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Close Encounters of

 
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Emperor Xan



Joined: 18 Mar 2003
Posts: 4075
Location: A boat.

PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:25 pm    Post subject: Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind Reply with quote

This was written as an assignment for a Drama class. I post it as is. I don't recall doing much editing and nearly burned out my sense of creativity this quarter from all the crap I've had to do. So, without further ado...



Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind



Growing up as a gamer, one does not expect that there is a cultural cool factor that would drive an individual to openly admit being a hardcore fanatic of what is essentially small-scale, individualized art. Somewhere along the road, however, gaming is now an acceptable consumption. It is within this context that BlizzCon 2010 stood out as an oddity in a life otherwise steeped in gaming lore. When I think of a gaming convention, what typically springs to mind is not only companies displaying their latest wares, but also rows upon rows of tables strewn with rulebooks and paraphernalia associated with table-top games. BlizzCon was not that type of convention.

Entering the Anaheim Convention Center, my expectations of what a gaming convention is supposed to look like remained intact so long as I remained in lobby area. The darkness that was the exhibition area proper gave me the impression that I was entering Plato’s cave, with more noise and multi-colored lights. Stepping back for a second, this is so close to the troglodyte stereotype of gamers in their parents’ basement that for a second, I was uncertain that I wanted to remain in the same room with thousands of people. The opening ceremony involved very large screens, a stage, and a lighting crew running a set-up that was reminiscent of a rock concert. Add to the scene several thousand screaming fans, and it might have really been one. There was even a call-and-response number near the end of the opening ceremony.

A surprising number of people were dressed in costumes. As a gamer, you get used to seeing this after going to a convention or two, but I still felt like laughing at people who were basically attending in character. It takes a bit of adjustment to get used to the concept that people become so enamored with a world, character, or setting that they want to show how much they like it. From the perspective of an outsider, there is difficulty in trying to understand or rationally justify what these people do. This is fandom at its most glaringly obvious. Even for me, I have to ask “Are these people for real?” Yes, yes they are and most of them are serious about their costume designs. It is more apparent when you notice that much of what covers their bodies is not commercially available.

Not being a fan of World of Warcraft, one of Blizzard’s most popular product lines ever, I realized that this is not just gaming culture, but a specific type of which I am not a member. This thought became all the more apparent when the crowd erupted in cheers and call-and-response elements in the presentations made by various employees showcasing the company’s product launches during the past year as well as a taste of things to come. I was as shocked as I was dumbfounded by the entire procedure. It was like watching a scripted performance in which the gathered were expected to know on some level of their being. It was not a religion, but it did border on the cusp of ceremony. Despite my lack of knowledge in all things World of Warcraft, I have to admit that the production values and theatricality were impressive.

After the opening ceremonies, I took in a panel or two that involved details of the development and execution of design features for Diablo III and StarCraft II. While both of these were less about theatricality in and of itself, the presentations did focus on the artistry of creation. Aesthetics and feel were addressed in addition to game balance and implementation. Although the panels did not draw the entire convention-going population, the audiences were still sizable and they held my attention as the multimedia aspects of concept in action were displayed on one screen while the current speaker was simulcast on an adjacent one. These were just two of the events staged in the main hall of the convention.

Weaving my way through concession stands, gift shop booths, computer hardware for the ultimate gaming machine, and the like, I perused the art gallery, statues, and artist stage where the illustrators and conceptual artists for the various game lines had their own panels and meet-and-greet areas. These, too, were engineered as stages so that the overall effect of the convention was that the majority of lighting used was exactly what you would expect for stagecraft. There was enough illumination for the exhibits, for not colliding into fellow gamers, and the like, but overall the lighting felt like the seating area of a theater: you could see your fellow theater patrons, but it was not illuminated enough to draw attention to them. If it was not for how deep the fandom ran and my own sense of belonging to this geekdom, I think I would have laughed at the surreal self-awareness of the spectacle and how I, like the rest wandering the convention center, were as much a part of it as the panelists.

Somewhere between rows of enthusiastic gamers playing unreleased products on networked computers, the urge to laugh fell away. It was not so much the costumed fans, the presentation of the convention, or the attendees plopped in front of monitors that quieted the mirth. Rather, it was the acknowledgement that at some point I had traversed a line and was looking, in some respects, at what I may be doing. I made the transition from consumer to producer when I started writing game materials without registering what that meant only to have an example of it staring me in the face. Something in the stores for Blizzard’s various game lines resonated deep enough with some of the fans that they would willingly embody an aspect of their favorite franchise. One of the panels I sat in on was about creating new content within the game. There was fan-created artwork hanging next to plates from the animation process and concept paintings that could have been covers for novels or pieces found in role-playing game books.

You really do stop laughing when you realize that it could be your work through which others derive meaning. For me, the day when something like this happens felt like it was still a few years away. Then I found out I could work for Blizzard. The point in time in which I could be part of a group that generates culture is not at some distance; no, it turns out that it is now. The dress rehearsal that I suspected would continue for a while longer is coming to an abrupt end. Any laughter that commenced at this point had nothing to do with the gaming culture I did not understand. If that was not enough, there was the odd and arbitrary feeling in the convention’s structure that came across as “thanks for spending $150. Oh, and by the way, we’re hiring” as the company made it clear to the fans that they were actively recruiting from the ranks of its consumers. That night, it was the full weight of understanding that, yes, I could be part of that company and that one storyline can draw in that many fans. It is one thing to see the numbers; it is a far different experience to see what those figures represent. There is a surrealism to the simple truth that not only do you qualify for a position in the company to continue to feed the fans’ continued patronage, but that it is as the senior writer for Diablo III. Needless to say, my view of gaming conventions changed.

BlizzCon showed how blurry the line between creator and consumer is. It made me realize how easily a consumer can generate new content, identify with the story within the game. By encountering fans’ creative expressions of their preferred game lines, I had to admit that some sort of meaning to which I was not privy was at work. Add to this that it was a clear example of what the potential of my own work could cause, and the mystery of what these fans were doing as an expression of their enjoyment and resonance with the storylines made sense. I am also a fan and would be remiss to not point out that this was the reason why I attended the convention. I just did not expect that we, the fans, would be part of the entertainment and performative nature of the events. Rather than being involved in game play and visiting booths for new products to enhance the home experience as was my working definition of a convention, BlizzCon held up the mirror of the hobby in which I participate to show that consumers can and do become creators of culture. It is this that made BlizzCon unlike any gaming convention I have attended.
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