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DSU students win GDC narrative review competition

March 23, 2017

Three current Dakota State University computer game design majors were chosen as Gold winners in the narrative review competition at the 2017 Game Developers Conference (GDC), held in San Francisco in early March.

Kristian Skistad from Bismarck, N.D., Trent Steen, from Emery, S.D., and Nathan Golen from Duluth, Minn. each submitted a paper analyzing the story line, or narrative, of a game.

“We break down the narrative [of the game],” for the competition, said Steen, “what works and why it works, and pick apart some of its faults.” Steen chose “Zero Time Dilemma,” Skistad evaluated “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons,” and Golen reviewed “Kessen II.”

Judges for the GDC chose 22 winners from across the nation, including the three from DSU. Winners received free passes to the annual conference, and were featured at a special session where they displayed posters based on their essays.

“Faculty encourage us to all enter,” said Steen, who was a platinum award winner in 2015. Golen added, “The contest is actually tailored so that instructors can work that into their curriculum.”

There are many benefits for the students, including getting more out of a game. “I feel I can enjoy them at a deeper level,” after a critical analysis, said Steen. The narrative review also provides a good example of their writing ability for their portfolio, Steen added. Attending the conference is a good educational experience, teaching the students about the industry, Golen added. This was his first time at the conference, and felt the experience “helped me get a handle on what it means to be a professional in the game industry, … to see the whole culture of the industry.”

After humble beginnings in the early 1980’s, the GDC conference is a now attended by 27,000 people who take in over 500 events such as lectures, panels, tutorials and discussions throughout the course of a week, says the GDC website, gdconf.com.

THE DRAW of GAMES

This growth is easily explained by the students, who shared why they chose to major in computer game design. 

“Games represent every storytelling medium,” said Steen, “visual art, music, writing, all condensed into on.” In addition, he sees that both life and games are sets of rules interacting with each other. With a game, however, “you can make your own laws…and experience a world that couldn’t be possible in real life.” That world is “still just as valid as real life [because] there’s meaning to it,” he added, providing access to “some truth about the universe.”

“[Gaming is] about creating a believable world,” Skistad said. “It doesn’t have to be realistic…as long as you can feel engaged with that world.” That engagement can provide “different experiences from other people’s point of view.” He added, “I always like the phrase that a gamer doesn’t have one life, they have many because they have lived through different characters and seen the world through their eyes.”

“Games can have a cultural component,” Golen said, similar to movies and novels, but with an “artistic flair.” That artistic flair is a form of creative freedom. “Nothing comes closer to magic in my eyes than being able to create your own rule set for a world,” Skistad said.