Four events from May thru’ August 2014

Phew! That’s quite a lot! I’ve been busy volunteering at these events. All of these were good times. Opportunity to meet smart, friendly, and creative people, lots to learn, and the additional good feels of helping out and participating beyond the often dizzying array of interactive sessions available. My most visible contribution to the above was being on three WorldCon panels: Manga Evolutions on Friday, Vox Populi: The new voice of comic book criticism? on Sunday, and How digital art techniques have changed comics on Monday (which was my first ever experience being panel Moderator).

Yet… I wonder if the value of a traditional conference format is harshly overshadowed in an age of free internet streaming video (or audio) of debates, lectures and interviews?

GameCamp, being an unconference, is set-up to allow more interactivity, arguably the main thing you miss out on with watching  or listening to online streaming media. The way we run the unconference format at GameCamp, anybody can turn up and host a session. And tho’ we like talks, we encourage discussions more. There’s also a large playtest space where game developers welcome players to feedback on their latest prototype, and fun active stuff goes on with blindfolds and suction-cup bullet pistols, imaginary cats roaming the heads of 30+ players, wooden spoons, lemons, etcetera.

2014-08 GameCamp big board crop
“The Big Board” at GameCamp 7, where people can post up the sessions they’ll host.

There’s arguably another trend of the last few years siphoning off the value offered by big events, even ones with less of a serious feel and more of a festival vibe. If you wanted to host an occasion aimed at a specific interest group, it would take a lot of resources to market and get the word out. But now Facebook and Meetup groups help gel likeminded people together, and these platforms make it easy to coordinate and publicise events. Eventbrite can handle ticketing. Conferences have gone meta, happening in evening and weekend-afternoon sessions, at a week-by-week pace rather than a compacted hour-by-hour schedule.

I don’t see large scale events going away by any means, but I hope the ways these online trends are chipping away at their traditional value actually helps carve them toward new, evolved forms. The metaconference of localised special interest group meetups has a certain critical mass in a city like London. However, I wouldn’t meet so many comics makers from other towns and cities (and countries!) unless I go to a WorldCon or a Thought Bubble or one of the other UK (or wider) comics conventions. This factor is sort of compounded if you’re looking at an event that isn’t about one track of specialism or interest, but about a certain intersection. I thoroughly enjoyed the CS Lewis event because it represented the heart of the Venn Diagram where Christian faith, creativity, and intellectual engagement meet. (I collated social media responses during the Oxbridge Summer Institute into a Storify page to capture the very special atmosphere of this event.)

As for further conferences at the intersection of at least two areas, I can think of Graphic Medicine (comics meets medicine) readily… Will there be more of these sorts of events in the future? What would you like to see?

Memorial in Cambridge to Francis Crick, the design corresponding to the double-helix structure of DNA.

This post has been a bit of a tangent touching on these four events, rather than what you may have expected; a “highlights” style con report maybe… I’m delighted and overwhelmed by so much information and ideas, so many friendly and brilliant people, and a lot of teamwork, effort, and personal investment making things happen behind the scenes. Diversity, most all-encompassingly evident at WorldCon, is another angle worthy of special note.

To all the people who made these occasions happen, especially the vision-holders and the getting-things-dunners who plough hours and hours of dedication into them, many, many thanks.

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