A wide array of professors, experts and professionals in the industry met this weekend at UCSB for the Entertainment Value Conference to discuss the future of contemporary entertainment, devoting a two-hour panel to the development of the digital gaming industry.
In addition to the digital gaming panel, “Gaming Culture Inside and Outside the Academy,” other topics on contemporary entertainment were discussed. Organized by the Public Humanities Initiative founded by English professors Alan Liu and L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, the conference was concerned with finding out how the humanities and other sectors of society can meet on common ground to shape a humane vision of entertainment.
Moderated by Liu and associate film studies professor Anna Everett, five participants delivered their own perspectives of digital and online games, then publicly discussed questions delivered by Everett, concluding with a round of questioning.
According to Liu, the overlying question these speakers were trying to answer was based on an observation made by the philosopher Horace.
“A good piece of literature is one that teaches and delights,” he said. “Can we have ‘good’ gaming that teaches and delights?”
David Koenig, the co-founder and chief games programmer for Gigawatt Studios in Hollywood, said he believes it will be difficult due to the homogenized, marketing-based culture of the contemporary gaming industry. Room for independent development is low due to the long process of getting a new game made and proving it to be successful.
“Game developers must earn the right to innovate,” Koenig said. “The technology has arrived, so it’s the content front that is so competitive.”
Koenig mentioned games such as The Sims, Pikmin and Ultima Online that have earned the right to innovate and delve the player into virtual, involving worlds.
Everett then touched on the responsibility that comes with this innovation to be sensitive to issues of identity politics and race representation when making these games. The players of these games are all too often positioned to be restricted to certain discourses, pointing out a game entitled “Ethnic Cleansing,” in which the heroes are faced with the task of taking out minorities in a quest for redemption.
Finally, David Lyon, general manager of Global Media and Entertainment Markets Group, Sun Microsystems, Inc., discussed the future of digital gaming. As a father of two, Lyon has made many observations about his sons’ game play.
“Realistic graphics are important,” he said. “Also, the kids want to be surprised. They don’t want repetition.”
Currently, Sun Microsystems is interested in virtual, server-based player environments that not only connect millions of players, but also immerse the participants in a world where the control is put in their hands. At the same time, however, they are continuing to find ways to combine these concepts with the concepts of “good” gaming, which is the most important task.
Other speakers included Robert Nideffer, an assistant professor at UC Irvine, and Marsha Kinder, chair of the Division of Critical Studies at USC, who touched further on the responsibility that these games have to “teach and delight.”