April 5, 2006
Blending of Academic and Commercial Conference Logic

Two weeks ago, Electronic Arts Europe and the Technical College, Cologne organized a conference on "games and social reality" which is conceived as the first in a series of annual meetings. The impressions from the three-day conference were ambivalent but interesting nonetheless.
In Europe (and specifically Germany because of its focus on violence in games), Electronic Arts is the first big publisher which draws on the self-proclaimed group of 'game scholars' to improve the reputation of the games industry in public discourse which can be both boon and bane. The imbalance of the two partners was pretty obvious during the conference and showed through in various ways.
The whole CI of the event which was exclusively advertised as an academic conference (and open to the public) directly reflected the logic of sales shows, including large-scale ad banners, extreme press coverage, surprisingly stylish service staff, free give-aways, food and drink as well as game console terminals where visitors could play the latest EA games.
At the same time, however, the whole things was far more hierarchically structured than regular academic conferences. There was no call for papers, all contributors were hand-picked by EA from a small group of scholars who represent the German game studies discourse in a semi-institutionalized form. (with a few exceptions of international speakers) There was a series of VIP get-togethers which stabilize those social structures and Espen Aarseth did a presentation on the 'future of game studies' and was both welcomed and presented like a rock star whose glamor was first and foremost supposed to create a buzz for the media (it was a pretty good presentation, anyway), with no questions from the audience allowed.
I don't mean to describe this in a judgemental way but I think it is a good indicator of both the German stance towards games and game studies and of possible forms of upcoming ventures stemming from a closer cooperation between academia and the industry.