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Let's look back - Reviews of past gaming events

By Ellysebeth Leigh  EL

ISAGA 1997

Introduction

This is the second in an occasional series of reflections on previous ISAGA Conferences. In this item I focus on some of the fun things that were provided by ISAGA 1997. And I also recall some of the lessons I was learning about how to run an ISAGA conference.

ISAGA 1997 –Jac Geurts, Cisca Joldersma & team - Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Preparation

Although it is painfully expensive to travel from Australia half way round the world for a conference, I was committed to attending my second ISAGA conference, and did all the normal academic tasks of submitting an abstract, waiting for news, working on the paper and presentation, and requesting approval to attend. It was a relief when all these were in place. And also a challenge - since I knew from ISAGA 1996 in Riga - that ISAGA conferences are kind to their presenters, but expect a lot from them. I was also aware that the convenors would be hard at work creating the best possible experience for all those planning to descend on Tilburg early in summer. By now I also understood that ISAGA goes where a committed individual and a dedicated team are willing to commit to a year of hard work and take the risk of having enough people turn up to make it a successful proposition. Jac’s presentation in Riga had been irresistible, promising a fascinating perspective on The Netherlands and the week lived up to all his promises.

The Program

There were more participants in Tilburg than at Riga – a factor it seems of the local interest in simulations as much as the nature of the venue and the promise of the program. The excellent publication that emerged from Tilburg provides a clear perspective on the conference content. So I will focus here on some of the imagery, people and events that made ISAGA 1997 all that Jac and his team had promised. One of the more memorable items from Tilburg was the conference logo itself, and the small reproduction presented to keynote speakers. It created in three dimensions Dick Duke’s model of abstracting reality to create an effective simulation. Another visual feast were the amazing posters of the models underlying some of the designs developed by Dick’s students. These provided a conversation point and colourful focal point in the meeting area throughout the week. After the end of formal proceedings most days there was an opportunity to stroll along the plaza to the many cafes and restaurants open late into the evening. Summer evenings in Australia tend to end abruptly with nightfall, so the long twilights at the open air cafes in Tilburg were a new experience, as was the locally brewed liqueur “Schrobbeler” a Tilburg specialty liqueur in a traditional earthenware bottle which - at 21.5% alcohol by volume – is slightly less potent than some liqueurs, but delightful to drink.

Social Activities

The planned social events presented highlights from the varied nature of this southern province of The Netherlands. We could choose from history, commerce or entertainment, and then spend a day exploring their interconnections with simulations and play as learning. While the ‘entertainment’ tour was intended for younger participants, the young at heart had as much fun at Kaatsheuvel, the fairytale world of De Efteling. Commerce was on show at Rotterdam Harbour where the harbor pilot training facilities are among the world’s best. A tour of the harbor emphasized the huge variety of goods and craft that were on their way through the world’s busiest harbor in 1997. History – my own choice – was seen at close quarters in a visit to the walled city of Heusden and the bustling modern city of Den Bosch. Heusden dates from the 13th century, and, from some perspectives, still appears much as it must have looked in the 16th century. In Den Bosch, the regional capital, we travelled on a canal network called the Binnendieze that was once 22 kilometres long and – in many places – now runs below the modern city. All three options incorporated insights into the nation, its use of simulation and – as in Riga - gave visitors an opportunity to explore our immediate environment. This last aspect was enhanced by the venue for the conference dinner, Kasteeluinen Arcen (Arcen Castle Gardens). These are the largest exhibition garden complex in the Benelux, located in the grounds of a ‘hunting lodge’ which was once on Germany soil, until some long ago battle saw all the land ‘three cannon shots back from the river bank’ appropriated into Dutch territory. The flowers, the meal and the Dutch Jazz music were all quite beautiful and a very tired crowd was reluctant for the evening to end.

Outcomes

ISAGA 1997 provided its large audience with a highly professional, well-organized and valuable array of insights into uses of simulation and games for learning. I came away with the impression that The Netherlands as a nation has worked out how to use simulation for social, political and community engagement, in ways that the world can learn from. While I was becoming more nervous about how to achieve a comparable event in Sydney in two years time, the proposal to host ISAGA 1999 in Sydney was accepted by the ISAGA Steering Committee. I now knew that a good ISAGA conference achieved a balance of academic excellence and social engagement with the local community. It has its own unique iconic element, ensures that participants are able to connect with each other and share ideas, new developments and plans in both formal and informal settings. It introduces its participants to the surrounding environment and its historical and cultural uniqueness. It also enables participants to learn with and from each other, by ensuring that there is sufficient variety of engagement opportunities during the coffee and meal breaks. It tries to ensure that strangers become acquaintances, and even friends as common interests are discovered and explored. There is time for conversation and attention to making new connections. It is now more than 15 years since I met some of my ISAGA friends for the first time, and I have become firm friends with many of the people I first met in Tilburg.

Next Year in Russia

It was with both regret and excitement that the final ISAGA Committee meeting closed, with the agreement to meet next year in St Petersburg. It had become clear to me that some of the “East/West tensions” I had read about but never experienced from the remoteness of Australia, were worrying some committee members. However the Engecon team were committed and promised to provide a great experience. While the language of ISAGA conferences had long since been agreed as English, they would be providing translators, and this would be the first time the conference had had to deal with such an element. It would be an interesting experiment and – from my point of view - an exciting one.

 

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