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The Real World meets The Virtual World: Evacuees and AGDC

September 15, 2008

I got my speaker badge for the Austin Game Developers conference, and met a woman and her dog over coffee. She and her family – like hundreds of other families – had lost everything in Hurricane Ike and are presently sleeping here in the Austin Convention Center. They’re on the other side behind the pink curtains. The game developers occupy the rest.

I find it challenging to shake this surreal and tremendous awareness during the talks I am attending. I see small kids lying on mats, asking questions, feeling confused and wondering where the hell all their toys went. I see parents asking themselves questions I hope I never have to ask: “Where are we going to go? What are we going to do? Is our house still there? Do you suppose they lived?”

In games, we have this “magic circle” within which play occurs. It’s what you slip into when you go from the menu that starts the game or the rule set you read to the actual play of the thing. You slide into it, time passes and you wonder where it went.

I can’t stop thinking about the people on the other side.

On a separate but related note, I drove out here, and took pics along the way through the hurricane zone. I will post then when I am able to.

The pink curtain that separates the virtual world from the real one:

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2008 1:38 am

    I couldn’t help but be affected by the mere presence of the evacuees while walking to the convention center. It was surreal and the closest I’ve been to massive tragedy like this. It felt almost inappropriate to walk into the same building that’s housing these people who’ve lost everything. Definitely brought some new perspective to what’s going on. My thoughts and prayers go out to each one of them.

  2. Olick permalink
    September 16, 2008 9:18 am

    I live close in to the hurricane, could not attend any Austin GDC (work does not permit it right now… and I need to keep my current job).
    Its a little odd. I’ve seen devastation, but where I am is.. fine. Except for the extended power outages (And threatened food shortage implied by it). However Galveston and South Houston were devastated by this storm, so as annoying power outages are those living further north (or west) are quite lucky.

  3. Nat permalink
    September 16, 2008 1:52 pm

    that reminds me of an olympic image I saw on digg (which I cannot find) that showed a stadium or other grand facility, a wall, and a poor old lady digging through trash.

    Maybe a game that prepares people for disasters?

  4. Chris Pioli permalink
    September 17, 2008 12:34 am

    I can understand what everyone is talking about. Every time I go to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, I reflect upon that week I spent at the Men’s YMCA doing service at St. Anthony’s in the Tenderloin district. It is a sobering concept to realize that while we spend time having fun and making fun things, we have to endure living in a world of uncertainty and despair. I am constantly humbled by the plights the less fortunate must endure.

    Games are magical in that they can take our attention away from the real world… so what would happen if a game were to try and bring our attention back to reality, and remind us of what lies out there? Conversely, what if someone at the Austin GDC were to take away the pink blinds and force game developers to acknowledge the reality that lies in front of them?

    It’s awesome you spend time thinking about this, and sharing it with us as well. Heck, you put it up here for a reason, and I believe you’re giving us an open-ended question: what do you do about it? I’d like to get a bunch of game developers out there, and get a bunch of toys and board games for them to play. Something to help them get their mind off their problems, even for a minute.

  5. September 17, 2008 8:31 pm

    @Chris: Rather than make games to get people to forget about their problems, how about finding a way to make FIXING the problems into a game? That way, instead of just a short-term “vacation” where the person still has to come back to reality when they’re done, they get to rebuild… while having fun at it.

    Sim FEMA, anyone?

  6. Chris Pioli permalink
    September 17, 2008 9:03 pm

    @Ian: I was referring to the kids at the AGDC who needed to get their minds off of their current predicament, not to the world-at-large.

    Oh, now I know what I forgot to put in! “I’d like to get a bunch of game developers out there, and find a bunch of toys and games for THE CHILDREN to play.”

    I can’t believe I forgot to add that in.

    Still, though, finding a way to fix the problem in a game… technically, that has already been thrown out by games like SimCity; but those games presented recovery elements more like statistics to recover and repair your city/empire. It doesn’t quite have the humanitarian element one would want in the game.

    Habitat for Humanity could be a good premise for a game, if it had the elements I’m thinking of… it could be a real-time strategy game.

  7. elle permalink
    September 19, 2008 7:52 am

    Did… did you guys help them out at all? Did GDC acknowledge it in any other ways?

  8. Eleri Hamilton permalink
    September 22, 2008 8:11 pm

    I couldn’t help raiding the huge bin of candy at the Bioware booth, and sharing it with the kids across the pink curtain. I even suggested to one booth that if they had so many leftover shirts, they should send them over there, rather than pack them home. I dunno if anyone did though.

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