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Who's in the Video

Jesse Schell

Jesse Schell is a video game designer and the CEO of Schell Games. Hehas led research projects at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, and he is the former chairman of[…]

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.

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

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

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

rnQuestion:
How would a video game’s ability to listen change the gaming experience?
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Jesse Schell:  When you look at the difference between rnliterature or film and video games and the types of stories that we rnhave, what we see in literature are stories that are very much about rnpersonal drama, and emotion, and conflict.  When you see video games, rneverything is about action, everything's below the neck.  All the verbs rnthat are happening are jumping, and running, and moving.  Everything is rnabout the physical, and everything in literature is about the emotional,rn and film is somewhere in the middle because we can't necessarily hear rnwhat's going on inside people's heads in film, and we can see them.  So rnwe have this interesting mix in film.  What will happen is suddenly rnvideo games will be able to go over to the literature side but in a muchrn more powerful way because you'll be able to have gaming experiences rnthat are all about interacting with characters in a very emotional, rnintense way.  We'll be able to have conversations with characters... rngames where you'll... The verbs will change from running, and shooting, rnand jumping, and ducking to persuading, and antagonizing, and rnconvincing, and compelling, and begging, and pleading.  It'll be a very rndifferent kind of game because as well as being able to sense just the rnwords that you've said and what you mean, it will be possible to sense rnthe emotion.  It's already... We can easily sense facial expression on rnsome level, and as technology improves we'll be able to sense that more rnand more and also be able to sense other emotions.  You won't be able rnto... There will be games where the only way you're able to win is by rnengaging in a meaningfully emotional way with a virtual character.  Thatrn has to be an incredibly powerful experience.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont