Will Video Games Be the Defining Medium of the 21st Century?

Video game technology is the medium that subsumes all others. Once these games have the ability to listen to humans, they’ll be even more emotionally enticing.
  • Transcript


Question: How do video games fit into the media mix?

Jesse Schell: It's certainly true that games are sort of a super set of all other media.  You can put a book in a game, you can put a movie in a game, you can put play in a game – you can put anything into a game.  But you can't necessarily put games into all these other media because when you look, when you take a step back, you're like what's going on with digital gaming?  Ultimately, any kind of media can go in there, and as we kind of push into the 21st century, we're going to see this happening; we're going to see every kind of media getting subsumed into video games.  I would have to think that by the end of the 21st century, video games will be the defining medium of the 21st century.

Are there technological barriers keeping people from being more emotionally engaged with video games?

Jesse Schell:  I think the primary technological barrier that keeps us from being more emotionally engaged with video games is the barrier of speech.  Computers can talk, they have sound, they can take touch inputs, they have cameras – but one of the things they really can't do is listen to us.  As Professor Chris Swain at USC—and he speaks about this very eloquently–he points out that at the beginning of the 20th century we had silent film, and nobody took it very seriously as a medium; it was kind of a toy, it was kind of an amusement, a minor thing... until it learned to talk.  Once film could speak, suddenly it started to sort of take over the world.  By the end of the 20th century it was the dominant medium.  As he likes to put it, film became the literature of the 20th century.  And he then suggests that games are in the same place that silent films were, except that now it's not about them talking – it's about them listening.

Once you can have a meaningful conversation with an artificially created video game character with just your voice, the potential for this to be an emotional medium rapidly grows and just expands, and it will suddenly become incredibly more natural.  This business of... there's two parts of it.  Part of it is just having computers understand speech, understand what we say, just understand the very words.  But then to understand it in context and to be able to form appropriate responses...  As these two things start to grow and come together, we're going to see a medium like we've never seen before.

How would a video game’s ability to listen change the gaming experience?

Jesse Schell:  When you look at the difference between literature or film and video games and the types of stories that we have, what we see in literature are stories that are very much about personal drama, and emotion, and conflict.  When you see video games, everything is about action, everything's below the neck.  All the verbs that are happening are jumping, and running, and moving.  Everything is about the physical, and everything in literature is about the emotional, and film is somewhere in the middle because we can't necessarily hear what's going on inside people's heads in film, and we can see them.  So we have this interesting mix in film.  What will happen is suddenly video games will be able to go over to the literature side but in a much more powerful way because you'll be able to have gaming experiences that are all about interacting with characters in a very emotional, intense way.  We'll be able to have conversations with characters... games where you'll... The verbs will change from running, and shooting, and jumping, and ducking to persuading, and antagonizing, and convincing, and compelling, and begging, and pleading.  It'll be a very different kind of game because as well as being able to sense just the words that you've said and what you mean, it will be possible to sense the emotion.  It's already... We can easily sense facial expression on some level, and as technology improves we'll be able to sense that more and more and also be able to sense other emotions.  You won't be able to... There will be games where the only way you're able to win is by engaging in a meaningfully emotional way with a virtual character.  That has to be an incredibly powerful experience.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont