I was asked to speak at the annual London games conference Playful again this year, both with Roo, as “co-pilot of the crazy unicorn” that is our podcast Shift Run Stop, and also to MC the talk of a little girl named Bea.
I really want to talk about some of the other speakers in another post sometime because there were a few things that really resonated with me. For now, a quick line about my stuff on-stage, before I forget.
The conference took place today at the Conway Hall in London, and being there again brought home how much has changed in a year for me. It’s fair to say that things are an awful lot better in my life now than they were this time last year. I mean, across the board really. A lot of those improvements are to do with the fact I was invited to speak at both Playful and Interesting last year. I’m still meeting new people who saw those talks last year.
I didn’t even know that there was a community associated with these conferences before, but now I’m sort of part of it. Crazy. I’m not technical, and I’m not a gamer, yet I knew loads of the people there and they don’t all hate me yet! My entire knowledge of games is based on what I’ve seen on other people’s iPhones and what I remember from my childhood. But today I got to go up on stage TWICE at a GAMES conference in London. How has this even happened? I have to ask, because I worry that if I don’t, other people will.
I think going up on that stage has helped with work and confidence and everything, and I’d like to do more of it. I do feel greedy being so involved, there are many more brilliant and more deserving people out there. But come on, I’m not going to say ‘no’ to an invitation, and I don’t even have anything to sell.
I was quite nervous* about both the presentations, partly Shift Run Stop because we had something complicated in mind, but mostly Bea, who is very interested in the ethical issues surrounding computer games. I’m not used to children, had never met Bea, had no idea about any of the games or issues she’s interested in, and was concerned that I wouldn’t do her justice (in many ways, hard to think of a less suitable person than me for the job!) But it was nice to be asked, and in the event it went fine. Bea spoke very well and was celebrated as one of the best (and certainly the most charming) talks of the morning. Some people praised her on Twitter, and some told me in real life afterwards that she’d given them some genuine insight into the way kids play and use tech. Most importantly, people laughed at some of the silly things I said and some of the funny things she said. So that was good.
Over the summer, Roo and I were approached by the Playful organisers about doing a “Shift Run Stop Live” at today’s event. We were psyched about it, and interpreted it to mean an interview and maybe a bit of audience participation.
So the planning for this began a couple of months ago. After an initial flurry of excitement, we struggled with cancellations and unavailable guests and started to panic slightly, wondering whether to drop the bar. The trouble was, we wanted a really great guest. Someone familiar to the audience of game developers but not one of them; someone fun but not stupid – and someone we actually wanted to meet. We were keen that paying conference-goers should get something a bit special, something of higher value in acknowledgment of the fact they’d taken the day off (possibly quite high-paying) work for this. Even though we weren’t being paid to do the conference, we decided that going up and running an episode of something we do for free on the internet every week anyway wouldn’t quite cut it. We needed a really great guest, and we needed to do something a bit special that could only work live.
But all the best people were busy or not good enough. Then, one day – not very many days ago, actually – a fortuitously-timed email arrived from former Games Master presenter, comedian and DJ Dominik Diamond, whom I’d emailed some time before to invite on the regular show, after remembering he’d been a fan of my first book. I thought he would make a great guest sometime, and I was right! The curtain-haired youth in the red jacket faded from memory as, over the course of a few emails, I discovered that Dominik is really sweet and really funny. Here was someone with an interesting career who would be perfect for Shift Run Stop, I thought. It’s just a shame he lives in Nova Scotia. I thought.
A more British character you’d struggle to find, but yes, I’m afraid it turns out he’s left us – gone to live on a farm in Canada. “Imagine Alan Partridge in a Stephen King novel,” he said. And yet… he said “yes”, which meant we had to do it, even if we didn’t know what “it” was yet. We worried about “it” of course, but in a low-key way that motivated us to sort it out, because not for one moment did Roo, Dominik or I allow ourselves to believe this wouldn’t happen!
Over the course of this past week, the importance of getting Dominik Diamond to speak to us at Playful escalated beyond what some might consider all proportion. Laptops were borrowed, cables were experimented with, Skype chats were had, and tests were run on horrible spammy software that gave my computer AIDS. It was a tornado of lists, emails, timings, iPods, iPads, batteries, tripods and fuzzy time-delayed webcam faces. It would’ve been easier to get literally anyone else on our wishlist, but this was important. This was our Papal visit.
So we came up with a method that at least seemed to work OK involving the laptop on our knees as we faced the audience, and his face projected on the large screen behind. When our turn came up, we tentatively booted up Skype, and were relieved to see that DD was there, waiting (actually he’d been there for a while as the talks were running over). After a slightly odd intro from Toby where he accidentally seemed to introduce the podcast as The Roo Reynolds Show (all was quickly rectified), we got going.
From start to finish it was just brilliant fun – far better than any of us had dared hope. In response to my question about whether he really played the organ at the beginning of GamesMaster, Dominik ran around his house with the laptop and showed us a large electric organ. He started talking about Frank Bough and, pointing at an outhouse behind him, said Bough lived in his shed. He described his relationship with Patrick Moore as “like Ebony and Ivory”. He said the fact Super Mario Bros were supposed to have the surname “Mario” made them sound like a crap 80s band: “What? He’s called Mario Mario?” And when Skype broke up, he just waved his new book in front of the camera. The audience seemed really on-side through the patchy connectivity, and between the “Dominik vs the UK Games Industry” quiz and the Skype interview, we came off satisfied we’d brought something new to proceedings. We certainly caused a stir. A newbie on our forum just described it as one of the best half hours of their life, and such was the action on Twitter that “Dominik Diamond” became a trending topic for a while this afternoon, leading to speculation that he had died.
I’ve done enough of this kind of thing now to know that when I listen back it will sound completely different to my already fading memory of what the hell happened up there. Dominik’s perspective will be different again; we rotated the laptop a couple of times to show him the audience, and talking to him on Skype afterwards he mentioned how amazing it was to see all those people, as though it was only then that it really sank in. There’s something about very highly populated webcams, isn’t there. As though it’s not designed for all those faces.
Next stop: Shift Run Stop 50th Anniversary games night, Monday October 18th. There are likely to be some special guests then, too. Watch the forum for details as they unfold.
Incidentally, with Roo and I both being on-stage at the same time, there was no official SRS photographer this year, so if anyone got a good pic of our bit, I’ll very happily put it up here with a credit and link back to you.
nice one by Daniel Howells of the Dominik Diamond interview here
… and the excellent Chris O’Shea has even done videos!
* Oh and also adding to my anxiety pile this morning, my email account was compromised in the night and I woke up to find Gmail had locked me out and changed my passwords. I’m now worried that if I do ever need to send 10,000 empty emails from Serbia at 4am Google are going to go all Nazi on my ass. But let me know if you get any unexpected emails from my account, and don’t open any bit.ly links with nothing else in the email box. YouTube maybe, but not bit.ly.