I wanted to take a few moments to reflect about my experience at the 6th annual North American Conference on Video Game Music, which I’m flying back from right now. NACVGM 6 was held at the University of Hartford, Hartt School, in their beautiful Millard Auditorium.
One of my main takeaways after seeing four NACVGMs (1, 4, 5, and 6) now is how the quality of presentations has grown. To me that showcases the importance of a conference like this: by seeing and hearing other scholars’ work, there is a general elevation of the research and knowledge. The conference has also grown physically as well. I’d guess that keynotes at the first NACVGM had about 70 in attendance and that keynotes in the last two broke 100 attendees.
Some of my favorite papers included the very first one, by Elizabeth Medina-Gray, analyzing the talking sound from the first Dragon Warrior/Quest. Really interesting to consider this short sound that I’d only thought of as noise in relation to the key of the game, and as a musical entity. I’ve often asked my students what the sound in the first Legend of Zelda is meant to represent— typing? talking?— so this was right up my alley. Elizabeth's presentation really set a standard for the conference. Two other highlights for me were Steven Reale and Isaac Hraga’s joint presentation about their work over the last year having composition and implementation lessons at Youngstown State. Very inspiring and I’m hoping to implement some aspects of that work at U-M in the coming year. Also, William Ayers had a paper that I found very fascinating about echolocation in video games. While he started talking about games where players play as dolphins, most interesting to me was when he turned to the matter of horror games where the player’s in-game sight is restricted. I show Lurking often in Video Game Music class if the students want to do horror games and I love how this sort of game design ties in the importance of sound to the gameplay mechanics. Really awesome.
Steve Reale and Isaac Hraga presenting
Of course the Wilbert Roget II’s keynote address was really amazing. He presented on a history of using middleware in his game experience. I loved this because the technology is relatively new, has changed a lot through time, and also no one has really focused on that before in a talk that I’ve heard. Instead, usually the compositional process is the focus or how that process has changed through time more than the implementation aspect.
Will Roget's keynote
This NACVGM was definitely memorable in another way: a lockdown on campus during lunch on the second day, related with a stabbing incident in the dorms. Sadly, many of us are familiar with lockdowns from instances at our own institutions, so we were able to handle it fairly gracefully. The lockdown lasted a couple of hours, and after a bit of frantic texting and communication, Elizabeth Medina-Gray and I were still in the auditorium— we never left for lunch— and as members of the conference committee, were able to restart the conference a bit late and catch up by the end of the day, still ending on time. Ryan Thompson was a huge help too, coordinating many matters and even allowing the other members of the NACVGM committee to watch over Skype. One issue that presenters worried about was the topic of the afternoon presentations, which had to do with first person shooters and other violence and horror in games. However, we persevered and gave appropriate content warnings ahead of these presentations. The lockdown was soon lifted and folks were able to return to campus, get their luggage and belongings, and rejoin us in person. While luckily none of the NACVGM participants or attendees were hurt, our thoughts went out to the students who were injured in this incident.
When I return to GameSoundCon in the fall to co-chair their academic branch with colleague, Dr. Dana Plank, we hope to continue to spread the word about NACVGM there and drum up more interest. It’s clear that the conference’s future is looking strong. Next year, NACVGM 7 will be held at Ithaca, hosted by Elizabeth Medina-Gray. Hope you might attend! I find NACVGM to be inspiring and motivating, making me want to move toward some publication goals I have upcoming. Beyond that, it’s simply fun to dork out with a community that loves video games and game audio.
Let me know if you have any questions about NACVGM. NACVGM 5 was live streamed and many portions of it are hosted on YouTube. A few of the virtual talks from NACVGM 6 are available as well, and were excellent: both Kaitlin Saari’s video on Breath of the Wild (she really set a new standard for these!) and Ryan Thompson's video’s on Esports were stand outs that you might be interested in checking out.