by Neal Soldofsky on May 11, 2011
Dr. Arnav Jhala, whose work focuses on the intersection of artificial intelligence and digital media, is among the designers, theorists and enthusiasts pushing gaming into new areas.
“The game industry is going through this amazing diversification,” says Will Wright. “It’s something like what happened five, six hundred million years ago in the Cambrian explosion.”
Wright, the much-celebrated creator of the groundbreaking urban-design game Sim City and the highly ambitious universe-creation game Spore is not exaggerating. He says the prehistoric planetary bloom in the variety and complexity of species is matched today by an explosion in the virtual world. New notions about gaming, he says, will transform the future—not just of games, but of our relationship with technology, entertainment and the imaginary.
We are in Milpitas at a symposium called “Inventing the Future of Games,” and Wright is delivering a dizzying stream of ideas. There’s a lengthy and completely off-topic diversion into the story of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun somewhere in the middle of it. It’s hard to precisely locate Wright’s topic, let alone his point, but nobody here seems bothered by that.
To illustrate the direction in which games are headed, he offers a surprisingly mundane image: an enormous magazine rack. Just as there are periodicals devoted to every arcane niche interest of every community and demographic, there will, Wright says, be games for everything and everybody. And everybody will play them.
The symposium was organized by UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Games and Playable Media, one of the few university programs where students engage in PhD-level research into gaming. Among the video game designers and theorists here are some of the biggest thinkers in the virtual world.
Now is a good time to be thinking about the future of games. Despite critical resistance, games are now regarded as an art form—game designers are now officially eligible for grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The $15 billion industry now reaches 65 percent of American homes, and those numbers continue to grow. Frankly, that fact makes the hardcore distinctly uncomfortable.
During a panel on “Games and the Future of Culture,” Ian Bogost, a noted critic and designer, addresses the broadening of the games landscape referred to by Wright. Bogost describes a world in which the medium has become as ubiquitous and mundane as photography, and is being used for as many purposes. “Like it or not, what we really do when we work to advance video games is to make them more ordinary and more familiar.”
Robin Hunicke is a producer at thatgamecompany (TGC), a studio whose games include the much acclaimed Flower. This game would blow the mind of anyone whose concept of gaming is limited to World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto. In Flower, the player steers a breeze through a meadow, picking petals and spreading life. Like other TGC games, Flower aspires to reach a wider market, and even to be high art.