Looking back at the Games & Literature Conference

The Games & Literature conference at the German Literature Archive in Marbach was intense. I counted 30 talks on the program, from which I attended 25 and gave one together with Eugen Pfister. The subtitle of the conference was On the Literacy, Research, Collection, and Archiving of Computer Games, and the panels were organized accordingly.

I was very taken by the generosity and cordiality during the days in Marbach. I was being invited to peoples’ home, had plenty of discussions, touching moments and met many new people – all of them really, really wonderful and kind. I’m not sure to what this can be attributed to, but I’m happy about it. Despite everything and everyone was on a high professional level, there was not a hint of competition. The research community present made me feel being a part of it quickly. And I cherished that feeling. Nonetheless, after three days of conference I was exhausted, but so was everybody else.

The conference encompassed so many different perspectives, that it is quite difficult to sort it out in a meaningful manner. I wasn’t particularly taken by the discourse on how digital games are literature. That’s not my corner. The most valuable insights for me came through contributions on to how to analyse digital games, or, reading them. An interesting insight was, at least for me, that all the different approaches always focused on the playable game. A handful of contributions worked with paratextual material, for example Manuel Burghardt’s distant viewing of game trailers or Mario Gomes contextual reading of Colossal Cave Adventure. None of them looked at the technological side of digital games, at last not from a practical perspective. Next to Espen Aarseth’s closing keynote, only Hans-Joachim Backe’s went into the procedurality of games, at least touching the medial specifics of them.

The important question for me then would be, how important is a digital game’s source code for its analysis? Respectively, what kind of knowledge can the analysis of digital games source code generate and add to the discourse?

The materiality of games and their production, as in hardware, software and paratexts, was a significant aspect concerning collecting and archiving. Several contributions went into the problematics of long term archiving digital games. From collecting material that is generated during design and production to archiving games that don’t come on physical storage media, everybody seems struggling and trying their best. The keynote by René Bauer and Beat Suter went into this, as well as contributions by Csongor Baranyai and Joy DuBose. I sadly missed the latter.

Another important aspect were the catalogues and metadata of such archives, where I can also place the contribution of Eugen Pfister and myself. Archives are invaluable, but even better if accessible. Metadata and search interfaces help with that, a lot. I was genuinely interested in the contribution of Tobias Wildi, who went into Records in Context, a new standard for structuring metadata. He will join a lecture series this fall at the University of Bern and I’m looking forward to more exchange on this topic. Likewise, I was also more than happy to attend Michelle Goodridge’s talk on accessibility and diversity in games from a librarian’s point of view.

On the other hand, I wasn’t very sure if our own contribution would be interested enough. We had the first slot on the last day and I assumed people will be tired. Feedback said otherwise. We got more questions than time allowed to answer, and that is a wonderful compliment. The questions were not regarding things people didn’t understand, but because they wanted to know more. I believe that Eugen and I were able to give a lively presentation and insights into Why we thought it was a good idea to build a DACH1 games database. The contribution was loosely based on a text that we’ve written together with Aurelia Brandenburg and Lukas Daniel Klausner. It’s about a giant spreadsheet with hundreds of entries on digital games from the German-speaking countries. More on the “database” can be found under Historische DACH-Spieledatenbank. The slides can be found under DOI and the German Literature Archive is planning some kind of proceedings. I’ll post if I know more on that.

Looking back at this brief and intense moment, I believe it was a beautiful way of starting my conference life. I didn’t expect to make friends and professional connections and become part of an interesting community, and certainly not in this scope 💖 I’ve got much love for the people in video game studies. Thanks for taking me in.

ps: I had to reopen my Twitter account because I got major academic FOMO. Find me at (_thgie?)