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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.

Entries in conference (4)


Fun and Games meta-game

While I'm listening to talks or wandering around at a conference I like to play a "meta-game" of evaluating the slides, presenters, and my experiences, to try and glean pointers for how I can play the conference game better. I do tell people I'm doing this. They've never asked to see what I say, but some do look a little uncomfortable.

In fact, this time I'm going to start out by critiquing my efforts instead.

This conference I went with a really minimalist packing style, at least partially driven by EasyJet's price for hold luggage. I took my normal, lightweight Eddie Bauer backpack as my only piece of luggage. I think it's 18l. I packed an outfit for each day, my wash stuff, and so on. I can say I used everything I brought apart from the notepad, which I only brought as backup for my iPad. I didn't need to, we were given a notepad and pen when we got to the conference, and my iPad was fine. Was there anything I missed? Well, ideally I would had an extra top for the conference dinner. It's nice to dress up (although a little jewellery would have done that), and to be honest it's been really warm and I've got pretty sweaty each day. I know, TMI. There wasn't really anything else I was missing. It worked really well for getting to and through the airport, dealing with the buses, keeping it with me on the last day and so on. I think it was a really good plan actually.

The poster was ok, but I'm going to give myself a "could do better". You can see it below, but sadly it isn't the one that jumps out at you!
5 Sep 2012 12:36
I ended up folding my poster down the middle (due to the hand luggage restrictions), which looked sort of ok, but I think a better idea would be to design a poster that could be split into two separate sheets. Something that deliberately comes apart. They would roll better than the folded poster, and look more deliberate. I also need to make something more visually striking, with less text and more bullet points and pictures. Something that stands out better from a dull background. It's a good challenge. I did have lots of interesting discussions with people who had read my poster - I kind of need to think about what I had to keep explaining. To be fair, I think a lot of people spoke to me rather than read it (too much text I think!).

So, that's my efforts dissected.

In general the presentations suffered from poor lighting - all the rooms were too light, leading to poor contrast on the slides. As this doesn't seem to be that uncommon, I think it's worth trying to find a way to mimic these conditions, just to check the slides are legible. Whether that's reducing the brightness of my monitor or taking my iPad out into the light, I'll try experimenting and checking. I think the biggest problems were pictures that the presenter wanted to talk to that were just too dark, so that's important.

Other than that there was my usual bugbear - too much on the slide. An enormous great table does not become legible when you highlight a cell! Just put the contents on a new slide if you really need to show them, or better yet, put them in the paper and talk around the important bits. There was some nice designs that would have worked well on a one-to-one scale, but as giant slides in front of lots of people the just distracted.

I was interested to see people all presenting on their own machines - if I am to do that and stay minimal I need to do presentations on my iPad. Something to practice on the lab I think! Prezi was an interesting switch - I could actually really see how some of the previous presentations could have used the zooming and moving thing to great effect, but mostly I try to keep my stuff more basic than that. The use of a laser pointer was good if you particularly needed to point something out on the slide (the projection was way above everyone's heads), but I might just fidget with it. Still might be worth investigating. The thing I picked up at my last conference still holds too - dark background with light text works well in too much light.

I'm still pulling together my thoughts overall, but I have a good post-conference buzz going (combined with post-conference knackeredness - I'm thinking lots, but not terribly coherently!). Maybe next time I'll try for a paper...


Fun and Games workshop

Conceptualising, Operationalising and Measuring the Player Experience in Videogames, run by Peta Wyeth and Daniel Johnson.

So this was my first ever academic workshop. Started slightly oddly, when they asked me about my presentation. I hadn't talked about participating in a workshop with anyone and hadn't realised that you were supposed to submit a paper for the workshop and present to the group. Heh. Fortunately they weren't particularly upset with me, and let me stay! (This was my fault for not reading the link, but also will remind me to check for any gotchas with anything new I come across in future, even of it sounds like something I already know about!)

There were two questions in this workshop: what are the components of the player experience, and how do we measure them? Why do we want to know got added later, because what you want to use the findings for (e.g. Designing new games? Explaining the impact of games? Etc) affects the bits of the experience you might be interested in and want to measure.

The presentations took up the morning session (interspersed with coffee), and were a good introduction to people. Next time I definitely would be interested in doing one - it saves so much repetition later! Flow was brought up a lot. The more I hear and read about flow the more trouble I have with it - it seems far too woolly as a concept to talk about and measure. I was slightly startled to discover that immersion isn't even fully defined, and many definitions of flow include immersion as a part. There seems to me to still be a lot of work to do in that area - which makes it a good challenge I guess!

