Finding our way North again, I love to see how we follow the river upstream. I love where we’re going. It’s like home.

I had to jump out of the Games For Change Festival before I was ready to, though. I cut my time there short. Tomorrow, my team receives some appreciation in return for last weekend’s efforts. They will be there to do that onstage without me. My heart is on the train, but I left my brain in New York City.

If I retrace my steps back years I can tell you about G4C Fests previous. For now, let me just tell you what little of it I glimpsed this year.

Michael Gallagher of the ESA introduced Keynote Speaker Constance Steinkheuler, whose graphs always thrill. I’ll try to get some of those for you. I’m telling you… It’s the good kind, man. My son took some photos too. I’m sure I can get those from him. Okay, here’s one.

I first met Constance by chance in a strange variation of Pac-Manhattan, a particular circumstance relevant to the point of her G4C17 Keynote Address, but which I will save for another upriver foray. For now, let me just tell you what she told this audience. Make connections in different disciplines!

Designers, talk to Researchers; Researchers talk to Designers!!

Coming to, emerging from a vision of colorful vectors climbing upward in time, we feel as if that may have been a lucid dream within a surrealist dream narrated by Moran Cerf. More on surfing brainwaves, Kellogg School of Management style, in a bit.

Less dazzling, but more immediately fascinating to me and a handful of other conferencegoers, came a presentation by a Tshirt-wearing guy from Ubisoft and a tie-wearing guy from a drug company, in a talk called Can Gaming Play Nicely With Pharma? I once took a ten-year break from making commercial games because, for a Producer, multi-year production cycles can be maddening, even for one possessed with a long attention span. What’s funny about that is that I wound up working on bringing medical treatments to market, a process so lengthy and laborious it makes the most complex and rigorous game development look like kid stuff. What’s exciting to me about getting back into game development recently is this very prospect of bringing the two together. Dig Rush is not the only game undergoing FDA trials. Adam Gazzaley has a game being tested for efficacy across seven different indications.

Did you know, though, that games are not just something your doctor might prescribe? They can be used in schools too! My son and I were pleased to see some of our favorites were this year’s Festival favorites: Walden takes you into Henry David Thoreau’s world the same way spending a few months in a cabin in the woods with books and letters by him and Emerson would; At Play In The Cosmos takes you into Adam Frank’s outer space where math and physics are even more important for getting around than they are down here where we have decent subway systems and halfway decent car services; Tracking Ida takes you to the shocking and beautiful, horrific and hopeful land called the United States of America.

Augering down a hidden stairwell to an echoey subbasement, we found brain scientists of the sane variety. Aaron Seitz was two tables over from me throughout the VR Brain Jam last weekend but now I got to pay attention to all the interesting things he has to say about neural plasticity. Also, baseball.

Then there was Nick Fortugno with more interesting things to say about Democracy, and the hits just kept on coming. I got to see and hear and learn from the winner of — plus a couple of the top contenders for — the G4C Migration Challenge. This is a grant award for which I had submitted a proposal I was so excited by it, and I was pleased to get connected with the top two of a hundred and fifty applicants. Emily Treat led the program, and her work is excellent.

Emily also led the VR BrainJam, so let’s get to that now. What was that? For those who don’t know, a game jam is like a hackathon; small teams “jam” for a day or two to come up with an array of new products, all whimsical variations on a theme.

Leading up to this year’s VR For Change Summit, each of twelve teams of developers was assigned a neuroscientist and tasked with creating a game. It kicked off with that guy Moran Cerf getting everybody figuratively scratching their heads wondering whether he was suggesting we re-break the new rules of UX Design in VR and somehow reset the bones. 

My team’s combined number of years of experience making Virtual Reality into a thing could be rounded to twenty. We chose to focus on fundamental elements of brain activity such as dendritic connections. Relying on our resident expert to check our game logic against Actual Reality, and taking inspiration from Nicky Case, we created an experience for Oculus Rift and GearVR that worked. That is to say, we did enough feature-cutting and enough debugging that the experience did not crash at show-and-tell time. 

Proud of that. Proud of the fact that we were voted #1 and invited to present tomorrow. Proud of the team I helped put together, and I know they will do fine without me tomorrow.

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