The culmination of my games & culture musings…

It’s going to take me a few days to properly process my thoughts on this year’s GCAP, especially in light of how its emergent themes reflect on what is happening with Krome.

In the meantime though, I thought I’d post a copy of the presentation I gave as part of the government round table to state and federal representatives titled ‘An Insight into Games in Culture’

The first thing I wanted to talk about was to place games into a broad technical and cultural perspective showing that games have evolved creatively and technically in the past few decades, and will continue to do so in the future

When you see them laid out on a timeline like this, it’s obvious that the rate of technical advancement is incredibly rapid – and there’s no reason to believe that it is going to slow down.  By 2015, we should be in the first few years of the next console cycle, with the development shifts that accompany that.

And just as what we can accomplish technically has evolved, the model of interactivity and the type of games we can make, has changed dramatically as we’ve learned and experimented with the expressive grammar – and as technology & visual fidelity has increased.

People in their early 30s have always lived in a world with video games – and society hasn’t fallen apart – and those adults who have grown up with games as part of their life are finding the need to express themselves with the medium they have an affinity for.

And as technology has evolved, so has the make up of what would be considered gaming culture.

And the industry and mainstream media coverage account for a tiny, tiny fraction of that, even though they tend to dominate the discussion around games.

  • There are 14 million people who play games in Australia
  • Educators are looking at ways to use games & play in the classroom
  • Artists integrate game aesthetics into their work
  • There’s a burgeoning independent development scene
  • There’s global, literate, critical discourse
  • Academics who look at play and video games as cultural artefacts
  • Fashion designers adopt games & game iconography into their work
  • Musicians and writers – Salman Rushdie just announced his latest book is based on the world of video games;  Meanjin and Overland have both had articles on video games; writers festivals have talks from games writers.
  • Businesses are looking at ways to use games design techniques in training and retaining staff.

The gaming culture is much, much more than just the jobs or the news stories about how violent video games are corrupting our youth.

Connected to the breakdown of culture, I wanted to dig into the make-up of the audience.

These numbers are from the Australia Council’s Arts Participation research; Screen Australia’s Cinema Audience Attendance Patterns, and the iGEA’s 2009 Interactive Australia report.

68% – over 14 million people in Australia – play video games.  Games are no longer a niche activity.  They are part of the cultural mainstream.

Further dispelling many of the myths about the gaming audience based on the iGEA Interactive Australia report.

Games are the first digitally native medium running alongside the evolution of the Internet – and with representatives from DBCDE, I wanted to highlight its role in game development.

This in-step evolution means that both our audience and our peers aren’t local, but are spread out across the world.  Our influences and our impact is international.  Our potential market is anyone on-line – provided we can engage them.

While other mediums struggle with the possibilities of technology, game developers are charting the way in digital distribution, online experiences, community engagement, and marketing – essentially setting some of the ground rules of a knowledge economy that can act as a guide for other forms.

So, how does that engage with the broader culture?

This is the criticism from established media – games can’t do the same storytelling or capturing of Australian stories as other forms.

Setting aside for a moment that games aren’t necessarily a storytelling form, this question can be reframed as:

Telling Australian stories is a ‘top-down’ approach to creating culture, but if we reframe it as a bottom up, we empower everyone who has a story to tell, even if it doesn’t fit into a narrow band of what could be considered ‘Australian’.

The same applies to games.

It’s hard to make an Australian game – just as it’s hard to make an American game or a British game or a Swedish game.  Their unique strengths – of feedback with a system of rules & mechanics – don’t necessarily lend themselves to the symbolically representative model of traditional storytelling.  Which isn’t to say that some haven’t succeeded, but they are by far the minority.

So, let’s reframe it again:

A uniquely Australian game might emerge from a top-down, prescriptive approach to development, but it’s just as likely to grow out of prototyping, experimentation, and the expressive interests of a group of individuals.  By taking that latter route though, we have the added bonus of the interesting and engaging projects that’ll emerge along the way, that will find an audience, and which will add their own unique perspectives to what defines the Australian culture.

Games, simply by virtue of their existence, by virtue of being created by adults – adults who are embedded in culture – both reflect and inform that same culture.  While that may not be in the same vein as other forms, it makes it no less valid, and no less deserving of government attention and support.

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