If you are not a part of that ever-broadening demographic of "gamers," you may not have heard of Kill Screen magazine. It was launched on Kickstarter in November 2009 and takes a serious look at the art of video games and how games are present in our lives. The founders have since continued that focus with a website and a series of videos for VICE's The Creators Project. And on May 11, they are launching the Twofivesix conference, designed, says Kill Screen founder and president Jamin Warren to bring the dialogue around creativity in games to another level, and another audience.
Warren explains that the game industry currently has two kinds of events, those made for game makers, such as the Game Developers Conference, and those made for fans, such as PAX. He felt, between that, there was a space that was underserved. Warren said, "Where is the TED for games? Where’s a place where you can explore ideas, without necessarily having to be a game designer?"
There were also, says Warren, "a lot of stories I wanted to tell, a lot of interactions that I wanted to pursue that were very difficult to do in print or even in video." The conference encompasses a range of topics including interfaces, interaction, community, education, design, and storytelling. Warren says, "I chose all of these because these were places where we are going to see innovation in games over the next five years."
For each vertical, there are several notable speakers from the game world and many who aren’t traditionally associated with games. They include: MoMA’s Paola Antonelli and Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, and video game luminaries such as Tim Schafer from game developer Double Fine and Robin Hunicke, formerly of the visionary developer Thatgamecompany and now with her startup Funomena. Then there are up-and-comers such as Palmer Luckey, the inventor of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality head set.
Warren said, "With interfaces, Palmer Luckey and Matt Boch, from Dance Central, they are both working on the same question: How do you create new interfaces for people? What does intuitive design mean? Palmer is dealing with it from a hardware perspective. Matt is working on it from a software perspective. Both of those guys are people who are looking at the medium of games and saying that these things can be so much further along. What are these new types of experiences? Everything don’t have to be a first-person shooter."
Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of design at MoMA, and Robin Hunicke, who worked on Journey and Flower, have "tapped into this big question of interaction. For Paola, she is trying to figure out how games, as interactive experiences, fit into the larger framework and conversation of design. And Robin is trying to figure out how to make better interactive experiences. They are coming at the same ideas, and both are pushing the medium forward: Robin with the types of games she makes and Paola in terms of giving that credibility to games that they haven’t had in the past."
Beyond the verticals and the speakers, the event is in support of something greater. "The big theme for conference is cross-collaboration. One of the things that games really struggle with is having an outside dialogue with other mediums," says Warren. "Musicians don’t talk to game designers. Artists and filmmakers don’t talk to game designers. New York is a place where there is that cultural friction and it seemed like doing this sort of stuff on stage would be a great way to show what games can teach culture and what culture can teach games."
Warren ultimately believes in bringing together minds from different disciplines. "If you look at creative communities here in New York City in the '60s and '70s, in SoHo one of the biggest things that marked that period of time is how much cross-pollination there was between all these different fields: artists and musicians and architects,and curators. It was all facilitated by cultural friction, by people interacting with one another."
Another reason for the creation of the conference, was its location: New York. "New York is a place where games are played, but not necessarily where games are made. That’s going to change over the next decade," says Warren. "The new NYU innovation lab is going to be around the corner from us here in DUMBO. You are going to see more of that stuff coming out of New York City, and we felt like it is such a great opportunity to try to establish a voice for New York City."
And the name of the event? Kill Screen magazine was named for an aspect of older video games where players reach a high level where the computer can no longer cope with the math and the game begins to glitch and breakdown. The most famous example is the venerable Pacman, in which it happens on level 256. But the conference’s name signifies more than that. Warren says, "The other reason is that, much like Kill Screen magazine, we are looking at this place in the future. What is the theoretical end of games? What does that look like? And what kinds of conversations do we need to be having along the way?"
The Twofivesix conference was originally launched on Kickstarter, not unlike the original Kill Screen magazine. After being up for two weeks and raising about a third of the desired funds, the project was taken down. Why? Kill Screen found corporate sponsorship in the form of email marketing company MailChimp. And that allowed them to lower ticket prices and have flexibility for group discounts and student discounts.
"The whole purpose of Kickstarter is to get the money upfront to pay for something. We didn’t necessarily know if sponsors were going to be interested in this. Often for conferences, the first year is run at a loss. So we are really happy where we are in a situation where we can take down the Kickstarter, but still complete the project," said Warren.
Beyond $250 tickets for the live event, the conference will also be presented as a $30 live stream from the other conference sponsor, Twitch TV.
Warren hopes, whether it’s a student watching via stream or a marketing exec actually present for Twofivesix, that those participating are moved to work. "There are two things that I would love to see after the conference. One is active collaboration between people we put on stage together, but also collaboration between folks from different fields who have this shared interest is this medium of games," said Warren. "The big thing is what games can teach culture, and ultimately, what culture can teach games."