New York Film Academy Los Angeles Faculty Senate President Jenni Powell Crews The Gathering 2017

April 15, 2017
It’s a cold Wednesday morning and thousands of young people are standing outside what looks like a giant Viking Ship turned upside down. A light snow falls from the sky and sticks to the ground, as well as to the tarp-covered equipment most of the people have with them, many using computer chairs as make-shift dollies holding PC towers, wooden structures that resemble book shelves, and more energy drinks and sodas than should ever be consumed by a human being, let alone about 7,000 of them. This is the opening day of The Gathering, the world’s second largest computer party in the World (behind DreamHack), held every year over Easter Weekend in Vikingskipet Olympic Arena in Hamar, Norway.

The event started in 1992 and was originally created as a demo party, but over the course of 25 years has expanded to so much more, including game development, coding, graphic design, filmmaking, Cosplay, e-sports, and much much more.

One truly defining characteristic of the event is that it is almost totally volunteer run by a Crew of over 500 people, most of them who had been doing so for many years.  The event is hosted by the organization KANDU (Kreativ Aktiv Norsk Dataungdom or Creative Action Norwegian Computer Youth), which is an organization aimed at promoting the use of technology to youth across Norway (as well as to the international attendants of The Gathering, of which I am one of many).

This is my forth year in a row as a member of the Crew at the event. Many people wonder how a transmedia producer from America ended up at a Norwegian computer party. At the time I first attended, I was working for Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry, and a fan of that network, who also is a long-time Crew Member at The Gathering (who incidentally, is also an International Crew member, hailing from Denmark), reached out to see if Geek & Sundry would like to be involved. I jumped at the chance and organized a small group of Geek & Sundry talent to attend and create live content for the event. That first year was truly magical, as has been every year since — even now as I’ve moved on from Geek & Sundry and am now a faculty member of the New York Film Academy.

Why do I and literally thousands of others keep coming back to this unique event year after year? I think to pinpoint that, one needs to know more about exactly what The Gathering is and what makes it special. I spoke with Jørgen Vigdal, one of the organizers of this year’s event, and he has this to say: “The Gathering is about creating a venue … that gathers people and makes them create, learn, and hopefully (inspires participants) to want to do more than just play with a computer.”

One year, in my personal experience, I was able to run a complete live streaming stage, producing multiple shows a day with a full production crew with multiple cameras, jibs, and other state-of-the-art equipment. Another year I helped produced four hours of television-quality content in just as many days — the most insane production schedule I’ve ever had in my career, but also one of the most fulfilling production experiences I’ve had. (Right up there with winning my first Emmy!)

Every year, The Gathering takes on an overall theme that focuses on an aspect of either computer gaming or technology in general and explores it both through gaming but also through educational lectures and presentations. This year’s theme is #Secrets, and centers around the important issues of cyber security and protections from hacking.

Vigdal continues, “We know that the participants are very involved in social media. Many of them are sharing a lot of pictures and information. Perhaps they are writing on social media or in other social networks such as Slack or Discord. We don’t want to scare them but we want to show them some of the consequences. Hopefully by learning what a hacker can do or what a social engineer can do with the information that gets published, they would be more careful or be more aware of it.”

Christian Funk (Kaspersky Lab Head of Global Research & Analysis Team), one of the speakers of the event, had this to add: “There’s all this (security) stuff going on and being offered to the community … people have to know about it. And there are some gaming companies that are trying to straddle keeping it usable for people and (keeping) security, and we are now at a stage where they are getting together really, really nicely.”

As the popularity and international reach of the event grows, the organizers are continuing to evolve with the times.  As Vigdal explained, “The Gathering and KANDU are having a more focused vision and plan for the next three years.  That’s good for us because we want to focus on specific areas. There’s many sponsors and there are many communities that want us to focus even more on professional e-sports. Many people can say that The Gathering is doing e-sports and in some ways, we are. But at the same time, what we are really doing is entry level e-sports for the participants. We are not holding any large prizes, we are doing the production locally and we are focusing on the participants in the Ship, not on everything outside.”

If getting together with 7,000 of your closest friends for four days of gaming, creative competitions, educational lectures, concerts, computer programming and design, and lots lots more, The Gathering might just be for you and if you can make it out to Hamar, Norway for Easter, perhaps you’d like to join us at TG18.