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Gala dinner with attendees at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum. Photo by @jichenz.

Recently, the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG), which attracted over 140 guests from around the world, wrapped up in Hyannis, Massachusetts. The conference, co-chaired by CAMD faculty member, Casper Harteveld, Game Design, and hosted by Northeastern University, seeks to facilitate discussions on the foundations of digital games, technology used to develop digital games, and the study of digital games and their design. Besides encouraging an exchange of ideas, the conference’s goal is to advance the study of digital games, which includes discovering new game technologies and provoking critical game analysis. This summer’s theme was “Celebrating the Player,” which emphasized the most important question for every game designer: “What does the player do, why, and how do we know?”

Britton Horn giving a presentation on his honorable mention. Photo by Jackie Barnes.

The 2017 FDG conference, which was sponsored by Microsoft and Massive Ubisoft, as well as in-cooperation with ACM, was supported and attended by many CAMD faculty, alumni, and students. As co-chair, Casper Harteveld organized this year’s event.

“For the field of games to advance, it is important to have a venue where scholars from across the world and from various disciplines can come together to share their knowledge and engage in constructive discussions,” Casper explaind. “To foster such interdisciplinary discussion, it was purposely organized as a single-track conference, which means attendees can get exposed to all content accepted to the conference as opposed to staying engaged in subcommunities. We also made an effort to mix attendees. For the gala dinner, participants received a secret item in their goodie bags, which was a colored cape, and attendees had to sit at a table based on the color of their cape. Although attendees were initially skeptical, it led to meeting new people and constructive discussions that went on till late in the evening while enjoying a traditional New England clambake.”

Outside of the conference, Dr. Harteveld researches how games can be used to study and improve decision-making, and, through these efforts, he applies his research to advance knowledge and engage a broad cross-section of people globally about societal issues.

Dr. Celia Pearce, Associate Professor of Game Design at Northeastern, was an attendee and presenter. Her paper Designing eBee: A Reflection on Quilt-Based Game Design (which was co-authored with a Northeastern team including former faculty member Gillian Smith, and students Isabella Carlsson, and Jeanie Choi), won an award for best paper of the conference. Funded by a CAMD faculty research grant, the game, “eBee,” also won an award for Most Innovative Tabletop Game at last year’s Boston Festival of Independent Games for. (to read more about the award, click here). As the paper describes, eBee “is a strategic board games that merges quilting, e-textiles, and game design to bridge the gender, ethnic, and generation gap in electronics.”

“I was floored when I saw our paper had won the award” said Dr. Pearce. “One of the important roles of FDG is to bridge the gap between design and research, so in addition to being highly honored, I think it was significant that they gave this award (one of two) to a game design paper. I think this also reinforces the larger trend within CAMD to explore the horizons of design research.” Pearce also helped organize a panel on humanities research for historical games.

Conference panel, “Playing History.” Dr. Celia Pearce far right. Photo by @drsarahzaidan.

Beyond CAMD faculty, many alumni and students helped to make this year’s FDG conference a success! For starters, Nolan Manning, who recently graduated Northeastern with a BFA in Digital Art and Game Design, developed the website, badges, and brochure for the conference. Additionally, Amy K. Hoover and Jackie Barnes, both postdoctoral researchers in the Playable Innovative Technologies Lab (PLAIT) at Northeastern working for Casper Harteveld and Gillian Smith, conducted workshops and participated as panelists within the conference. Outside of FDG, Hoover and Barnes, funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, have also worked on a project aimed at helping children develop basic computer skills into science game design and climate science learning, which they presented at a workshop during the conference. Read more about that project here. Then, research scientist Truong-Huy Nguyen, advised by CCIS/CAMD Professor Magy Seif El-Nasr, helped facilitate the Doctoral Consortium.

Northeastern made a strong impression at the conference. Aside from winning one of two best paper awards (for eBee), Northeastern researchers won two out of five honorable mentions. CCIS PhD student Britton Horn received this honor for the paper “AI-Assisted Analysis of Player Strategy across Level Progressions in a Puzzle Game” (which was co-authored with a Northeastern team including Amy Hoover, Jackie Barnes, Yetunde Folajimi, Casper Harteveld, and Gillian Smith). Another CCIS PhD student, Anurag Sarkar, received this honor with Michael Williams, a recently graduated student in the MS Game Science and Design who will continue as a PhD student at Penn State University, for the paper “Engagement Effects of Player Rating System-Based Matchmaking for Level Ordering in Human Computation Games.” The latter paper was co-authored by Seth Cooper, a professor at CCIS and a track chair of Games for Impact at FDG.

The FDG 2017 Conference was a great way to bring together Northeastern faculty, students, and alumni around a unifying interest and passion: the innovative future of digital games. This is a topic that is of continued interest to both Northeastern University and CAMD, and we look forward to the Northeastern’s conference’s participants, including both faculty and students, bringing their ideas back to campus!

Conference attendees having fun in capes! From @JeremyDietmeier.