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

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

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

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

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

\r\nOnce you can have a meaningful conversation with an artificially created\r\n video game character with just your voice, the potential for this to be\r\n an emotional medium rapidly grows and just expands, and it will \r\nsuddenly become incredibly more natural.  This business of... there's \r\ntwo parts of it.  Part of it is just having computers understand speech,\r\n understand what we say, just understand the very words.  But then to \r\nunderstand it in context and to be able to form appropriate \r\nresponses...  As these two things start to grow and come together, we're\r\n 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 \r\nliterature or film and video games and the types of stories that we \r\nhave, what we see in literature are stories that are very much about \r\npersonal drama, and emotion, and conflict.  When you see video games, \r\neverything is about action, everything's below the neck.  All the verbs \r\nthat are happening are jumping, and running, and moving.  Everything is \r\nabout the physical, and everything in literature is about the emotional,\r\n and film is somewhere in the middle because we can't necessarily hear \r\nwhat's going on inside people's heads in film, and we can see them.  So \r\nwe have this interesting mix in film.  What will happen is suddenly \r\nvideo games will be able to go over to the literature side but in a much\r\n more powerful way because you'll be able to have gaming experiences \r\nthat are all about interacting with characters in a very emotional, \r\nintense way.  We'll be able to have conversations with characters... \r\ngames where you'll... The verbs will change from running, and shooting, \r\nand jumping, and ducking to persuading, and antagonizing, and \r\nconvincing, and compelling, and begging, and pleading.  It'll be a very \r\ndifferent kind of game because as well as being able to sense just the \r\nwords that you've said and what you mean, it will be possible to sense \r\nthe emotion.  It's already... We can easily sense facial expression on \r\nsome level, and as technology improves we'll be able to sense that more \r\nand more and also be able to sense other emotions.  You won't be able \r\nto... There will be games where the only way you're able to win is by \r\nengaging in a meaningfully emotional way with a virtual character.  That\r\n has to be an incredibly powerful experience.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont

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.

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