In the afternoon we split into two groups - one looking at drawing a conceptual map of the player experience, and one looking at the methods available to measure that experience. I joined the conceptual map group, and I'm wishing I had taken a photo of our drawing! We had the player and the game, with the experience sitting between the two. The designer was separate. All three sat within the context, which probably needed breaking down further. There was scope for rejigging it in a number of ways, but it didn't feel too far out. (I think the photo was going to be put up on the wiki.) We also drew an expanded model of the experience, with the steps that might occur bad on Don Norman: the player chooses a goal, a strategy, then implements the strategy. The game (or opponents) process that strategy and responds. Then the player receives feedback, interprets that feedback, and checks their new position against their goal. They then adjust their goal and go around the loop again.

One of the things I liked about that was that it works for digital and non-digital games. There was some discussion about whether there was a difference between a video game or a sport. I'm not convinced there is, but it's not clear. Jesper Juul in "Half-Real" makes a point in the introduction about a video game being one where the computer upholds the rules rather than the player. How does that change the experience? Does that mean that the versions of monopoly with an electronic bank (but otherwise board pieces) are video or not? Sadly we only got to those questions at the end of the day, but I think given my current work looking at both face-to-face and online games it's an area I should look into a little. I need to do more reading - self-determination theory was mentioned for sports, and I have not heard of it.

So yeah. I hope to find some time to do some more thinking about this. There was some talk of a special issue, and it would be great to be able to contribute.


Presenting style

There's a kind of meta game to going to conferences, and that's looking at presentation styles and slide design. Looking back over my notes from multi.player, I have left myself all sorts of comments about the speed of the presentation, the slide design, the slide contents etc. 

More recently I went to dConstruct, which is not an academic conference. It aims to be an inspirational one, with a theme to talk around rather than a specific technology to discuss and learn about. The speakers are professionals who also do a lot of presenting at conferences. I found it fascinating to see the differences in approach.

By and large, the slides were much better at dConstruct (granted at a design-oriented conference you'd hope for good slide design). There was less reliance on them, and less data displayed. In Don Norman's case, he didn't use slides at all and I don't think the presentation suffered for that. In Matthew Sheret's talk, the slides and more particularly how he moved between them (he'd hacked a toy sonic screwdriver) were a key part of the talk, but didn't distract from what he was saying. 

On the other hand, the academics had a much more rigid structure to their talks that in at least a few cases made them much clearer than those at dConstruct: 


  1. Background of topic
  2. Research questions coming from that background
  3. Methodology used to explore research questions
  4. Results and discussion.


Just like a paper, or a poster, or... well, most academic presentation I guess! 

So what have I learnt? From my time with American Express as well as what I've seen at conferences, I try to put as little as possible on my slides. They should not make sense without me there to talk around them. Putting tables of data on the slides doesn't work because a) it's almost impossible to make them legible and b) they distract people from what I'm saying. Use slides to show people things you can't say, so a picture (SINGLE picture, easy to see), not necessarily quotes. Have a structure so you know what your overall story is, although perhaps make it slightly less obvious in the talk than standing there and reading through it. 

Stylistically, dark backgrounds with light text is more robust if your room is too light. Talk at a reasonable pace, not everyone speaks English as a native and there's no need to pound people. Stay on topic - random 'surprise' slides are only really funny once. Test any tech on a machine other than the one you created the presentation on, just to make sure.

I think you have two goals as a conference presenter. You are trying to be interesting and informative (and I mean you, not your slides). If I can crack that, I'll be doing well!


multi.player 2011

Last week I went off to Stuttgartfor three days to attend the multi.player 2011 conference at the University of Hohenheim. I've been to a few professional conferences, but this was my first academic one. It's been about 18 years since I was last in Germany too, so my German is more than a little rusty (the conference language was English, it was just the getting around that was worrying me!). 


I had a brilliant time. It was a multi-disciplinary affair, with psychologists and sociologists much more prevelent than computer scientists (although honestly, I'm not quite sure where I sit. We're definitely the softer end of computer science, although the amount of time I spend coding puts me firmly in the technical camp. Perhaps a topic for a later post!). I heard a really wide range of talks on diverse topics including gaming addiction, the effects of rule changes on socialising, co-located playing, and (eventually) board games. I met some really interesting people from a range of places. I came across techniques from different disciplines that I hadn't come across before. 

As a result of 2.5 days of non-stop games research input, I feel like I've developed some clearer feel for where my research sits, a little bit more of what I'm actually interested in finding out, and perhaps some ideas for how to even get there. I didn't feel like a fish out of water, the reading I've done meant that I could hold my own in conversations and maybe even had some interesting ideas to add. I also got a real buzz out of it. I do love new ideas. Gets me all revved up to get back on with my work! 

I am slowly writing up my notes from most of the presentations I attended on our brain dump blog, but I do anticipate that there will be a couple of more generic posts pulling in bits and bobs over the next week here as I digest. 

More photos of Hohenheim and Plieningen can be found here - but it's just houses and greenery, no people. Seems I was too busy chatting to get my camera out when there were people around!