Debunking urban myths around playing and creating video games

Dario Maggiorini and Laura Anna Ripamonti (University of Milan) came to GOODTECHS 2016, 2nd EAI International Conference on Smart Objects and Technologies for Social Good as keynote speakers, bringing with them the topic of light and dark sides of teaching video games, and we were very happy to get an opportunity to pick their brains. Just what does creating a video game entail? And what roles can video games fulfill aside from entertainment?

Could you summarize the scope of your current work and what you came to share with everyone at this event?

LAURA: My current work is aimed at delivering a high level teaching and research – from the point of view of computer science – in the field of video game design and development. We are working in several directions, in collaboration with the industry, in order to help Italian companies in this field become more innovative and competitive.

DARIO: Currently, I am focusing on bringing innovation to how technology is used in designing and developing video games. I came to Goodtechs to share my perspective on where doing research on gaming is not a mere application of science where a game is involved, but rather designing games around science and innovate technology linked to games while considering all their meaningful features.

You mention the dark and light side of teaching video games. What are they?

LAURA: The Italian situation is quite peculiar among the industrialized countries, since we are a huge consumer of video games. But our industry, although able to deliver high-quality products, is a dwarf from the point of view of the number of companies, their dimension and their income. In this quite dark panorama, we are trying to shed some light on the opportunities – both from the industrial and academic point of view – of this field, potentialities of which are largely acknowledged all over the world. Video games are not only a means of entertainment: they have been proven to be effective for a range of other applications: education, social care, teaching, rehabilitation, etc. Moreover, they are a huge driver of innovation in many areas related to computer science and engineering (artificial intelligence, virtual reality, sensors, graphics, just to name a few).

DARIO: First of all, with “dark and light” we do not mean “good and bad” rather than the contrast between something well known and something we have yet to explore and understand. In this country, we have a fairly good understanding of the gaming market and its potential. Nevertheless, there are still several misconceptions and urban legends about creating games. Many students believe that passion will be enough and others – including companies – think it will be easy because “it is just a game”. Our role in this landscape is to shed light on this dark side. Shedding light means to help researcher and non-gaming companies understand that a videogame is a complex digital artifact and to help students creating a strong background for their professional future.

What do you see as the biggest challenge that smart objects and technologies for social good are currently facing?

LAURA: I think that smart objects and technologies offer great opportunities to advance our way of interacting with technology in many fields, and video games are no exception. What I fear is that many opportunities could be lost due to a mismatch between the potentialities of the new media and the type of applications that will be developed. I mean, too often (also recently) we have been disillusioned because of applications that did not match the expectations of the potential users (at least in the field of video games). I wish that in the near future this mistake will be avoided by putting the “user” needs and interests at the centre of the development process.

DARIO: If I combine the concepts of smart technology and social goods, what comes to my mind is the emerging wave (maybe “tide” would be more appropriate) of the Internet of Things aimed at improving the quality of our life. From a technical standpoint, their biggest challenge is to wrap around us in a non-cumbersome way. They should be invisible while flying around us and not a cumbersome load to carry around in order to achieve a – potentially huge – benefit. Other technologies failed in this direction for being too intrusive in our lifestyle, demanding to change our habits to be used. IoT for social good is an immense opportunity for both companies and individual. But, in order not to waste this opportunity, new technologies should be designed around the users and not just offered to them as part of a deal.

What would you say are the main trends in this area that are showing promise?

LAURA: As far as the video game field is involved, I think that at the moment the main trend is the exploitation of VR and sensors techniques to add immersion to the interactive ludic experience. Of course this will supply plenty of opportunities for creating more compelling game-based applications in many fields. In the same vein, I guess that some advancement in the area of game development will prove beneficial for other neighbouring disciplines.

DARIO: If I think to the future of gaming, I would say that the main keywords are “services” and “integration”. First, services; because today there are not “just games” but games connected to complex ecosystems where your experience is also the result of many external services and information flowing into the games. We must still understand how to provide and manage them in a way which is compatible with the structure of games. Second, integration; because gaming ecosystems are expanding and start to embrace new technologies (such as Virtual and Augmented Reality), which must be coordinated and managed in the right way. Moreover, different ecosystems are starting to merge in the process of bringing together a huge number of users, in the number of millions. Integrating large gaming networks and providing seamless services through them will be paramount in the near future.

To conclude, have you had an experience at this event that you found compelling, or which inspired you for future work?

LAURA: Well, I should answer “no” to this question, just because the whole conference has been inspiring! It has really been a pleasure to have this occasion to share knowledge and experiences with colleagues interested in this area of expertise, and I think that many interesting and compelling research challenges have emerged.

DARIO: Sharing ideas and discussing about research is always compelling. Needless to say, I saw the whole experience of being there as an opportunity. For the future, I have no idea right now but I am sure, as often happens, the seeds planted during the conference will bud.