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#ECGBL2014: Welcome and Keynote

Last year’s ECGBL 2014 (8th European Conference for Game-Based Learning), October 9–10, in Berlin, which included the satellite conference SGDA 2014 (5th International Conference on Serious Games Development & Applications), was located at Campus Wilhelminenhof in Berlin Oberschöneweide and hosted by the University of Applied Sciences for Engineering and Economics HTW Berlin. The conference was opened by Dr.-Ing. Carsten Busch, program chair and professor of media economics/media information technology, followed by an introduction to the HTW Berlin by Dr.-Ing. Helen Leemhuis, faculty dean and professor of engineering management.

Then, the keynote. Oh well.

How to put this politely. To be sure, there are occasions and circumstances where it is a good idea to engage with stakeholders outside academia by inviting industry representatives to academic conferences as keynote speakers, but in this case it rather wasn’t.

The invited speaker was Dr. jur. Maximilian Schenk, formerly “Director Operations and member of the management team” of the German VZ network (which has gone down in history for, among other things, setting the bar for future copy-&-paste operations spectacularly high by copying Facebook literally wholesale, down to style sheets and code files named fbook.css or poke.php), at present managing director of the BIU (Bundesverband interaktive Unterhaltungssoftware / German Trade Association of Interactive Entertainment Software). He addressed his audience of highly qualified postgraduate, postdoc, and tenured veteran researchers from the fields of game-based learning and serious games across a wide range of disciplines verbatim with:

You are the specialists so I won’t go into your terrain, so instead I will tell you something about the fundamentals of serious games that you have to understand to know what making serious games is all about.

During the stupefied silence that followed, Maximilian Schenk acquainted the audience with the BIU and its sundry activities, explained how the traditionally bad image of gaming in Germany, including serious games, was changing as it had been found out that “games make people smarter” (evidence: Spiegel), pontificated about “games as a medium” from “tent fires, maybe 10,000 years from now” to today’s video games (by then my brain had finally thawed and started to hurt), and ended his thankfully brief keynote with an enthusiastic barrage of growth forecasts relating to game-based learning/serious games industries whose outrageously optimistic numbers were inversely proportional to the amount of actual evidence corroborating these numbers.

While appreciated in general, it was rather obvious that the keynote’s briefness had taken the organizers by surprise, and Carsten Busch jumped in to introduce, with all the little tell-tale signs of hurried improvisation, the Swedish Condom08 gamification project. This presentation—its general drift into inappropriately didactic terrain notwithstanding (“What did you learn?”; “What technologies were used?”)—turned out to be enjoyable and stimulating.

And so the conference began. Follow-up posts are in the pipeline.