Christy Dena
Aug 13, 2017 · 18 min read

“Everyone designs who designs courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred conditions.” Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1996 [1969], 111

One of the driving intentions behind Crafting Intangibles is to share and discuss narrative structures and perspectives that resonate with who we really are. It is understandable that we think there are interactive narrative structures out there we should use if we’re serious about being successful. We are repeatedly told that the Heroe’s Journey, conflict, competition, and winning are all essential to good design and sales. That is what writers and designers have been doing for decades, and it is what audiences and players want, right? But they do not appeal to all audiences and players, and writers and designers alike. We need to design from ourselves, otherwise we’re just producing shadows…that speak to the shadows of others. We can have success, and be authentic in our practice at the same time.

I continue to reach out and dig deep to find structures and processes that allow my themes — that have nothing to do with power and domination — to flourish; and welcome a gestalt of narrative and game modes rather than a siloing parts of myself and my team. Indeed, structures are a way of organising the mind, and so affect us down to our core. That is why the event, Crafting Intangibles, is also an experiment in format (running an global indie conference). I changed my mind, and so all I do is changed.

In this post I share my reflections on the content and format of Crafting Intangibles, now that the videos are released for all to view. The reflections are based on my own observations, conversations, and survey responses. Yep, I sent out surveys to people who bought tickets, attended the events, and also to people who knew about the event but chose not to purchase a ticket or attend. I did this because wanted to hear from people that committed to the event at various levels (paid and unpaid), as well as those that chose not to engage. I reveal their (anonymous) responses below.

Charles Hans Huang preview slide from his talk on ‘Humanistic Games’

Reflecting on Content

I am happy to say that there are a lot of talks in this collection that will assist in stretching, enlivening, and guiding creatives. The talks:

I could tell from conversations during the event, the tweets, emails to me afterwards, and the survey results, that others got a lot from the content too. Here are some quotes from the surveys and emails:

“Thanks again for putting together such a superb program.”

“I’ve never attended an interactive writing focused event before and had no idea what to expect. I was blown away by the variety and quality of the speakers and loved the conversations that it sparked. Really affirmed that writing for games is an area I want to pursue professionally! To have such an international event held up the road was super exciting and the innovative approach you took with the pre-recorded speeches was phenomenal.”

“Thank you for putting on such a brilliant event.[…] I got a lot out of the speakers and weekend in general. It was fun and inspiring to be around such creative thinkers.”

“The idea of having so much insight and experience gathered together in one location is something no person should skip. […] I think it’s an outstanding idea. Very happy with how it turned out.”

“Extremely valuable. A melting pot for the future of narrative design. A useful transdisciplinary exercise for other professionals.”

“The speakers broached interesting topics in ways I hadn’t considered them and were really thought provoking, opening questions and contemplation on these ideas.”

“I took down a lot of notes and plan to watch all the videos. I hope a lot of useful information soaks into my brain.”

“I loved the mix of talks — some were the ones I really wanted to hear, others were talks I wouldn’t normally attend — but the combination was the powerful aspect of this event, access to a rich range of different perspectives was really well done.”

Are there things I would change? Are there other people and talks I wish were involved? Of course there are plenty more people that could have given talks as well. There are plenty of people I know and ones that I don’t that I would also love to give talks. But more on this in a moment. For now I want to move to the biggest area of change or learning: the format.

Photos of the Viewing-Parties in Brisbane (top left), Adelaide (top right), Melbourne (bottom left), and Sydney (bottom right) — From the AWG Instagram

Reflecting on the Format

I took a big risk with the Crafting Intangibles format. It hadn’t been done before, and this unfamiliar design trait we know could dissuade attendees. It ended up working really well, with some tweaks needed, and did also suffer from people not understanding what the format is. Let me explain what I did.

Now, everyone is familiar with conferences. You go to a location, and hear from speakers flown in from around the world. If you’re in the room, you’re all privy to what they’re saying, and share your thoughts and photos on Twitter. Some conferences also stream those talks. So those online can at least watch and engage with the conversation at the same time. There have also emerged events that are purely online, such as Freeplay’s Online Festival (which I participated in — thanks Dan!), and the Power Up Digital Games Conference. Both of these examples (there are plenty of others), are purely located on the web. Most people are familiar with this concept too. So you can have conferences at locations, you can have those locations streamed online as well, or you can have purely streamed conferences. They are familiar to audiences in that order too.

But Crafting Intangibles wasn’t any of these. Why? Why didn’t I go with new content in a familiar format? Isn’t that the rule with innovation — you have a good dollop of the familiar to ensure uptake? Well, I had three event design constraints: I didn’t have the budget for a local event where I could fly speakers in, the funding I had required me to have a local event, but I also didn’t have the budget to stream all the talks around the world (you’d be surprised at the cost of getting the right tech & operators to guarantee streaming from a conference location).

