Like all good camps, this three-day festival gave gamers of all stripes a chance to learn, make new friends, and—most importantly—play.
Video game enthusiasts from around Toronto and beyond gathered this weekend for GamerCamp LV3, which took place at a number of venues downtown. Now in its third year, GamerCamp provides a variety of events such as workshops, competitions, socials, and movie screenings in an effort to celebrate and spread the word about the many wonders of gaming.
The majority of events happened at George Brown College’s Richmond Street campus, whose classrooms set the tone for what was ultimately an educational weekend. The mood of the event swung precariously between standard gamer fare and a more serious look at the mechanics of play.
Some events were tailored to developers looking to make money off of their businesses, while others were devoted to less serious events, like a man’s challenge to beat himself at Mortal Kombat II. The man ended up winning more than 75 rounds in a row, which drew quite a crowd.
There was a strange contrast, though, seeing academics talk to groups of attendees still in pyjamas after Sunday’s “8-Bit Cereal Breakfast” and seeing them marvel at the man’s ever-growing winning streak later on.
The weekend as a whole bore resemblance to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in that the focus shifted from professional or “triple A” developers to independent companies. As some Toronto companies, like XMG Studios (Cows vs. Aliens) or Capy Games (Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP) have made quite a name for themselves producing for smaller audiences, many of the attendees were either working on their own titles or at least had ideas kicking around in their heads.
“We carefully select our speakers and then work [with them] to create the topics that can be applied to various areas,” said Mark Rabo, one of the event’s organizers. “We look to inspire people, and [give them] something they can aspire to.”
Some of the workshops were geared towards novice to intermediate developers (such as the appropriately titled “I MAKE GAMES AND SO CAN YOU!!”), while others looked at the raw psychology behind the act of play itself. It was a bit jarring stepping out of a classroom where GamerCampers were discussing what play really meant to them, only to be faced with attendees and staff playing a zombie infection “meta-game” with NERF guns. There were applications of the things attendees learned lurking right outside the classroom door.
“I think the interesting thing about this community is that a lot of people are just focused on the passion of [design] and doing what they really love to do,” said Rabo. “The people that have been very successful have not tried to make their game something marketable; they’ve made it an expression of their being, and it hit.”
Rabo emphasized what was readily apparent, in that GamerCamp is largely about the passion that these fans show for the medium. Indie game shops, like Spadina’s A&C World (formerly A&C Games) and the Annex’s Snakes and Lattes sponsored rooms that allowed players to unwind with a quick board game or a round of retro beat-’em-ups. Like TCAF, GamerCamp is the closest thing one can get to a cross-section of a medium’s fans.
“GamerCamp is part celebration and part inspiration. It’s a celebration of games in general, where we celebrate the talent here in Toronto, [the] playfulness that games bring, and the creativity and artistry in this industry,” Rabo said. “The inspiration part is where we bring together interesting people doing interesting things.”
Highlights from the show included Tweetris, a new version of a popular Nuit Blanche exhibit. The game uses Microsoft’s Kinect camera to track body movements and use them to play a bizarre game of Tetris: one person on a team plays a “regular” game while the other makes shapes with their body in front of the camera to help his or her side or hinder the other. It draws inspiration from the game show Hole in the Wall, which leaves its contestants bending their bodies in precarious positions. The game’s first demo at the Toronto Underground Cinema drew cheers and laughter when someone inevitably found out how to make a penis-shaped Tetris block. Tweetris‘s concept sparked a conversation about how much fun it would be to introduce to non-gamer friends and how soon a concept like this could find its way to our consoles. Instead of the game being introduced to a cynical crowd that could dismiss it as a concept, it quickly won us over with how plain fun it looked; that type of good design draws praise quite easily.
With events like GamerCamp and TCAF serving as lightning rods for nerd culture in Toronto, it will be interesting to see if those communities will be able to produce even greater things in coming years than they do already. It won’t be for a lack of trying, as educating a community will do wonders to strengthen it.
Photos by Matt Demers.
Disclosure: Torontoist staff writer Jaime Woo is one of the organizers of GamerCamp. He was not involved in the production of this piece.