Review: Playtopia MGA 2019

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Review: PlaytopiaThe Castle of Good Hope – a peculiar venue, I thought, to host a niche event such as Playtopia. But the rustic yellow walls, old green shutters and winding staircases added to the feeling of fantasy as it tempted me to draw an imaginary sword and swing it around in anticipation of the gaming festival I was about to join.

Right off the back Playtopia stood out for the immersive experience offered to all in attendance.

There is a lot to say about the event, but their main display – the games, were what had me entertained the most. From an arcade multiplayer game where each player is a cat trying to steal a fish from one another (the competition was real) to the popular Boet Fighter (see fighter pronounced “charna”) and various experiences offered by different VR consoles, the festival has something for everyone.

A favourite experience was sitting next to a stranger to steal his fish and escape out the window like a cat would, a sentence I never thought I’d type, and his cat suddenly becoming larger than life while mine shrank to the size of the fish I was trying to catch – much to my chagrin. And yet I still won. Hah.

The Dungeons especially had me impressed. I seamlessly went from giddily partaking in an electronic light display on a tabletop to walking through an elaborately set up, literal ‘dungeon’ (treasure chest and all) to finally playing Snake on a wall light display with a joystick controller, trying furiously to beat a high score of 30. I did not.

Single-player games also shone. Some had me laughing at their interesting, some would say crude, choice of dialogue. Others had me head bopping to a rock track while feeding my character a hot dog, bite by bite. Odd? Yes. Satisfying? Oh, yes.

One particular VR experience – The Botanist – left me in awe and chuckles as I was approached by an Irish Mushroom, nearly forgetting I was in VR and giggling to myself as though it was the first time I had ever picked up a controller.

While the Festival did a great job of showcasing various unique games, it also expanded its offering with immersive art displays. Installations gave an interesting look at what gaming technology can provide for new forms of storytelling. One particular room consisted of stones hanging by thread from the ceiling, with a changing projection of trees and intimate breathing sounds in the background. This installation went on to provide a VR option, which had me inside the projection itself, comfortable headphones making the sounds and effects all the more powerful.

Another aspect worth mentioning is that of the Playtopia Talks. I was only able to attend a few but I quite enjoyed it. Not a professional in the industry, my technical understanding of the gaming profession is limited. Still, I was able to appreciate each talker. It felt as though inside jokes were passed between the speaker and the community, and Q&A sessions made for interesting conversation.

While the festival wasn’t perfect – directions around the castle were limited, the sun was out in full blaze and sunblock was very much forgotten (do the math) – Playtopia provided an immensely fun experience. The gaming industry is at the forefront of exciting tech developments and it was great to see so many people come out and just have fun while enjoying what a large conglomerate of interesting nerds can offer.

Written by Yusuf Latief.
Playtopia MGA 2019 is on at the Castle of Good Hope from 5 to 7 December, 2019.

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