The Unconference principles always tell you that the people who come are the right people. That has never felt more true than at the CodeWork Unconference I went to today. The event was organized by some folks at the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study and drew people interested in discussing how code shapes our lives. These people were also interested in classics, rhetoric, code, data, ethics, virtual reality, privacy, comics, and even lichen!
We started the day with some background from the organizers and introductions, and then went right into the first session where I got to try out a Raspberry Pi with a camera module. I had previously only played Squirrel Eat Squirrel (a game written in Python, BTW) and unsuccessfully tried Minecraft. I gave up after falling in some water and didn’t really see the appeal of the game, probably because I’m old. We also played with some code that searched for tweets and printed them to a little board, which was pretty rad.
After lunch we went into our second session, where I got to talk about my favorite subject of late: data analysis in Python. I shared about my adventure trying to learn and some resources I find really helpful, which led into a fantastic discussion about learning to program, the sort of mysticism around “coding”, and the uselessness of stating that you “just need to learn to code”. One of my favorite parts of the conversation was around the difference between identifying as a “programmer” or “developer” and the framework of using something like Python as one of may tools to accomplish a task or solve a problem. This really got at why I felt like I didn’t really fit in at PyCon last week! We were going to talk about citizen science as well but sadly didn’t get to it; we definitely need to do this again.
The third session I spent talking video games and trying out the Samsung Gear headset, which took each of us flying over… Iceland? Somewhere with beautiful waterfalls and vast expanses. I also went in some spaceship thing. We talked about video game worlds and how the player/user has to figure out what kind of world they’re in, like in any other story except more immersive. We had talked about some of my favorite stories at lunch (like Sophie’s World and the Neverending Story) that either break the fourth wall or otherwise have characters that in some way start to question and figure out their place inside the world in which the story takes place. In virtual reality, you have to navigate both the world that you enter and see while inside while remaining physically somewhere else, where you can bump into things or fall. We laughed about how we can end up in different parts of the room and be completely surprised by this when we emerge from that other world by removing the headset.
We also talked about diversity in game making, and the different stories that can be told when everyone makes games. I brought up one of my favorite games, Tampon Run, a game created by a couple high school girls that were sick of the stigma against menstruating women’s bodies. they are two of my favorite heroes. In the game you throw tampons at the bad guys. They acknowledge that while the concept of the game may be strange that it’s more strange that we accept violence in video games and yet can’t talk about periods. #truth
And just when you think it can’t get any better, I met a woman who shares my love of lichen, a guy who recommended the book The Rise of the Video Game Zinesters (which I bought immediately on Amazon) as well as the MCTC zine collection, I learned about a hyperlocal independent movie theater, and I geeked out about bags and notebooks and why everything out there is somehow lacking.
You guys, these are my people. I can’t wait til the next thing they do! It’s so.much.fun.