Contemporary digital gaming is framed by our needs for mobility and participation.
The Mobilisation of people as a resource, combined with mobile web enabled digital devices (phones, tablets and laptops) and the consequent portability of knowledge and information has transformed the nature of the social aspect of gaming in the last decade. From the need to socialise with other gamers regardless of their locations, to the need to have easy access to digital games anywhere anytime, it is predominantly the social and mobile aspect of digital games that drives innovations in technology, making it more accessible, interactive and fun. As our society becomes increasing connected, how we manage, or benefit from, such connectivity becomes one of the most challenging issues of our time. Georg Simmel describes such condition as ‘alienation in proximity’, how do we re-organise or re-imagine our relationships with each other using digital technology? How do we utilise the many unique aspects of gaming, to simultaneously entertain us, fulfil our social lives and offer us meaningful insights into our contemporary condition?
Oculus Rift Crystal Cove Prototype, CES 2014
A new wave of games designers are now in pursuit of an intuitive and immersive gaming experience rather than the traditional prescribed and rule-bound model. From Alternate Reality Game (ARG), Occulus Rift VR, to artists-led locative gaming projects, game designers are driven to reinvent the gaming experience and implement the latest technologies across multiple platforms. For an intuitive and participatory gaming experience, technologies such as motion detectors, haptic technology and mobile GPS technology allow the users to participate as much or as little as they want, personalising their gaming experience as they move or relocate their bodies.
Online games and gaming consoles such as Wii or Kinect enable users to have a customised experience based on the personal way they engage with the games. Such personalisation in digital gaming not only provides the gamers a unique gaming experience, but it also motivates the gamers to embrace such uniqueness and share that experience with others. For example in Second Life, it is the distinctiveness of the avatars that encourages personalised identities to exist within the game environment, allowing the players to be an individual in the game where they can connect with other such individuals. It is debateable if this is a realistic experience or if it is similar to the way we socialise in the tangible world, but it is beyond doubt that there is a strong online community driven by these personalised gaming experiences.
Blast Theory 'I'd Hide You', Manchester Future Everything, 2012
The democracy of the Internet is an ideology that is constantly being challenged and embraced in turn by the will of the individual and its opposite, the corporate body. On one hand there are grassroots movements gaining a voice and a presence, affecting change and challenging assumptions, and on the other there are powerful companies monopolising the highly profitable online market. While Google holds on to our search results and Facebook mines our social graph for commercial purposes, there are also online activist groups such as Invisible Children, the organisation that was responsible for the KONY 2012 campaign, or the Anonymous group, ‘Hackivists’ whose attempt to challenge social injustice, spread awareness and encourage social change exemplifies the idea of a democratic internet.
This drive to share information for the collective good also occurs in the contemporary games community. Predominantly a social activity, users often interact on forums sharing information of how to solve tasks, earn rewards, or to reveal hidden treasures of the game. In games such as Second Life or Minecraft, players collectively construct a world that is for all other users to share. These social activities in digital games invoke a sense of belonging, a sense of community. It is a community that is unique to the gaming environment due to gaming’s oscillating nature between its isolation and sociability, its mobility and its attachment to interstitial space. Such community is formed primarily on the following factors:
1. Across online social media platforms, gamers interact and participate in each other’s games, actively engaging in each other’s gaming experience regardless of location. This locationless gaming experience not only makes digital gaming more accessible, but it creates a connection between individuals, or avatars, that functions in similar ways to tangible relationships.
2. The emergence of digital games that allow gamers to ‘mod’ has fundamentally changed the users’ participation in these games. Modding is a gaming term meaning the modification of the gaming environment. Whether that manifests as your avatar building a house in Minecraft, or building a territory in World of Warcraft for the community to share, modding is an increasingly common function in a game that encourages co-creation in the gaming environment. Modding as a form of co-creative labour embraces the individual power within the game. It motivates participatory gaming experience as well as a utopic vision for the gamers. However it also raises questions around copyright issues and whether if it is fair for game developers to receive free creative labour, while ‘modders’ rarely own the copyrights for the gaming products that they create.
Within a co-created gaming environment, not only is there a high level of knowledge sharing, it is a community that induces creativity, respect, participation and contribution to the common good. In this open playground, users socialise and exchange ideas in order to better the gaming environment for all. Even if one decides not to ‘mod’ the game, digital gaming provides a platform creating new relationships between individuals and re-inventing different forms of participation that can be utilised in other areas of research, which we will look at later in this document.
Politics of Spectatorship
Engaging with our evolving social life and encouraging active viewer participation through our adaption of emerging technologies is a trend emerging in contemporary art. This trend is not exclusive to art — think ‘Big Brother’, or the way we broadcast information on social media, and of course, gaming in general — and demands participatory experience that challenges pre-existing modes of cultural production. Modding in digital games, as mentioned earlier, is a form of reinvention in game production. The politics of spectatorship is highly relevant to digital gaming due to its social nature. Challenging the roles of the performer, the spectator and the producer, ‘participants’ are increasingly becoming producers themselves. Art Theorist Claire Bishop describes this significant change in participatory art and spectatorship as the ‘Social Turn’. She proposes that it is crucial for us to think about new forms of cultural production as personalised collaborations across disciplines. As we reconsider our roles as hybrid participants instead of the conventional role of consumer, it poses interesting questions about commercialisation of this participation and the spectacle that is created, or co-created. She urges us to form a new perspective when we engage with cultural products, not only to negotiate our relationships with each other, but also to form new understanding of spectatorship in the digital age.
