Arts and entertainment games research

‘[Interviewer] You say you’ve tried to get your games to academics to test, how has that worked out?  Has it actually happened?

[Developer] No, it has not.  […]  Maybe it’s a money issue, maybe it’s the time, […].  I think the resources are probably pretty limited for people’ – Quote from an interview with a developer. LSD28828.

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Description

During Gaming Horizons’research, it emerged that opportunities for applied and fundamental research into serious/applied games differed sharply from those for arts/entertainment games. Games research was most commonly situated in instrumentalist contexts, focusing mostly on direct and measurable impact on learning or antisocial behaviour, and rarely in the context of their creative, expressive, or artistic possibilities. From an industrial perspective, there was no sense of established collaboration with researchers, nor any sense that a change was impending in this relationship. The work of academic researchers appears to be entirely out of touch with the arts and entertainment games sector. The analysis of EU funding policies showed a strong emphasis on viewing the video game industry as an engineering sector, with research entirely focused on tools development and generally directed towards the serious/applied sector. Interviewees strongly criticised both the relevance and effectiveness of this research funding strategy to support the political, economic, and cultural needs of the EU. Researchers (and any developers that wish to work with them) are currently heavily restricted to working in the framing of the serious/applied sector, despite the widespread doubts about this sector’s effectiveness shown by the Gaming Horizons interviewees.

Meet Silvia, a game developer, and Juana, a researcher

Silvia’s studio has some immediate questions they need to examine in the context of the whole experience that they are trying to create. Trying out the systems in another game might give them a clue, but an educational game is aiming for a different player experience so the results wouldn’t be easy to apply to Silvia’s work. The length of time for results would be a big problem for them too: Silvia’s studio wants to get results in a matter of months, not years. If Juana could be funded to work directly with the studio and on their immediate problems then she would be able to help, but at the moment nothing can be done.

Unfortunately, after this disappointment, Silvia is unlikely to bother asking again and she is left feeling like researchers have nothing to offer her industry.

In a nutshell

Current funding for research into the arts and entertainment video game industry is entirely inadequate to the needs of the artists and developers.

  • Removing arbitrary delineations between serious/applied games funding and arts/entertainment funding would allow more interchange of knowledge and creative approaches to the use of gaming technologies.
  • Showing recognition in research funding calls for the cultural impact of games (beyond only technological and economic impacts) will open avenues of both applied and fundamental research into video game development.
  • Fundamental aspects of video game development beyond ‘tech’ (i.e. visual arts, animation, audio, production, storytelling methods and technologies, etc.) need to be explicitly supported to enhance the creative range and strength of the industry. This is a necessary long-term investment to supporting the future competitiveness of European games development when compared with other global regions.
  • Applied collaborations of research with industry partners need to be done on game-production timescales, not academic/administrative ones, and so funding calls must reflect the fast-changing and unpredictable nature of creative industry requirements – year long application and review processes are entirely inadequate for the needs of the video game industry.

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Representations of race, and ethnicity: supporting inclusion in the social landscape

“[After making all the characters in a popular sports video game black] people value being represented.  I think that’s a very powerful thing to be the default and so I think the reaction was one of empowerment for people who were the default for the first time, and there was one of curiosity for people who weren’t the default for the first time.  Like, uh, why would you make this choice not to make me the default?” – quote from an interview with a developer. LSD28788

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Description

With video games becoming increasingly an everyday presence in the lives of all ages of Europeans, especially people below the age of 30, they can play an important role in signifying a group’s inclusion and integration within society. The few studies of race and ethnicity in games have shown an unrepresentative dominance of white people as lead characters, with other ethnicities (if present) typically included as minor enemy characters. The research of these statistics is scarce, which does not assist in getting a full and current picture of both the present state of this issue or trends in development (i.e. whether this has begun to change in recent years, if there are types of games or developers that are performing better than others, what influences developers to include a diverse cast, etc.); the impact on players of such varied social contexts is both challenging to study and important to approach. Developers that were interviewed for Gaming Horizons acknowledged the importance of this topic (alongside other issues of inclusion), but players made few comments on race or ethnicity specifically, suggesting that racial and ethnic inclusion is an industry concern that has currently not reached the player-base to the same extent. Further research is necessary in this area to understand it more fully.

