Preview: WordPlay 2014

Now that the weather in Toronto has taken a turn for the colder, there’s never been a better time to curl up indoors with a good book and a video game. Fortunately, you can do both at the second annual WordPlay Festival at the Toronto Reference Library on Saturday.

Presented by the Hand Eye Society and the Digital Innovation Hub, WordPlay is a one-day video game festival dedicated to the written word in interactive media. The organizers have put together a gallery of 25 games from around the world that prioritize text over visuals, many of which even go entirely without any kind of illustration or animation element. The games are often technically simple but thematically complex, making for a compelling alternative to the noisy blockbusters that sometimes have more explosions than ideas.


There will be a full afternoon of main stage presentations to go along with the arcade, and the lineup for 2014 will blur the lines between theatre, literature, technology, and games. Guests include Boston’s Andrew Plotkin, who will be discussing his recently Kickstarted Hadean Lands, as well as Montreal’s Brent Ellison and Tanya X. Short, who will be discussing storytelling systems in their game Dungeons of Fayte.

Meanwhile, Dominique Pamplemousse creator Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai will be on hand to conduct a live playing (or live reading?) of Coffee: A Misunderstanding, a new interactive play in which the audience members are the actors. Twine game maker Kaitlin Tremblay will be narrating a similarly interactive rendition of a never-before-seen game from Porpentine that was prepared exclusively for WordPlay.


The festivities conclude with the inaugural WordPlay Awards at 4:30pm. The winners will be chosen from amongst the 25 games in the gallery, ensuring that guests will have the opportunity to play all of the nominees before the hosts open the envelopes (and yes, they have promised envelopes). If you like what you see, you can learn how to make your own writerly games at one of the instructional demos that will take place earlier in the afternoon, where experts will introduce a slew of helpful tools for aspiring developers.

The event is worth checking out even if you don’t have such literary ambitions. Festivals like WordPlay expand conventional understandings of what is and is not a video game, exposing audiences to new ideas and new forms of interactivity. It’s a great opportunity to see what kinds of games artists are making outside the mainstream, many of which originate right here in Toronto.

The second annual WordPlay Festival takes place on November 8, running from 12pm to 5pm at the Toronto Reference Library at Yonge and Bloor. Admission is free for everyone.


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