Question: What new games or gaming technologies are you most
Katie Salen: I’m mostly excited, I think these days about
kinds of technologies coming out called mixed reality technologies,
sometimes they’re called hybrid technologies. Mobile phones are part of
this. We have a motion-capture lab at the school that allows kids to
work with wireless controllers, like on the Wii. So games that bleed
between sort of physical activity, physical real world spaces and
digital spaces, I’m really interested in this notion of getting the game
off the screen and thinking about game play as a kind of lamination
over top of real world kinds of physical spaces. And I think technology
is getting to a place where that blendedness is something that’s really
possible today. It used to be a very science fiction-y idea a couple
of years ago. People talked about alternative reality all the time, and
you were wearing these giant headsets, VR headsets, and it just felt
impossible that that could be fun.
But technology has evolved
to a point where you can now really think about game play being blended
with physical kind of real world spaces. And that to me is really
exciting. There’s also been a lot of work around artificial
intelligence and sort of digital characters recognizing conversations
with people and so again it gets into that blended notion about how do
we allow digital characters to feel slightly more real than they do in
this sort of purely fictional space and to me that’s a really
interesting area to look at. I tend to be more interested in this
notion as playing games as part of the real world and that’s why the
physical space ideas are really of interest to me. And mobile phones
are increasingly of interest as game platforms.
The iPhone has
changed everything I think in terms of thinking about digital games and
game play and where games fit, who plays them, what those games might be
like. And that’s really exciting I think.
Question: What interests you most about games?
The thing that interests me really about games is the social
fabric component of it. The fact that I am in this game with other
people and my interactions with them can become increasingly interesting
over time depending on whether they are a friend or foe in this space.
And so I’m very interested in games that catalyze many, many people to
be playing together. But maybe doing that... and alternate reality
games sort of fit into this genre where I’m doing things in the real
world, but also may begin to have effects in a kind of digital virtual
So, I’m very interested in how, beyond the social, how
data can flow between actions and the real world and actions in a game.
There’s this whole new genre of games that have just popped up called
exer-games that connect exercise to gaming. And there are these ideas
where you’re tracking how many steps people take and if powering up your
Pokemon, there’s a little device called the Pokewalker that you can
attach to your shoe, or carry with you and it’s like constantly powering
up your video game characters. And I’m really interested in that...
the data flow between something, an activity I might be doing in the
real world and some implication in a virtual environment, and also
potentially vice versa.
And so that’s more about notions of
consequence and impact and how that might change social relations
between who's in that game and what they’re doing together.
Question: How do you explain the value of games to other people?
Well, generally I put someone in a game. I play with them. I
think one of the reasons that there’s been a lot of criticism around
games is there’s a lot of over the shoulder journalism going on when it
comes to games. So, it’s people that are standing over the shoulder of a
player watching something that happening on the screen. And when you
just look at a game, you get a very different sense of what it’s really
about than if you’re playing it.
And so the first thing I
always do is I take people out of that over-the-shoulder position and I
actually put the controller in their hands. So we might play together,
play something together. At the school, we have visitors all the time
that come in that say, "Well, can you explain the school to me, can you
explain the school to me?" And I always take them to this motion
capture lab that we have that we’ve designed games with teachers for the
kids. And I actually give them a controller and we play a game
And once they’ve had that experience, they understand
the model of the school and they understand what we’re trying to get at
in terms of how the structure of the game can really lead to engaging
and deep learning for kids. So, that’s one thing. You can’t just read
about it. Games are experiential things and it’s really important to
Recorded May 7, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman