The Intrigue of Social Gaming

Question: What new games or gaming technologies are you most \r\nexcited about?

Katie Salen: I’m mostly excited, I think these days about\r\n kinds of technologies coming out called mixed reality technologies, \r\nsometimes they’re called hybrid technologies.  Mobile phones are part of\r\n this. We have a motion-capture lab at the school that allows kids to \r\nwork with wireless controllers, like on the Wii.  So games that bleed \r\nbetween sort of physical activity, physical real world spaces and \r\ndigital spaces, I’m really interested in this notion of getting the game\r\n off the screen and thinking about game play as a kind of lamination \r\nover top of real world kinds of physical spaces.  And I think technology\r\n is getting to a place where that blendedness is something that’s really\r\n possible today.  It used to be a very science fiction-y idea a couple \r\nof years ago.  People talked about alternative reality all the time, and\r\n you were wearing these giant headsets, VR headsets, and it just felt \r\nimpossible that that could be fun. 

But technology has evolved \r\nto a point where you can now really think about game play being blended \r\nwith physical kind of real world spaces.  And that to me is really \r\nexciting.  There’s also been a lot of work around artificial \r\nintelligence and sort of digital characters recognizing conversations \r\nwith people and so again it gets into that blended notion about how do \r\nwe allow digital characters to feel slightly more real than they do in \r\nthis sort of purely fictional space and to me that’s a really \r\ninteresting area to look at.  I tend to be more interested in this \r\nnotion as playing games as part of the real world and that’s why the \r\nphysical space ideas are really of interest to me.  And mobile phones \r\nare increasingly of interest as game platforms. 

The iPhone has \r\nchanged everything I think in terms of thinking about digital games and \r\ngame play and where games fit, who plays them, what those games might be\r\n like.  And that’s really exciting I think.

What interests you most about games?

The thing that interests me really about games is the social \r\nfabric component of it.  The fact that I am in this game with other \r\npeople and my interactions with them can become increasingly interesting\r\n over time depending on whether they are a friend or foe in this space. \r\n And so I’m very interested in games that catalyze many, many people to \r\nbe playing together.  But maybe doing that... and alternate reality \r\ngames sort of fit into this genre where I’m doing things in the real \r\nworld, but also may begin to have effects in a kind of digital virtual \r\nworld. 

So, I’m very interested in how, beyond the social, how \r\ndata can flow between actions and the real world and actions in a game. \r\nThere’s this whole new genre of games that have just popped up called \r\nexer-games that connect exercise to gaming.  And there are these ideas \r\nwhere you’re tracking how many steps people take and if powering up your\r\n Pokemon, there’s a little device called the Pokewalker that you can \r\nattach to your shoe, or carry with you and it’s like constantly powering\r\n up your video game characters.  And I’m really interested in that... \r\nthe data flow between something, an activity I might be doing in the \r\nreal world and some implication in a virtual environment, and also \r\npotentially vice versa. 

And so that’s more about notions of \r\nconsequence and impact and how that might change social relations \r\nbetween who's in that game and what they’re doing together.

How do you explain the value of games to other people?

Well, generally I put someone in a game.  I play with them.  I \r\nthink one of the reasons that there’s been a lot of criticism around \r\ngames is there’s a lot of over the shoulder journalism going on when it \r\ncomes to games.  So, it’s people that are standing over the shoulder of a\r\n player watching something that happening on the screen.  And when you \r\njust look at a game, you get a very different sense of what it’s really \r\nabout than if you’re playing it. 

And so the first thing I \r\nalways do is I take people out of that over-the-shoulder position and I \r\nactually put the controller in their hands.  So we might play together, \r\nplay something together.  At the school, we have visitors all the time \r\nthat come in that say, "Well, can you explain the school to me, can you \r\nexplain the school to me?"  And I always take them to this motion \r\ncapture lab that we have that we’ve designed games with teachers for the\r\n kids.  And I actually give them a controller and we play a game \r\ntogether. 

And once they’ve had that experience, they understand\r\n the model of the school and they understand what we’re trying to get at\r\n in terms of how the structure of the game can really lead to engaging \r\nand deep learning for kids.  So, that’s one thing.  You can’t just read \r\nabout it.  Games are experiential things and it’s really important to \r\nplay.

\r\nRecorded May 7, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by David Hirschman

The game designer is most interested in the "social fabric component" of games, and how interactions with other people can become increasingly interesting over time.

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash
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