Saturday, June 03, 2006

Games and status

One of the discussions I was involved in at the MSR social computing symposium 2006 was why is working with games such a low-status activity, while working with literature is not. There are a lot of things around this question which annoy me, for instance why ask it at all, when we just need to look around us one or two times with our eyes somewhat open to see that there is a long list of very important human activities which receive absolutely no attention or status. How many of us really listen with interest when people discuss trash removal and disposal, and wish to share the experience with our local garbage man? And what should we do if nobody cared? We are pretty priviledged, us game researchers and designers, we are high profile in the news, get to sit in a clean neat environment and do a complex creative job where we have everything to gain and can not do all that much harm. Compared to the dangers of toxic waste, I think the dangers of badly designed games are insignificant.

The other problem I have is: What you mean, games have no status? Look around you!

  • Sports dominates the news in all mainstream media. Football, American Football, Baseball, Basketball, Golf - it is all games.

  • Games are heavily analysed both in the mainstream media and in literature. I would love to see a comparison between literature written on Chess and literature written on the plays of Shakespeare. I am not confident the bard would come out on top. And if you count international news coverage, Chess have columns in large papers all over the world. It is in most cases more regular and delivers a better quality of analysis than the book column.

  • Computer games are in the news all the time. They get attention at a level which can compete with other new media changes and inventions since the turn of the century, they are also extremely widely used. Compare with the speed of the market penetration of television, computer games have become ubiquitous in ten years.

So your mother doesn't go "Meet my son the brilliant game designer" in order to impress the mothers of physicians and best-selling authors, but that's because your mother isn't a gamer. The truth is, a lot of mothers are not interested in literature either. Or research. There are still people who think disposing of the trash in a regular, professional and safe manner is more important than writing deep and penetrating pieces of literature - which nobody reads anyway. They admire carpenters who can build good houses to live in, gardeners who can make trees and flowers grow, farmers who can deliver good produce, primary school teachers who manage to teach and inspire. And so do I, matter of fact. I almost revere them.

And somewhere, in the increasingly growing gamer population, there are people who think being a game researcher is the coolest job in academia, and designers of great games should have a place at the right hand of the Goddess herself. We just will not meet these people if we stick with the crowd that thinks Jon Fosse is getting a little too popular...

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