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Second Academic Summit

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Second Academic Summit held by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Education Committee.

Game Developers Conference (GDC). San Jose, California, 2003.

Modes of Analysis and Methods of Production: Developing a relationship between the academy and the computer game industry.

Gareth Schott

<1> This year a broad range of academics journeyed to San Jose to join game developers in attendance at the second International Game Developers Association's (IGDA) Academic Summit, organized and run by the small but productive IGDA Educational Committee. The main focus of this year's event was to shape the nature of future relationships between the academic community and the game development industry. Over the two-day event structured discussions and group-work were used effectively to generate key issues and debates relevant to a) theoretical research and the study of games, b) curriculum and instruction and c) commercial applications of research, before asking attendees to construct "implementation strategies" to answer the key problems identified. A small number of short presentations by invited speakers were also used effectively during the course of the summit in order to stimulate attendee's discussions.

<2> At the beginning of the first day, the Education Committee's expectations for the summit, and the productive and pragmatic nature of these events, was communicated by the circulation of the IGDA "Curriculum Framework" designed for higher education game-related educational programmes (see www.igda.org/academia/ for full document). This was produced as a tangible "deliverable" and a result of last year's event. The framework is intended to function to provide educators with a list of "possible ways to grow or focus" a game-related educational program rather than impose "a menu of necessary ingredients" (p. 4).

<3> Produced in consultation with a large number of leading academics and developers, this document is a tangible attempt to shape the level, quality and coverage of future courses, in doing so, hastening the acceptance of games as a legitimate area of curriculum and research. In presenting technical understanding and training, critical analysis and applied knowledge of human behaviour and cognitive functioning side-by-side, the IGDA Education Committee's framework may also serve to encourage a more comprehensive and multi-disciplined education for future scholars and developers. This would not only benefit the industry and the academy in the long-term, but also enhance the relationship and communication between these two communities. Furthermore, scope also exists for the IGDA (beyond its current role as a central clearinghouse for information, a facilitator of ideas, initiatives and projects and a communicator of progress) to consider regulating and accrediting the quality of degree programmes that correspond with its framework. IGDA accreditation, as a benchmark of high standards, will gain greater significance in the event of acknowledgement of the legitimacy and potential of game-related curriculum and research by the general academic community. In which case institutions may seek to capitalize on students' investment and interest in this medium, increasing their income and student numbers without necessarily holding the enhancement of the medium as its aim.

<4> In the first address of the summit, Warren Spector (studio director, Ion Storm) and Frans Mayra (University of Tampere and DiGRA) together contextualized the current status of industry and academic relations. First to speak, Spector outlined the progress made to-date on several action-points first presented by Henry Jenkins at the previous Academic Summit. These points addressed what the game community would have to execute in order to achieve legitimacy and improved industry/academy relations. Some areas in which significant progress has been made include attempts "to craft a shared vocabulary." Spector singled out the "lexigon project" (www.getty.edu/research/institute/vocabulary/index.html) as a project making significant efforts to standardize game-related vocabulary and terminology (see also http://www.gamedev.net/dict/). Likewise, projects including MIT's game-to-teach project (http://cms.mit.edu/games/education/proto.html), www.games2train.com and www.seriousgames.org were cited as endeavours that are attempting to "harness the enthusiasm of young gamers" and enhance the relationship between the industry and education by addressing "misconceptions" and "moral panics" generated by the nature and content of many computer games.

<5> Spector did however note several areas in which the game community had failed to make adequate progress. The most significant of these action-points concerned the continued need to foster critical theory and other methods of analysis at an international level. Spector's evaluation of "lack of progress" in this area appeared to be based primarily on how "new game criticism" is reaching its "full flower outside the United States." In this respect European-based research and academic networks (e.g. www.digiplay.org.uk, DiGRA, www.game-culture.com) created in recent years have served to place European research at the forefront of critical analysis of game-texts (Aarseth, 1997; Juul, 2001; Carr, in press) and player experiences (Bryce & Higgins, 2000; King & Krzywinska, 2003; Schott & Kambouri, in press).

<6> Frans Mayra used his talk to amplify the strength of the European game-related academic community with his account of the increasing presence of digital games on higher education degrees (Liverpool's MA in Digital Games) including the possibilities that now exist for completing Masters and PhD level computer games research (e.g. IT-University Copenhagen, www.it-c.dk/English/research/diac/). In the long-term, Mayra hoped that these advances will produce a generation of game researchers that will not have to traverse the geography of current academic landscapes in the same way as the many "islands" of scholars and researchers currently isolated from each other within a rage of disciplines. For those such scholars, Mayra stressed the continued need to connect theory and research through increasing and maintaining conventional academic community-building tools such as textbooks, conferences, journals (e.g. www.gamestudies.com) and inter-disciplinary research projects (e.g. Institute of Education's "Textuality in Video Games" project www.ccsonline.org.uk/mediacentre).

