Play, not just games.

This is one of two posts I wrote for Invest Victoria’s gaming blog, reposted here because I think it gives some context to both the ‘social misfits’ post and also to my ongoing question of games & culture.

Beyond just the technical shift that digital games have brought us, there are also cultural, academic and experiential shifts taking place all around us as more and more people are exposed to games and game-like thinking into their teenage and adult years.

Obviously, digital games have benefited from the constant evolution of games and game technology. In a relatively short time, they have become one of, if not the, dominant media and entertainment forms in the world, and they have changed significantly. We’ve gone from Pong and Space War to cinematic 3D games like Mass Effect or Heavy Rain, and most recently, we’ve seen the emergence of a vibrant indie scene delivering personal visions like Braid, The Path, Crayon Physics, and Passage.

These innovations have been driven by the constant improvement of the underlying technology, both in the hardware we play games on to the evolution of the Internet. Since 2004, we’ve seen the emergence of the Xbox360, PlayStation3, Nintendo Wii and DS, the iPhone and iPad, digital distribution becoming a reality, and as the technology has become more powerful, it has ceased to be the limiting factor, with new middleware like Torque, Unreal or Unity giving creatives new and exciting opportunities without the need to build entire engines and content pipelines.

But it isn’t just the digital sector that has benefited. As more adults grow up and bring their adult concerns to games, there has been an explosion in applying games and game thinking to real-world situations and locations.

Games like The Hidden Park and Transumer build their environments from real world space and use technology to engage with them in new and exciting ways. Alternate reality games like the Australia Broadcasting Company’s Bluebird and sammeeeees play narratives out across the real-world, websites, social networks and real-world actors. Low-interaction games like Foursquare or myTown bring achievements and leaderboards to your real-world social-life.

Libraries and schools are constantly thinking of ways to integrate games and teaching, with initiatives like National Gaming Day in the United States and the Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association’s So You Think You Can Rock and Wii Idol programs, and researchers are taking far more serious looks at the possibilities of games in health and physical play.

These shifts have all taken place in an incredibly short timeframe. As a medium, we have only really existed for a few short decades, but have seen such enormous growth and opportunity both globally and here in Melbourne. Success in iPhone development and digital distribution is demonstrated in Firemint’s multi-award-winning Flight Control and Real Racing, internationally renowned student projects like Hazard have been showcased at IndieCade, and academic research into new forms of play like lecture2130 takes place throughout our universities.

Inevitably, the future will see games, interactivity, and play take an ever more central role in how we experience our entertainment and think about our world.

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