Understanding Video Games text-book
Art, science, and business of computer games

Date posted: May 14, 2006
Updated: Oct 24, 2006

I have wanted to write this column for a while. Perhaps, it should really have been the first column on this web site but I found it harder to write than I thought. Obviously, I should know the answer to this question and I could easily come up with some basic empty phrases like, well, we can use each other’s resources, apply research on game use, and share knowledge. However, these phrases, to some degree, are without real content. We need structures and people who want to invest time and money on these issues. Furthermore, it is too optimistic to think that communication between the areas is easy and painless. The different areas have different references, goals, and understandings of the important aspects. It was actually this last part that spurted the forming of Game-research.com to establish a meeting point for all groups with a relation to digital games.

Lately, I have wondered how we are actually doing this and how it could be done differently. You see a lot of enthusiasm about cooperation being a good idea but few concrete initiatives. One notable exception is the latest Academic summit arranged by IGDA.

Why and how: Communication and trust
The ‘why question’ is on the face of it the easiest one to answer. It makes good sense to share resources, knowledge and to qualify the understanding of games in the public. But these terms are also to some degree clichés without real content. What does it really mean to share resources? - I doubt if game developers would actually benefit from my bookmarks on psychology or learning theories.

This is perhaps an obvious statement but I wish to draw the attention to the fact that the key issue between these different areas is not to make each other’s work accessible but rather to formulate your thoughts for the good of the game industry - and the other way around, for the game industry to let the researchers in on their problems. When Game Research Consulting writes reports on market research and user studies, they are quite different from how we would publish them if the target group were the scientific community. Although, we use the same basic methods, the analyses and conclusions go further and in other directions.

The incentive is that research into games becomes more relevant and in keeping with the times in the game industry. However, we should be careful not to reduce the research into games to a mere tool for the industry. This has undesirable consequences for the basic research into games; it withers away. Furthermore, the independent status of the game researcher could very well be challenged.

A concrete example of cooperation between industry and researcher is the project Games-to-teach at MIT. It seems that they have found the formula but I do not know of any similar set-ups in Europe or in the US. It would be interesting to know if there were any out there. Hopefully, establishing such collaboration will become one of the goals for the organisation Digital Games Research Association.

Perhaps it is just a matter of developing trust between the communities and then finding out what we actually can use each other for. Defusing the myth, for example, that game researchers do not have any relation to the real life problems of game production or that developers ‘just’ put something together without deeper thought or work.

When?
Well it seems obvious that now is the time for further collaboration.

* The game industry has reached a size that makes it relevant to encompass other groups and a size that make it possible to set time aside to improve competences in different ways.

* The research into games is reaching a critical mass and structures are emerging that can guide collaboration.

* The industry organisations like ELSPA, TIGA, IGDA and GDC have collaboration on their agenda.

* The game research conferences are to a higher degree oriented towards further collaboration with the industry.

* The forming association for game researchers has it as an important agenda point.

The column is a subjective view of Game-Research and can as such not be considered research.

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