<7> Attendees were given further issues to consider, prior to breaking off for the group working sessions, by a Futures Panel that commented briefly on how strengthened ties between the game community can firstly be achieved and how newly configured relationships would then function. Espen Aarseth (editor of Game Studies) began by reinforcing his concerns for the nature of game studies as an emerging discipline and whether it will remain embedded within existing disciplines and departments or develop as an independent academic field of study. The real danger of relinquishing a "discipline" to a "topic of research" submerged within existing paradigms was outlined by Aarseth's amusing point that "every academic discipline can be related to game research" with the exception of dentistry!

<8> Aarseth also stressed the need for that same emergent academic community to maintain its objectivity by maintaining a certain detachment from the corporate interests of companies. In "setting limits" for doing business together he argued that he is "more useful as an academic that plays GTA" than industry backed. Another dimension to this argument, addressed the way games are more than products, in which Aarseth asked whether companies like Sony or Microsoft had the right to own "social arenas" such as Massively Multi-player Online Games (MMOGs). Indeed, this question subtly typified the need that exists, at one level, for independent research capable of examining and evaluating the social and cultural impact of computer games upon successive generations world-wide. Whilst, at a different level, Rob Huebner (Nihilist Software) made a plea for greater academic input into the "process" of game development. He argued that vocationally educated individuals entering the industry could be better equipped with a broader knowledge base, that incorporates areas such as the "psychology" underpinning game experiences. A view echoed by Ernest Adams (game design consultant), who in his summary of the summit stressed the need for individuals to enter the industry with a broader education due to the prevalence of "burn-out" and short-term nature of many careers.

<9> Renowned as the founder of Purple Moon, Brenda Laurel's (Art Centre College of Design) presence on the futures panel offered the first real instance of a female voice, one that has consistently sought the diversification of game content. In line with findings drawn from "girl gamer" research (e.g. Consalvo, 2001; Schott & Horrell, 2000) and expressed by game commentators (e.g. www.grrlgamer.com, www.womengamers.com), she predicted the emergence of a purely social medium. Practices that will be "less gaming" more "social networks" that meld real life with gaming. By the same token she ambitiously spelt out the end of "individual destructive power" in game content and within the over-abundance of games genres like First Person Shooters (FPS).

<10> Completing this panel, Ken Perlin (NYU Media Research Laboratory), sought the expansion of game-development practices through fostering a "universal procedural literacy." Programming, he argued, is not a science but a means of expression that, like other art forms, permit individual communication. He stated that currently, the game industry loses girls by the age of thirteen, but by the same token they do not stop reading and writing at that age. By widening access and cultural participation Perlin argued that the nature and content of future games would inevitably diversify, increasing their quality and cultural standing. The permeation of programming languages into general education extends Mayra position of directly engaging the "Nintendo generation" (Green et al., 1997) in higher education research down to the upcoming "Playstation 3" generation.

<11> Having listened and considered the points of view presented within the panels, attendees were asked to select areas of interest that they would wish to deliberate. Over ten groups of approximately 15 people engaged in brainstorming activities concentrating on identifying key challenges, barriers and issues that presently obstruct progress within theory/scholarship, curriculum/instruction or research/application. Each group was given the time to first generate and then synthesize its discussions before presenting five key challenges to the whole group. In doing so, key issues and concerns germane to all members of the game community were presented and enumerated (www.igda.org/academia/IGDA_2003_Academic_Summit_GroupNotes.pdf). On the second day, having identified key problems concordant with discussions across several groups, the Education Committee presented ten specific issues to which attendees were asked to consider potential "implementation strategies". Attendees identified some of the following action-points:

1) Community; Due to the relative infancy of the industry and its study, attendees recognized how conferences to-date have accommodated a broad range of research interests, research techniques, theoretical frameworks and discipline knowledge. Although successful in bringing together various strands of the industry and/or academia, the development of smaller, regional conferences that are specifically themed to increase specialist areas of knowledge were also considered beneficial. Some more concrete proposals were made, including the expansion of academic contributions to the more technical sessions run at events like the GDC. Here the emphasis appears to lie with the integration of academic findings within industry based events due to the self-acknowledged short-term, product-related outlook possessed by the industry. The sessions also provided helpful advice and support to those with an interest in running a game conference.

2) Legitimacy; This was considered achievable by increasing the potential for researchers to engage in scholarly activities which would not discredit academic standing or potential tenureship. The development of further peer-reviewed game specific journals was not necessarily considered the only solution to this problem. Instead, contrary to Aarseth's push for a designated discipline with independent academic resources, attendee's also sought the increased presence of game research and criticism in more conventional disciplines and journals (psychology, sociology, cultural and media studies). By the same token, it was argued that game researchers would therefore also need to assume greater involvement in the general academic community by contributing to editorial boards and reviewing papers - providing journals with the means to evaluate the validity and reliability of academic work for publication.