So I came up with a crazy idea:

For the people that took the chance and attended the event (either paid or unpaid), it worked. These are some of their comments about the shared-online-viewing format:

“I like it. It’s the first of it’s kind i’ve experienced and it gives you access to multi-national speakers with an indie feel.”

“I love how accessible it is, particularly for students and other folk who have limited funds for attending in person.”

“I love the ultra-indie idea and also the fact that you got interesting people to talk about interesting things (rather than just get “names” that do vanilla topic).”

“I like it. I like the idea it does not have to be a huge thing, like PixelPower or something very expensive. I like it a lot.”

“I thought the structure worked really well — particularly that, unlike other conferences, it ran on time, without too much empty space between talks. I attended Bar SK, and during that time between talks as we discussed what we had seen, I was also able to check Twitter and join the conversation there.”

“Almost perfect. Great access. Twitter accessibility to speakers was wonderful as it connected us despite the pre-recorded videos.”

“I really appreciated the format, and thought it worked well.”

“I was surprised by the format. I had intended to only go to the first day but came away with so much information that I didn’t want to miss out on day two as well, so in that sense I think having day one as a teaser/incentive to purchase day two worked. The price was perfect too.”

What did I discover about this format?

Reflections on Social Media Promotion

The biggest uptake came from my early personal social media posts, social media posts by others, and industry newsletters (my really helpful promotional partners: Brisbane International Game Developers’ Association, Emerging Writers’ Festival, and Queensland Writers Centre).

“How did you first hear about this event?”

53% Social Media

29% Newsletter

12% From a friend

6% Other

One of my biggest epiphanies of practice that I’ve had in the last few years, is to stop viewing a creative project as an object. I speak about this in an academic paper I wrote recently, and it influences my current thinking about cross-media design.

It broke my heart a bit to see my posts about this event ignored by colleagues. I thought, aren’t they excited about it? And they know how the algorithms work, if no-one *likes* posts then most people won’t ever see the posts. So the posts are not being ignored by all, just the important first people who saw them. But then I asked myself what am I really trying to achieve? I remembered something important. I am less interested in you letting me know you are interested in my work, than I am about you actually getting something from it. I try design for impact from the actual work, rather than the impact of anticipation of it.

Christy-a-year-ago probably wouldn’t have understood this, but I would prefer to see you at the event than you spending energy telling me you’re interested in coming to it a million times. Go off, do you thing, live your life, make your things. I haven’t created this event to have you spending all your time confirming over and over that it sounds good. I have created it to affect who you are and your projects. Attention confirmation isn’t part of that equation.

This is what is backwards about social media algorithms. People have to continually perform interest. Indies rely on it. We need our colleagues to like and retweet so our work reaches more people. But impact is what you really want. So then the idea is that people share after they’re experienced your work. Word-of-mouse as they say. But impact isn’t always a public thing, especially catharsis. A personal transformation isn’t necessarily for spreading publicly.

So I then stopped worrying about what was happening in social media, and thought more about the people that had already signed-up for the event. Interestingly, I found that the speakers and those that had already bought tickets were the ones that shared the most posts. They were excited and wanted others to join them. That is more powerful than any post from me anyway.

But I also do think part of the reason for the lack of social media support from colleagues was some were offended I didn’t ask them to speak. There are tons of people all over Australia and around the world I know that could easily have been included, and I did plan to keep conducting interviews. But it is not financially viable. I’ve done this event unpaid and at a (small) loss. I do this in many parts of my life so it isn’t unusual. But I don’t think I will be doing it again — I’m personally taking a break from doing service work and spending more time on my creative life. And now I have more tools to do that, thanks for organising this Christy! *pats self on back*

But the big thank you to the speakers, MCs, volunteers, sub-contractors, sponsor (Screen Queensland), venues (SAE Creative Media Institute, Bar SK, ArtShine Industries, and Jane’s house), and Promotion Partners (Brisbane International Game Developers’ Association, Emerging Writers’ Festival, and Queensland Writers Centre)! :)

Overall Survey Results

During and after the actual event, tweets, emails and survey results shows that others got a lot from it too:

“Overall, how satisfied were you with the event?” Rate out of 5
“Overall, how satisfied were you with the speakers?” Rate out of 5
“How well did the event meet your expectations?” Rate out of 5
“How likely is it you would recommend this event to a friend?” Rate out of 10
“Overall, how satisfied were you with the venue?” (if applicable)
“Overall, how satisfied were you with the food?” (if applicable)

Crafting Intangibles

An international online & local event on interactive…

Christy Dena

Written by

writer-designer-director story games, F/S, Crafting Intangibles, EXLab. Currently writing a book about Narrative Design (this is my 2nd account)

Crafting Intangibles

An international online & local event on interactive narrative design, held on June 10th & 11th 2017

Christy Dena

Written by

writer-designer-director story games, F/S, Crafting Intangibles, EXLab. Currently writing a book about Narrative Design (this is my 2nd account)

Crafting Intangibles

An international online & local event on interactive narrative design, held on June 10th & 11th 2017

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