Adaptive technologies in gaming such as haptic technology and biosensors, have opened up a dynamic playground for such change in spectatorship experimentation. The ‘relax to win’ technology, despite being developed predominantly for stress management and psychological research — such as Galvanic bluetooth device The PIP — has also become a great gaming example demonstrating the changes in spectatorship. Who is watching? Who is in control? Where are you looking? Who owns it? While some people have converted Xbox’s Kinect motion technology into a home security device, this question of power and ownership becomes an interesting territory to investigate. Composer filmmaker Alexis Kirke’s multi-plotline short film ‘Many Worlds’ challenges the spectatorship of cinema by adapting the narrative of the film to the emotional response of the audience. Using biosensor technology, devices are programmed to detect the audience’s emotions. Depending on the audience’s emotions, the story changes to the more unexpected outcome. Kirke’s project not only challenges the way films are made, but also provides a new perspective to the increasingly precarious relationship between the screen (the spectacle) and the audience (the spectator).
Manifest.AR ‘Biomer Skelters’, FACT Liverpool 2013
The Future of Gaming — An Open Playground
Where are we going with gaming? What are the possibilities for games to be applied and utilised in ways unimagined?
Gamification is becoming increasingly popular across sectors such as medical and humanities research, workplace or military training and education. According to recent research, the gamification market is expected to climb to around $2.8 billion by 2016. In the first quarter of 2013, $1.37 billion was spent on video and pc games by consumers in the US alone. Psychologists believe that the reward system of games can be translated into professional training programs for the workplace. Using gamification in training is proven to increase its effectiveness by as much as 50%. The reward system of games not only acts as a motivation for users to complete often banal tasks productively, its ‘play factor’ also makes the experience more enjoyable.
In the research sector, gamification is widely explored within universities and institutions. Amongst many, MIT Game Lab contextualises the social aspect of gaming research and experiments with subversive game design, aiming to study social behaviours through gaming. USC Institute for Creative Technologies in South California has developed a virtual reality game called ‘Bravemind’, as treatments for US soldiers who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Similar to the virtual reality game that is used in the US military training, ‘Bravemind’ is a game that is programmed to offer realistic scenarios of the war. It is aimed to let the PTSD patient ‘relive’ his or her traumatic experience through this game.
Harun Farocki ‘Serious Games I-IV’, 2009-2010
There are many possible futures for gamification. Online currencies such as BitCoin and Digital Material Sunflower floating currency (managed by community investment bank Spacebank, developed by Diego de La Vega, a co-operative multi-media conglomerate in Second Life that specialises in trans-media experimentation, developing alternative social practices using game frameworks) have shown us the possibility for alternative, open-source economies to exist online. These economies embody the democracy that we mentioned earlier, by allowing the online community to form their own economies. In this case, gamification challenges the existing power relations between governments and financial institutions, offering an alternative to the global top-down economic system. Despite the resistance these economies face in the tangible world — from banks and governments — these are excellent examples of gamification’s political power.
Beyond entertainment, gaming plays a crucial part in our shifting culture. The mobilisation of people, devices and knowledge continues to drive our culture into a hybrid space. By utilising the participatory aspect of games, we are potentially able to gain a better understanding of our contemporary life. From the co-creation of games to the diverse applications of gaming technologies, the convergence of media industries has allowed the individual, the player, to gain power socially and politically. While it remains uncertain whether this power would last long enough to change the world, the social implications of this power will continue to challenge our society. In the meantime, gaming provides an open playground for collaborations and engagement.
Roger McKinley & Nikki Lamb
Links & Resources:
Gamification and Climate Change —
MIT Tangible Media Lab ‘inFORM’ — using Kinect technology
Gaming Technology and Healthcare —
Gaming and Learning —
Artist exploring Participation - Manifest.AR
Artist exploring the Politics of Spectatorship/ Participation - Blast Theory
Artist exploring the Politics of Spectatorship - Alexis Kirke
Technologist/Commercial: Participation/ Economy - Galvanic ‘The PIP’
Hackers exploring Politics - Anonymous group
Artist exploring Participation - The Larks
Author of ‘Eco Gamification’, exploring Economy and the Future - Paula Owen
Artist exploring Participation - Invisible Playground
Artist exploring Participation - Copenhagen Game Collective
Artist exploring the Politics of Spectatorship/ Participation - Harun Farocki
Technologist: Participation/Politics - Molleindustria
Currency and Economy - Diego de La Vega
Technologist/Researcher: Participation/Economy - MIT Game Lab
Technologist/Researcher: Participation/Economy - USC Institute for Creative Technologies
Artist exploring Participation/ Politics of Spectatorship - Eddo Stern
Palmer Luckey -Technologist/Commercial: Participation/Economy - Oculus Rift VR
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