Continue Annual Conference @ York Mediale

The beginning of October saw the latest in the BGI’s series of Continue events. Co-organised by Pilot Theatre and York Mediale, this ambitious two-day annual conference brought together heavyweight speakers from the games, culture and arts sectors, deep insights into some of the most creative and immersive theatre, storytelling and education projects – along with game jams, badgers, and a group of three year olds stress-testing new interfaces for gameplay and blasting into space. Typical Continue fare then!

The two days kicked off with BGI Culture Director Iain Simons discussing the importance of ‘platforms’. Looking over through the experience built up over a decade of running the GameCity festival and the National Videogame Arcade, Iain spoke about the way in which different configurations of creative constraints had created new platforms for commissioning exciting work throughout buildings, in specific rooms or across entire city centres.

The call to think about establishing new platforms for making and commissioning creative work was picked up by the NVA’s Professor James Newman who led the diverse audience of arts and theatre practitioners through their first experience of game making. Based around the unexpected – and unexpectedly inspiring – theme of ‘badgers’, eight teams spent an hour and a half of focused making, breaking and remaking as they designed, playtested and refined their creations. As well as giving rise to the most amazingly varied set of word games, puzzle games and board games, the session highlighted ways of using game mechanics to explore complex ideas (from debates around the control of TB to authenticity of ‘alternative facts’) and showcased new ways of encouraging a greater diversity of participation in gamemaking.

The morning was rounded off by a presentation by Professors Peter Cowling and Marian Ursu from the University of York‘s Digital Creativity Labs on creativity and AI. Provocatively entitled ‘Is creativity the last bastion of humanity?’, Peter and Marian began by considering whether creativity is a uniquely human trait and ended with a fascinating discussion about whether an AI capable of creating visual art or cinematic set design could ever really ‘care’ about what it was doing in the same way as an human.

The afternoon programme comprised talks and showcases by a diverse range of artists and gamemakers including Simon Will from the internationally-renowned collective Gobsquad speaking about the robot opera ‘My Square Lady’, Sarah Butcher from Non Zero One and Tom Bowtell and Elliott Hall from KIT Theatre talking about the pioneering work in immersive theatre.

Sam Barlow made a break in his hectic production schedule and Skyped in from New York to talk about the inspiration for the smash-hit game ‘Her Story’ and the process of creating an original experience based around a computer interface and the true crime genre of fiction. Discussing the perhaps surprising absence of Her Story clones, Sam spoke about the challenges and opportunities of working on the much-anticipated spiritual sequel with the support of Annapurna Interactive.

The first day concluded with Continue’s infamous ‘Panel Machine’ firing out questions on arts funding, code clubs and the U.K. computing curriculum, and opportunities for more cross-sector networking and collaboration.

Again, set in the wonderful Hospitium building in the heart of the grounds of Yorkshire Museum, day two began with the Playable Conference and it was nothing if not diverse. Virtual Reality, the UK premiere of binaural soundworks Nightmare and Sweet Sixteen, brainwave controlled movies with over 17 trillion possible narrative combinations created by the University of Nottingham’s Mixed Reality Lab, new twists on the board game incorporating mobile phones and social media, or spaceships controlled by tinfoil hats, a selection of fruit and a microcontroller were all on show – the latter being a particular hit with the group of three-year-olds from the local nursery who joined us before their alfresco picnic.

Day two continued with more fascinating talks from Invisible Flock reflecting on the challenges of developing and implementing the ambitious ‘If You Go Away’ augmented reality experience and Leila Johnston’s guide to storytelling and technology which offered insights and practical tips drawn from Hack Space and other work.

Before the Panel Machine was rebooted for the closing session, acclaimed journalist, author and now Media Molecule Narrative Designer Cara Ellison offered a uniquely personal insight into the promise of videogames as a real and virtual space within which to tell new kinds of stories. Delivering a sneak peak into one of the most anticipated PS4 titles ever, Cara demonstrated ‘Dreams’ to a rapt audience of theatre makers and artists.

And so, just as it began with a discussion of platforms for creating new work and engaging new audiences, this edition of Continue closed with a discussion of videogames and gameplay as a platform for new forms of storytelling. And again, we’re proud to have created Continue as a platform to host and showcase such diverse creative works and inspiring ideas.

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