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Meeting of many minds

Entretiens Jacques Cartier at Concordia.
September 28, 2011

The 24th edition of Les Entretiens Jacques Cartier begins this week at several sites in Quebec City, Ottawa and Montreal. The event brings together academics, politicians, artists and business people from all over the world for 29 symposiums on a diverse range of subjects.

One symposium entitled Experiencing Stories with/in Digital Games begins this Saturday, October 1, at Concordia. “One aspect of many of the top games that the industry produces is the quality of their narrative,” says associate professor Bart Simon, the current director of Concordia’s research centre in Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG). “This should be a focus of research attention on both the academic and industry side.”

Simon will deliver the symposium’s opening remarks to the assembled audience of game designers, researchers and enthusiasts (expected to be in the hundreds). Then the crowd will split up into four separate panel discussions. Each panel will discuss one of four chosen games — Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Mass Effect 2, Amnesia, and The Graveyard.

Simon says three of the games were picked because of their strong use of narrative, and the fourth, The Graveyard, was picked because of its unique position within the industry as a sort of non-game. “It’s not quite clear if it’s a game or not,” he says. “It’s a boundary object. It resides at the boundary of a game and other kinds of interactive narrative experiences. You could describe it as interactive poetry.”

Simon says it’s important that the discussions revolve around games that are familiar to everyone taking part in the discussions. “They have to focus their attention on a single object. In doing that, they take advantage of the interdisciplinary conversation.” He also says that those who have actually played the games stand to gain a lot more from the symposium.

In the evening, David Cage, founder and CEO of Parisian-based game studio Quantic Dream, will discuss the use of narrative in a game he wrote and directed, Heavy Rain. CNN columnist Scott Steinberg rated Heavy Rain the top video game of 2010, arguing that its storytelling is “every bit as gripping and cinematic as anything Hollywood produces.”

Simon says, “Heavy Rain has really provoked a lot of questions about the collapse between filmmaking and game making, filmic narrative and game narrative.”

The second day of the symposium is closed to the public, and is a chance for invited academics from all over Canada to sit down with some of the speakers and talk about digital narrative. The afternoon will be spent in a collective discussion of topics raised throughout the two-day event.

“It could be that we agree on or establish ideas about new research directions,” Simon says. “It could be that people think of ideas for new forms of narrative design.” But more importantly, the symposium could help people in the gaming industry to realize the growing potential for new and exciting partnerships with academia.

“One thing of big concern to us at Concordia is the value of the humanities in thinking about questions of digital narrative,” he says. “When it comes to cultural experience, the humanities has some expertise in that area. The question is how to make that expertise relevant.”

Simon hopes the symposium will help build bridges between the university and game studios in Montreal, particularly smaller, independent ones. “(Smaller studios) could probably benefit more from collaborations with university researchers and students,” he says. “We really want to talk about a research lab as a space for trying out new things, being able to fail with innovative designs and ideas, and not having to shut down your business because you couldn’t make the bottom line. There needs to be a place where universities can help and collaborate with the community.”

Information and Communication Technologies: Are They Green?

Another symposium held at Concordia as part of Entretiens Jacques Cartier will address the environmental impact of information and communications technologies. The traffic of information has doubled every year for the last five or 10 years, and now it’s doubling every four to six months, explains professor Brigitte Jaumard from Concordia’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering. “More traffic means more energy. More energy means more carbon.”

The goal of the symposium, Jaumard says, is to first make people aware of the problem, and then discuss what the industry is doing to come up with solutions. The symposium will include two round-table discussions: one focused on the technical challenges of greening information and communications technology, and the other on society’s role.

“The carbon footprint (of information and communications technologies) is at least as large as the airline industry, if not larger,” she says. “Every user, every provider has to do his share in trying to make it more green.

IT Security, Cyber Forensics and the Fight Against Cybercrime

The third symposium hosted by Concordia deals with the ever-growing threat of computer crime. The assembled experts from academia and industry will discuss everything from cyber forensics (examining digital media for legal evidence) to countering social engineering attacks via social networks.

Professor Mourad Debbabi, director of the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE), will give a presentation at the symposium entitled Toward a Framework for Monitoring and Collecting Information.

Much of the research underway at CIISE has to do with developing processes, techniques, and tools for criminal investigations which handle and interpret evidence of cybercrime. According to a recent survey, over half of Canadians have fallen victim to cybercrime, and 95 per cent of the people who responded believe they have been targeted by a cyberattack of some sort.

The picture going forward is not encouraging. Experts are predicting a new era in which computer crime such as identity theft, phishing, pirating, financial fraud, copyright infringement, child pornography, and botnets (networks of compromised computers used to perpetrate cybercrimes) will be even more pervasive. The discussions that take place at the symposium will be published in a book, with the hope of expanding the knowledge base surrounding the different tools and techniques for countering cyber criminality.

Related links:
•  Les Entretiens Jacques Cartier 
•  The Research Centre in Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG)
•  Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering
•  Video of Louise Dandurand, Vice President Research and Graduate Studies, speaking about Les Entretiens Jacques Cartier



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