3) Education; Examples of a number of "grass roots" efforts to encourage potential students were shared. Some attendees spoke of the need for long-term strategies toward increasing and securing student interest in game-related courses by going into schools and directly engaging "parents" misconceptions of gaming. It was deemed possible to empower "students" interests by highlighting the skills, levels of competence and education necessary to succeed in the industry. Within the UK, the presence of gaming within compulsory education remains small and under-subscribed due to the lack of resources and knowledge-levels of teachers trained in more conventional media forms. Opportunities for educational engagement with the medium, within all sectors of education, require development, enhancement and validation by the academic community. Part of the validation and legitimacy process of games within education arises from developing and promoting the potential for educational advancement through game studies pathways. For example, students currently studying Advanced-GCE Media Studies may be more inclined to opt to focus on games where permitted (e.g. textual analysis & critical research) should they be more aware of the potential for continued study in higher education.

4) Collaboration; Members of the industry recognized the tension between academic desire to disseminate and share the results of research, while the industry seeks to retain knowledge for the purpose of maximising commercial gains. Nevertheless, attendees from the industry also acknowledged the focus given to product deadlines that give rise to a short-term outlook with reference to the evolution of gaming. Dave Ranyard, Audio Manager, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe offered a solution to this problem by outlining his role as a PhD supervisor. In this way a company like Sony provide sponsorship and industry focus for academic work, whilst research addresses relevant problems that Sony have little time to address. Taking a different approach, Daniel Livingstone (University of Paisley) provided an interesting account of the benefits for academics of spending time at a developing company.

<12> A key and practical solution to many of the issues reported was the creation of databases that would catalogue research completed, research required, community expertise, guest speakers and the canonization and preservation of game history, especially where games possess particular innovations (e.g. dialog, characters, emotion etc.). Empowering those with interests and investment in the medium was considered key to its progress and evolution. Many developers present at the summit showed surprise and delight at the nature and variety of the research completed to-date. Indeed, during the "futures panel" Rob Huebner (Nihilist Software) expressed a desire to have access to research findings but admitted he did not know where to locate research. In order to further "oil the wheels of communication" a standardized vocabulary remained recurring theme and a key consideration for attendees. To avoid endless "scientising" (Gergen, 1991) and the development of synonymous terminology it was deemed necessary to "take-stock" of the terms and concepts consistently put to use within conference proceedings and game reviews. Again the role of journal editors and reviewers were attributed as having an important influence on the standardization process. Within these themes, it was possible to identify a genuine desire on the part of attendees to construct a community with shared values and meaning.

<13> In organising an event of this nature the Educational Committee worked effectively to create an opportunity for different academic environments to stress their ability to analyse the medium and disseminate its findings in a manner that the commercial and market-driven nature of the game development industry fails to allow. Furthermore, attendees recognized that academic curriculum and instruction has the potential to foster the growth and development of the industry by ensuring that graduates enter the market with a solid and approved knowledge base. Most importantly the summit allowed attendees to set the agenda for the future co-ordination of curriculum, research and training. So, next on the agenda is a one-day academic summit at GDC Europe to which I urge all interested parties to attend and play a formative role in the development of "gaming" both as an art form and an academic discipline.

Works Cited

Aarseth, E. (1997) Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, London: John Hopkins University Press.

Benedetti, W. (2002) "The Art of Gaming: Electronic games are scoring points in the fine art world," Seattle Post-intelligencer Reporter, http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/lifestyle/61797_gameart.shtml.

Bryce, J. & Higgins, D. (2000) "Optimal Experience: A framework for understanding the phenomenology of computer use." In N. Smalley, M. Brake & D. Saunders (Eds.), International Simulation and Gaming Yearbook.

Carr, D. (in press) "Character Building; Pleasure Transformation and Flow in Baldur's Gate." In M. Swalwell & J. Wilson (Eds.) Gameplay: Pleasures, engagement, aesthetics.

Consalvo, M. (2001) "Hot Dates and Fairy-Tale Romances: Studying Sexuality in Videogames," Paper presented at Playing with the Future, Manchester.

Gergen, K. (1991) The Saturated Self, New York: Basic Books.

IGDA (2003) IGDA Curriculum Framework: The study of games and game development, version 2.3 beta, www.igda.org/academia/.

Juul, J. (2001) "Games Telling Stories?" Game Studies, 1, 1-12.

King, G. & Krzywinska, T. (2003) (Eds.), ScreenPlay, London: Wallflower Press.

Green, B., Reid, J-A. & Bigum, C. (1997) "Teaching the Nintendo Generation? Children, computer culture and popular technologies." In S. Howard (Ed.) Wired Up: Young people and the electronic media. London: UCL Press.

Lanning, L. (2002) cited in W. Benedetti, "The Art of Gaming: Electronic games are scoring points in the fine art world," Seattle Post-intelligencer Reporter.

Schott, G. & Horrell, K. (2000) "Girl Gamers and their Relationship with the Gaming Culture," Convergence, 6(4), 36-53.

Schott, G. & Kambouri, M (in press) "Moving Between a Spectral and Material Plane: Interactivity in Social Play with Computer Games," Convergence.