Richard Lemarchand of Naughty Dog introduced the GDC Microtalks by explaining the format: each speaker had 5:20 to give their talk, illustrated by an auto-advancing slide show of no more than 20 slides. In the spirit of the session, I’m also going to keep my notes extra-brief:

John Sharp traced out a brief history of unstructured, spontaneous play, from Plato to Dr. J. Gingold went over similar topics in his talk.

Tracy Fullerton also invoked Dr. J, this time as an example of sublime mastery. She pointed put that mastery of a game is not a solo achievement but a cultural one, requiring an audience to recognize the master’s skill.

N’Gai Croal explored different styles of player-controlled difficulty: risk/reward balances, ramping mission objectives rather than damage, helper AI that train the player, etc. He noted that games that are too helpful (e.g., Prince of Persia) run the risk of alienating the player.

Robin Hunicke imagined approximately four zillion ways to make Sony Home more fun and less of a sterile shopping mall. Sony will be implementing approximately zero of them.

Eric Zimmerman forewent the talking and had the audience play a game, swapping colored cards to try to end up with the largest bloc. It was fun, although I ended up stuck in a tiny patch of pink between large fields of green and blue. (The story of my life, really. [Wait, what?])

Clint Hocking railed on rating systems in reviews, specifically the 100-point scale that pretends that a game with an 87 rating is somehow measurably better than one with an 86. He tied that false precision to the “cult of 90%” and ratings inflation before suggesting that if you have to give a game a grade, a five-star system is a much less misleading way to go.

Jenova Chen imagined the range of user experience as a color spectrum, with intellect, emotion, and socialization as red, green, and blue. He posited that fun as we know it occupies only a narrow band, and that games should try to cover a broader palette. (I have problems with this one — if anything, fun is a primary color that we use to measure various types of experience. Really, though, it’s just kind of a forced and shaky analogy.)

Frank Lantz made the argument that “games are not media,” in the sense that they are not a conduit for the transmission of meaning. Hecker covered some of this in his talk.

Jane McGonigal batted cleanup, introducing the term CZADOF as a framework for looking at social fun. “C” is for Confucius, who talked about “jen” as the good things that people do for one another. “ZA” is for the Zombie Apocalypse in Left 4 Dead, a co-op-heavy game in which no one survives without hugh levels of jen. “DOF” is for Dance-OFf, one of McGonigal’s current projects in which players explore the idea of embarrassment as a path to happiness.