Narrascope 2020 will be held this year on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

The conference’s campus host is Playful by Design (PbD), an initiative of Informatics Programs. PbD is the U of I’s interdisciplinary games and gaming community, which coordinates academic game studies and design courses, programs, research, and events arising from the Colleges of Media, Education, Fine & Applied Arts, Information Sciences, Letters & Sciences, and Computer Science/Engineering. The CU Community Fablab, the Tier-Ed Program, the Electronic Literatures & Literacies Lab, and VR@Illinois are just a few of the exciting game-related academic activities happening at the University of Illinois.

For those of you who have never visited the flagship University of the State of Illinois, and a member of the Big Ten collegiate athletic conference (the Fighting Illini -- pronounced “ill eye nye”), we’d like to tell you a little about this vibrant college town. Conveniently located in Central Illinois, just a few hours south of Chicago, west of Indianapolis, northeast of St. Louis, and east of Springfield (the capital of Illinois, and home of President Abraham Lincoln), we are one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions created by Lincoln in 1862. The first thing to know is that the University of Illinois is big. Really big. The campus has 651 academic, administrative, and athletic buildings across 9.9 square miles. Our library has 24 million holdings, making it one of the largest public universities in the world. We spend about 650 million dollars a year on research, receiving 1 million dollars from the National Endowment for the Humanities (not bad for the Humanities) and 136 million dollars from the National Science Foundation (the largest award in the U.S. for six of the last seven years). Our 3,000 faculty members teach about 33,000 undergraduates and 16,000 graduate students, many of whom live on or near campus for nine months of the year. But during Narrascope, we’ll largely have the campus to ourselves.

Our hyphenated towns are often a matter of curiosity for visitors, but it’s not that complicated really. Champaign and Urbana were founded at a distance from each other, but grew together. They still have their own downtowns and mayors and courthouses and school systems, but they function as a single metropolitan area, with a collective population of about 230,000. Colloquially we refer to our locale as CU, or as Chambana, or more affectionately as “Shampoo-Banana”. The dividing line between the towns falls right through the middle of “the Quad,” the iconic green space at the heart of the University. The eastern half of the campus is in Urbana and the western half in Champaign. Purely by chance, most Narrascope activities will be taking place in Champaign, but there’s lots of fun stuff to do in Urbana as well!

The third downtown (in addition to Champaign and Urbana’s micro-urban areas) is on the U of I campus. Known as “Campustown,” it runs for about seven blocks along Green Street, where you will find a cornucopia of restaurants, cafes and bars.

The U of I and the CU community are friendly to gamers, and our nerd credentials are broad and deep. Today, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) houses Blue Waters, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, able to perform 13 quadrillion calculations per second. But the fictional HAL computer in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was operating at the University of Illinois' Coordinated Science Laboratory, where the real-life ILLIAC computers were being built between 1951 and 1974. This campus is famous for the development and hosting of the PLATO system, the first generalized computer-assisted instruction system, which was initiated in 1960. A few years back, the Digital Antiquarian did a nice essay on the games that were played on PLATO. And of course the open source browser Mosaic (which popularized the World Wide Web and can credit as its descendants both Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer) was born in Illinois.

If you’re looking for something to do in between sessions at Narrascope, you might enjoy a visit to one of our three commercial escape rooms: CU Adventures in Time & Space, Brainstorm Escapes, and LabEscape, which was recently featured in the New York Times.

We also have six local game stores for you to explore, serving CU’s active gaming and game design communities. And we host many local and national events such as CUDO Plays! board game making competition, and Winter War, “The Midwest's Longest Consecutively Running Independent Gaming Convention!” The game company Volition is located in downtown Champaign. The town is particularly game-friendly if you’re looking for a place to put down business roots after your Narrascope visit!

In addition to game-related entertainment, of course, the town is chock-a-block with musical and theatrical performances, restaurants, parks, and museums.

How to Get to the U of I

Most visitors to the University of Illinois arrive through the University of Illinois — Willard Airport. American Airlines offers convenient, non-stop service to major hubs in Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Charlotte, NC. 

You can also fly into Chicago and take an intercity bus (about three hours) or rent a car and see a bit of Chicago on your drive down (less than 2½ hour drive, depending on traffic). Inexpensive flights to Indianapolis can sometimes be found, with a drive of two hours to Champaign, or to Bloomington, Illinois, with a drive of less than half an hour. Champaign is also on the City of Orleans Amtrak line. The train station is in downtown Champaign, a moderate hike, but a short bus or cab ride from campus.

When you arrive to Willard Airport, you can take a taxi or rent a car from any of the three services (Alamo Rent a Car, Budget Car Rental, Hertz) offered in the airport. For those with ride sharing apps, Uber and Lyft also operate in the area. The drive to campus is about ten minutes. Note that parking in Champaign will be free at most hotels; there is limited coin-parking only on campus (though Mobile Meter is available).

Zipcar has nine hubs for visitors who may want to go out and explore at their own pace. This is also another option for non-local groups that may want to carpool. Those keen on being outdoors will find it comfortable to walk around campus or downtown, with June temperatures ranging from a high of 83° to a low of 61°. Cyclists may also find the outdoors agreeable but won’t need to bring a bike to ride. Bicycle sharing service Veoride makes it easy to ride around by purchasing a subscription or day pass or by paying on a per-ride basis.

Last, but certainly not least, the CU Mass Transit has a comprehensive bus system that runs throughout town all year from early morning to the wee hours; riders will find some buses visit stops every 15 minutes. Fares start at $1 per ride around town with free transfers, to a $20 monthly pass; however, riders can use the buses for free to most campus locations, making it a comfortable, green and economical way to get around.

Where to Stay

Most Narrascope guests will be staying at the Towneplace Suites by Marriott, or in the Illinois Union Hotel, on Green Street just to the east of Campustown. See our venue page for information on reserving rooms at convention rates.

Playful by Design, your local hosts at the University of Illinois, look forward to welcoming you to Narrascope 2020 in May!