Gave my very first academic conference presentation today. It wasn’t the best experience it could have been. The conference was put on by a student organization, and none of the organizers seemed to be very take charge. It was more as though they were absentee wedding planners – they planned the day, booked the room, and called the caterer, but they had no role whatsoever in the fall out of the events of the day. For the most part, they let the room fall fallow, the presenters to load their presentations onto the one computer willy-nilly.
I was prepared, but I had to cue up a digital story to a certain point beforehand, and did so. Only to have an idiot of a keynote speaker trounce into the room as soon as I left and proceed to crash the computer. When I returned to try to sort out the problem, he treated me like a kindergartner and told me how many bajillion computers he runs all at the same time. BS. He couldn’t even open his PowerPoint. He was a mixture of Tony Robbins and Bill Paxton’s used car salesman from True Lies – slimy, condescending, and full of hot air. He talked for an hour, and I couldn’t tell you one thing of substance he had to offer.
It was a uni-wide conference for postgrads, so we had quite a mixed bag – from studies of female Chinese film directors to ludology to evolutionary genetics of spiders and pit vipers. The pit viper postgrad gave a decent talk, considering 70% of the audience (or more) didn’t know what PCR is (I was very smug, as one of my former careers was evolutionary genetics). Turns out she’s an avid gamer, and spent the rest of the day hanging out with the cool kids (us).
My talk went well – I remembered what I wanted to say, got some laughs at my feeble jokes, kept well within the time, didn’t need my notes, and all my clips ran fine. Enough people were interested and willing to ask discussion questions that we ran out of time completely, and had to end with people’s hands still in the air.
Most interesting were all the folks who approached me to talk about different aspects of the topic. The pit viper PG was interested in the game side of it, and in interactive action stories where the player makes up part of the story as they go along. A drama MA student from our department wants to explore the possibility of applying digital fiction techniques – such as some elements of hypertext – to experimental theater productions.
One man from Theology – I believe studying the friction between the desire and need for personal inner peace and the prevalence of conflict and discord in real life and society – was interested in the immersion-engagement continuum I brought up and how that might apply to his own work (it’s from Y. Douglas’s 2000 paper “The Pleasure Principle: Immersion, Engagement, Flow” – see the references in the presentation).
Some of the discussions made me think a lot more about this immersion-engagement concept (immersion being the act of losing yourself in a story, and engagement activating mind processes as in games and puzzles). My intent with some of my research is to find the balance between them for the digital fiction, where the story is still strong and emotionally and mentally immersive, while having enough engagement to keep people clicking through on their computer screen, and repeatedly coming back to the world of the story, even once the story has been finished.
I find Episode 3 of Inanimate Alice a wonderful illustration of this. The episode is the only one (so far) with a game element to it. The only indication of this is the option to read & play game, or to read only at the start of the episode. The reader is offered no rules or clues as to how to play. The first time I read the episode, I didn’t catch on to the game, so I just read, becoming very immersed in the story…until I got to the climax, where the characters are desperate to get across a border, and the border guard stops them.
I couldn’t find out what happened next, as I hadn’t been playing the game – I hadn’t gathered the objects I needed to continue. But I was so immersed in the story at that point that I HAD to know what happened next, so I was willing to go back to the start of the story and activate the engagement in the game in order to move forward. First reading = immersion, second = engagement. Overall, it was a really fun experience. I think there’s a paper in there somewhere.
At any rate, those who want to look at the presentation can find it here. Please comment here if you have questions, or anything to add to the discussion!