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Let's look back - Reviews of past gaming events

By Ellysebeth Leigh  EL

ISAGA 1996


My first ISAGA conference
ISAGA 1996 – Riga, Latvia - 
Valdis Bisters
This was the first conference I attended in Europe as well as my first ISAGA conference. Latvia seemed remote and difficult to access, involving a visit, one Saturday morning, to a small room in a distant suburb to convince the Latvian consul that he should give me a visa – the first time I had ever applied for such a document. He was fascinated to talk to me, as someone seeking a visa to visit his country who had no family ties there. ‘What did I know about his country?’ ‘Why did I want to go there? ‘ ‘Where exactly in Latvia would I be going?’
My somewhat lame, ill-informed answers satisfied him and the long flight to Europe landed me at the Science Centre just in time for the welcoming address. I knew no one and was suddenly uncertain about why I was there at all. This did not deter anyone else, and I was welcome like a long lost friend, having been ‘introduced’ to ISAGA by Elizabeth Christopher - the year before!

The Program


Valdis Bisters and his team had a magical week planned for us. The venue was well away from the old city of Riga, being located at an ex-Soviet sports Science Centre, on the Peninsula of Jurmala. However the social events and ‘free time’ opportunities enabled several trips into the city centre, as we could walk to a small railway station set among pines and wild flowers, located beyond the manicured tennis courts and facilities of the Centre.
In all honesty I have no direct recall of the papers and workshop sessions – not even my own. It was busy and engaging, and during the day we moved smoothly among various session options. My journal records that Vincent Peters used a clever two-part activity to explore how to persuade potential clients to adopt simulations for planning and learning. One conclusion I noted was “If you cannot convince your client, don’t confuse him.” Ivo Wensler spoke of ‘game design’ “not as art but discovering what can be taught as learned.” Jac Geurts and Dick Duke feature in my journal, but I did not record their topics.
The conference theme was ‘sustainability’ but not all papers – including my own - were spot on the topic. I do know that collectively the sessions were influential in developing my own thinking and writing about simulations in the years since, but in the flurry of trying to understand how an ISAGA Conference was produced and run, I could not concentrate on the content. I was therefore delighted to be able to read the papers in the published proceedings[1].

Learning about ISAGA Conferences

My personal priority was to understand the mechanics and soul of this conference. Elizabeth had nominated Sydney to host the 1999 conference and I did not know how many chances I would get to understand what that meant. At one point in this search, my journal records that “if this conference is anything to go by, an ISAGA conference has a high focus on involvement, national pride and value for money.”  And later on – reflecting on a conversation with Spanish speaking participants - a lovely thought “major sola que mal accompanada’ meaning “better to travel alone than with poor company” and I noted that this is one place where I will never be in “poor company.”  Indeed although this was my first ISAGA conference I had committed to write an article bout them – even before it was over
[2] - although it took a bit longer to emerge.Social Activities

Social program

The social activities remain the most memorable events from this highly active conference. We visited Turaida Castle, climbing to the top of its partly restored watchtower to marvel at the landscape spread out belwo us. Its surroundings included a nearby sculpture park and a set of caves decorated by graffiti – some of which dated back to the 1700’s. We were entertained at a  ‘national night’ which was a whirl of dance and music and lovely national food. Those trips into the city centre were sandwiched between the end of the day’s formal activities and the evening entertainments. Other evenings we walked along the beach in the later evening light of a northern summer. These miles of beaches had attracted 19th century Russian nobility and wealthy merchants to build fantastical holiday homes along the peninsula, and I learned about the ‘restitution’ process that was gradually returning ownership to the families from whom they had been seized after 1945. And I admired and bought some of the most beautiful amber I had ever thought to see.
And the conference did not end – for some of us – when the final farewells had been said. Someone [ I doubt if I ever knew who] had suggested that those of us still there on Saturday could share the costs of a bus trip to a different part of Latvia. And thus more than 20 of climbed aboard a bus for a ‘magical mystery tour’ - few of us know or understood where we were going, merely accepting that we would set out and return - and have some interesting adventures along the way. The destination was Rundala Pils [palace] modelled on St Petersburg in the 1700’s and built for a local nobleman by an architect temporarily out of favour in Russia. It was being restored to its former beauty so the perspectives alternated between layers of decrepit decay and gloriously painted and sculpted ceilings, staircases alcoves and walls. And on the return journey we were lucky enough to arrive in time for a classical music concert in the ruins of Bauska castle.


I was hooked! The ISAGA steering committee had accepted the proposal from “Australia” to host ISAGA 1999 and Jac Geurts lively and inviting presentation on ISAGA 1997 to be held in Tilburg had me signed up before his last slide was shown. And I was not disappointed. But more of that next time.

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