SXSW Interactive Day 2: Geeks, Games and Community at the Gaming Expo

(Above: Tabletop gaming by Geek & Sundry, image by Steffany Powell)

Pirate Cosplay

Pirate Cosplay at SXSW Gaming Expo (Image: Steffany Powell)

From hard-core gamers to toddlers wearing Pokemon shirts, gamers of all types were out in force at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Gaming Expo. Of course the big guns were there, but what was more interesting than the booth babes and the snazzy sports cars were the indie games, immersive gaming technologies, the Table Top area, Geek Stage and the Tournament Stage. Best yet, this expo was free to the public, no SXSW badge needed.

Indie Games: Zombies Out, Pirates Back In
Indie game developers came out of the woodwork, hawking their wares to anyone who even glanced in their direction. There were surprisingly, and happily, very few zombie games, but there seems to be a resurgence of pirates (with pterodactyls).

Immersive Gaming: Coming on Strong
There are so many new technologies emerging, expect to see immersive gaming become more mainstream in the coming years. Alienware had a giant militarized vehicle that housed screens where gamers could try out the company’s new computers, and there was a constant line of gamers eager to get to try Oculus Rift. Also in the immersive gaming mix was Tobii Technology, who showed off their new eye-tracking integration.

Table Top: Combining Comedy with Gaming
The Table Top area, sponsored by Geek and Sundry, the brainchild of Felicia Day (who stars in “The Guild,” and co-stars in “Supernatural”) and friends. Day, with cohort Will Wheaton and others, has created a gaming subculture that combines comedy and gaming and includes several different web series, as well as video blogs (vlogs). The tables were nearly filled with dedicated gamers playing Magic: The Gathering as well as other “table top” games that have been gaining popularity in the recent years.

Next to the Table Top corral, hoping to join the ranks of Cards Against Humanity, is Robert Kirkman’s (The Walking Dead) SkyBound “SuperFight: A Game of Absurd Arguments.” The premise is simple: You draw a card to find out which pop-culture character you are and then a couple more cards to see which superpowers you possess. Then you and the other players argue to see who would win in a fight. There are expansion packs that add additional situations and locations to make the game more interesting.

Geek Stage: A Conversation with Robert Kirkman
Robert Kirkman also spoke on the Geek Stage about Skybound, his company that grew out of his self-published The Walking Dead graphic novels. When Kirkman postulated that anyone can garner the success he has, the moderator, New York Times reporter Paul Vigna, balked. Kirkman explained that as someone who self-published his graphic novels, he had to wear two hats as a content creator and a marketer. Because of this, he felt that he understood his demographic and could pivot his content to appeal to the market. This experience is the driving force behind his belief that licensing is not as good as cooperating with the content creators. In Kirkman’s opinion, licensing dilutes the brand, which does a disservice to the fans.

During his time on the Geek Stage, Kirkman seemed distracted by the giant TV off-stage playing Call of Duty. Overall, he was jovial and rather nonchalant about the success of his rapidly growing company. Perhaps that’s because in the gaming and geek world, when you know your stuff is good, you don’t have to worry too much about losing your audience.

A Strong Sense of Community
The geek and gaming community was not just out in force in Austin–they were noticeably excited about what they were seeing. Crowds gathered to watch gamers compete against each other on the big screen on the Tournament Stage. The people from Austin’s own Rooster Teeth, the producers of Red vs. Blue and other shows, were on hand to sign autographs and take photos with their fans. There were also other gaming celebrities on hand, but what was most apparent was the sense of community that this disparate group of people have created. From the squeals of delight from the pre-teen girls, to the crowds lining up to play with Oculus Rift and other new technologies, to the kids who just wanted to play the new games, this community is growing and becoming more inclusive everyday.

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