ideas over the next few months is a particularly exciting use of this head space.

First Play Sheffield is on Twitter. Visit their Tumblr here. The next First Play Sheffield will be on 20th March – details here.

Category: Events, Videogames

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