Image source: KillScreenDaily.com
The last time you crushed candy or swiped a tile left to hit 2048, you were probably in the middle of doing something else–waiting in line, not paying attention to a presentation, hiding in the bathroom… These tiny moments of stolen time have opened doors for gaming. No longer the bastion for hardcore gamers alone on the couch, video games have catapulted into everyone’s daily life like an angry bird crashing into a pile of bricks.
Luckily for us, TwoFiveSix, a conference hosted by video game arts and culture company Kill Screen, is there to help us pick up the pieces and make sense of it all. The Brooklyn-based conference took place last week and demonstrated how video games intersect with all cultural forms. Each presentation overlapped an aspect of gaming with its counterpart in radio, film, design, etc. TwoFiveSix made clear that gaming must be taken seriously and can no longer be dismissed as a trivial pastime for teenage boys.
In one panel discussion on emotion, facial coding tech inventor Rana el Kaliouby wondered how emotion recognition technology might adapt games to players’ facial expressions just as much as computers and appliances will someday do. “You can create digital experiences that will cause people to have emotional experiences,” she said. Kevin Bruner, co-founder of Telltale Games who developed the award-winning The Walking Dead game series, echoed the point, describing how the game monitors players’ dialogue choices to craft a world that delivers heart-wrenching consequences for each decision. Both affirmed a clear drive to build interactive experiences that are emotionally resonant and (nearly) human.
TwoFiveSix also took place during the week the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened. Its chief exhibition designer, Jake Barton, paired up with game designer Steve Gaynor to discuss real and virtual spaces. Gaynor’s Gone Home presents players with an empty house and invites them to explore its artifacts to tell one family’s story. “The shape of the space is the shape of the story,” he asserted. Similarly, the museum uses its space to tell thousands of narratives of the event’s victims and witnesses. Barton explained that a core part of the experience is the invitation to record your own memory of the day. It’s our collective memory that truly tells a story.
Closing out the conference was Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian who reminisced about his video game-filled adolescence. Late night hours spent leading his Everquest guild in virtual quests and even the occasional wedding illuminated for him the power of online collaboration. These networked communities not only developed bonds of trust but contributed open source software, designs, tips, and information for all to benefit. It laid the groundwork for Web 2.0 and the emergence of Reddit as a self-monitoring forum. Without the communal experience of online games, the democratic internet as we know it might not exist.
As technology evolves more and more rapidly, the audience for video games is expanding while the medium itself matures. Its golden age might actually still be on the horizon, particularly as wearables, virtual reality, motion sensors and emotion sensors start to become pervasive. Possibilities abound and the way we experience stories may no longer allow for distinctions among games, film and TV. Play is here to stay.