Guest Post: Extra Credits' James Portnow Visits VFS

By VFS Web Team, on February 3, 2012

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3382","attributes":{"class":"media-image alignleft size-full wp-image-22968","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"220","height":"220","title":"James Portnow","alt":""}}]]Some may know of James Portnow as the CEO of Rainmaker Games, but he's also one of the minds behind Extra Credits - a web series focused on discussing important issues facing the video game industry.
VFS was pleased to host James for an inspiring visit with Game Design students yesterday, which left many in the room considering how to shape their own upcoming contributions to games. We're lucky to have current student Isaac Calon give us a full rundown of the event.
Guest Post by Isaac Calon
The old bait and switch? Yes, please.
On Thursday evening the Game Design campus was treated to a talk by James Portnow about the aesthetics of our craft. As a game designer, journalist, speaker, the CEO of Rainmaker Games, and as the writer for the online game design series, Extra Credits, James has made an enormous impression on the industry that he so obviously loves.
His original plan called for a talk on the shape of narrative in the massively multiplayer space, but instead Portnow asked and answered questions for a solid hour, leading a standing-room-only audience to pithy conclusions not only about what he believes are our shared responsibilities as the future backbone of the industry, but also (especially) about the very core of the game-playing experience.
The theme of the event was that understanding what is happening on the player side of the screen, rather than what's on the screen itself, is the key to understanding why Call of Duty, FarmVille, and Minecraft are such compelling and lucrative experiences in not-so-different ways. Lacking any visuals besides a PDF of MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research, Portnow called on the audience to explain why we play the games we do and broke down several of our favourites based on the core aesthetics for each.
To sum up, we professionals aren't only in the business of making fun. We are in the enviable position of making interactive experiences that tap into the many shared desires and needs of a vast audience - an audience far greater than the prepubescent teens of which it may have once been comprised. In James' eyes, the opportunities presented by our field are basically limitless, and he sounded almost envious as he told us that the games industry's Citizen Kane will "come from you guys."
Portnow, via Extra Credits, has been accused of "white-knighting" the industry, or making it seem like it should only be focused on building games that send strong social messages or act as art installations. Rather, his message has almost always seemed to be that the relatively young but oh-so relevant and now widespread videogame medium has staggering potential beyond just "fun." Of course there's still room for that, but the potential for videogames to educate, for example, must be explored.
The 2010s are an exciting time for our industry, and frankly, I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do with it.
Thanks, Isaac. And many thanks to James Portnow for his inspiring visit!