Meet Luuk, a social arts funding officer, and Naija, an artist and second-generation immigrant who makes video games

Naija would love to make a game inspired by the traditions of her Nigerian grandparents. She knows that it is a financial risk to make something different from mainstream Western or Eastern mythologies, but thinks this source material could inspire something unique. Arts funding would really help her get the project off the ground and would give it credibility to help her explore other funding options too. She is an artist and her work is inspired by being a European whose life is framed by a place where she has never lived: she hopes that it will inspire players and developers to learn about Nigerian culture. Luuk has money to distribute, but he doesn’t see the evidence that games will inspire others. He comes from a traditional arts background and secretly feels very uncomfortable with looking at video games as a medium with cultural worth.

Without many precedents or research into the social impact of artistic games, Niaja has to try and convince Luuk by herself that games can be both expressive and inspire curiosity in players’s actual lives.

In a nutshell

There is great potential for video games to assist in the visibility of racial and ethnic minorities in European culture, encouraging variety and inclusion as well as potentially increasing the expressive range and themes of the medium.

Three approaches would contribute to progress in this area:

  • further research to understand the current, past, and possible future states of race and ethnicity in video games, particularly in a European cultural context;
  • training and workshops aimed at minority groups specifically intended to give participants game development skills;
  • targeted arts funding for creative video games that specifies inclusivity (either in theme, individual/team, or both) as a metric of consideration.

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Games and inclusion: gender, minorities, and society

“[In] Dragon Age there’s a transexual character, which is something really important because if a transsex person […] sees themselves represented in a positive way, it can give them hope.”– quote from an interview with a player. PI06.

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Description

For all ages, video games are an expressive medium that is increasingly diversifying both the identities of the protagonists and the events and interactions presented in them. Issues addressed by video games include gender identity, treatment of cultural and ethnic minorities, refugees and war survivors, grief, love, sexual health, domestic violence, religion and faith, socialism, capitalism and neoliberalism, and, in a notable example from 2017, a playable interpretation of the work of the philosopher of Alan Watts (Everything). Such games can be used in a classroom context, but they are also commercial and non-commercial entertainment products that are already being played by millions of Europeans. The expansion is not restricted to content, but also includes a wide range of people that are becoming involved with, or more visible in, the development and communities of video games.

However, this increased visibility is not occurring without challenges and, like in society more broadly, there has been populist opposition to progressive inclusivity. Such opposition has included threats or murder, rape, assault, financial and legal implications, and even ‘swatting’ (the making of fake reports to the police of gunshots at their target’s house, with the hope to provoking an armed law-enforcement ‘SWAT’ response). As seen in many parts of society, moving beyond the past and present systemic prejudices against women and minorities is making bumpy progress, but the determination to do this successfully was supported by every game developer stakeholder interviewed during  the Gaming Horizons research and aligns with the goal of increasing RRI presence in EU funding policies beyond only ethics compliance.

Meet Pierre, a gamer who is heterosexual, and his friend David, a gamer who is gay.

Pierre feels like there’s too much fuss over minority groups saying that they are not visible in cultural artefacts, like video games and television. He thinks there’s nothing wrong with the way games reflect society, and he sees a lot of characters in games that he can relate to: white, male, cisgender, and heterosexual, and he’s never really thought about how it would feel for others to see themselves so rarely. Rather than engage with the lack of representation, Pierre makes jokes about others who are asking for equality. David is Pierre’s friend, but he would like to see different communities represented in games.

Although David laughs at Pierre’s joke, ‘dragons don’t exist?’, David secretly wishes that Pierre would take him seriously, but as a member of a minority group he knows that objecting puts him in danger: at the least he would change the nature of their friendship, but at worst he could be attacked verbally or physically. David has friends who have been attacked for being gay and he’s nervous about being too forthright about wanting equal treatment.

In a nutshell

Encouraging entertainment and artistic games developers to use women and minorities in their games will help build visibility for these communities as participants in everyday life and society. The wide reach of video games into European society allows them to function as a key asset in improving cultural understanding, relationships, and community. It is also likely to stimulate creativity in the industry, presenting new gameplay scenarios and inspiring new interactions.

Three approaches would contribute to progress in this area:

  • further research to understand the current, past, and possible future states of women and minority gender and sexualities in video games, particularly in a European cultural context;
  • training and workshops aimed at minority groups specifically intended to give participants game development skills;
  • targeted arts funding for creative video games that specifies inclusivity (either in theme, individual/team, or both) as a metric of consideration.

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