Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Students To Exhibit Games at 10th Anniversary GameFest
National Speakers To Discuss What the Next Decade of Gaming Will Bring
April 4, 2014
GameFest – an annual tradition at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that showcases student-designed games and celebrates creativity and innovation in video games – will be held Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26, at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC).
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the event, which will be bigger than ever before with more students from more regional universities bringing more games for exhibition and competition.
Video game design students from universities across the region, including Rochester Institute of Technology, New York University, and Champlain College, will head to GameFest at Rensselaer to showcase dozens of video games. On Saturday afternoon, expert judges from local video game development firm Vicarious Visions, co-founded by Rensselaer alumnus Karthik Bala ’97, will consider about 30 student games in the official competition. They’ll award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes as well as a number of other honors.
Later, journalist and video game critic Leigh Alexander will deliver the keynote speech in the concert hall at EMPAC. Her keynote will be followed by a panel discussion featuring experts from the field who will discuss what the next decade will bring to the gaming industry.
Over the past 10 years, GameFest has grown from a small showcase of a handful of games designed by Rensselaer students to include dozens of games designed by students from schools across the Northeast.
“We decided on ‘Next 10’ as the theme for this year’s 10th anniversary GameFest so we could explore what the next 10 years – or 10 days or 10 seconds – are going to bring in gaming because the industry changes so rapidly,” said Ben Chang, director of the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS) program at Rensselaer.
Among the games designed by Rensselaer students that will be showcased are Kajo, a game in which players run and jump their way through a mystical, floating city and use concepts of physics to improve their parkour-style moves. Another game, Space Luddites, features a group of characters fighting back against an oppressive, dystopian future and a powerful company that controls all technology. In another game, players assume the role of an artificially intelligent therapist whose memory is supposed to be wiped every day, deleting all record of the confessions heard. When something goes wrong and the memories are saved, the player must make ethical decisions about how to handle the information.
One of the elements these games have in common is what they are not: the blockbuster first-person shooter games that, to the uninitiated, may seem to represent the entire video game industry. Many of the games Rensselaer students will showcase this year tackle ethical dilemmas. Chang says gaming is a particularly good medium for exploring ethics.
“In a game you create this system where you give the player the option to actually make those decisions themselves, so it adds an additional level of importance; something is actually at stake because you’re not just observing someone struggle with an ethical dilemma as you would in a book or movie, you’re actually experiencing the struggle and the consequences of a decisions,” Chang said.
Marc Destefano, a cognitive science lecturer who is a part of the GSAS program and one of the founders of GameFest, said student game developers have grown considerably over the past decade. “They’ve matured in terms of understanding the power that the medium has and the responsibility that comes with that,” he said.
GameFest is free and open to the public. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, April 25, with live electronic music and video and a mini-panel discussion featuring Rensselaer graduate students in Studio 1 at EMPAC. The student-designed video game exhibition will begin at noon Saturday, April 26, in EMPAC. Leigh Alexander will deliver her keynote speech at 4 p.m. in the Concert Hall and a panel discussion will follow at 5 p.m. Awards for the student-designed games, sponsored by Vicarious Visions, will be announced at 6 p.m.
The event is sponsored by several video game design firms, including two founded by Rensselaer alumni and located in the Capital Region, Vicarious Visions and 1st Playable. Sponsors will be on hand throughout the event to meet students pursuing careers in the field.