The following questions have been posed to panelists in advance of the conference. We hope you'll think about these issues and come to MIT ready to share your perspectives with other confrees.
What makes for a good game? Is it meaningful to speak of an "aesthetics of game design"? Or has the rate of technological change made it difficult to formulate consistent principles for evaluating games? If you were to identify some core principles for assessing the quality of games currently on the market, what would they be?
The games industry is roughly 25 years old. We might compare its evolution to the development of the basic building blocks of film language. By the time cinema was 25 years old, we had seen the accomplished works of filmmakers such as Charles Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, or Fritz Lang. Do you feel video games have achieved this same level of accomplishment? Why or why not? What would you see as the landmark accomplishments in game design over the past 25 years? What lessons have other game developers learned by studying these works?
What have games learned from cinema, television, theater, and the other arts? In what ways are the aesthetics of game design fundamentally different from those other arts?
What properties of game design do you think are most fully realized by the products currently on the market? What properties or potentials of the medium do you feel have not been sufficiently explored?
Critics have often described games as highly formulaic and repetitive. Do you agree with this criticism? Why or why not? What factors contribute to the standardization of game design and content? What factors encourage experimentation and innovation in game design?
"Edutainment" has become something of a negative term in popular discussions of media content. Why? Are there meaningful ways of reconciling the goals of education and popular culture? Or are these necessarily antagonistic or at least fundamentally different goals?
What do you see as the educational benefits of game-playing? What skills do the games on the market today foster? What products would you cite as particularly educationally rewarding?
What lessons might educational software developers learn from commercial game design? Are there ways to make learning more immersive or engaging by drawing inspiration from games? Are some aspects of the school curriculum more appropriate for interactive exercises than others?
The current generation of children and teens has been identified as "generation.com" or "The N Generation" because they are the first generation to be able to take for granted the presence in the home of computers or game consoles and because so much of their life is spent involved with the net and the web. How will growing up in this more fully interactive environment shape how they learn, how they do research, how they relate to their peers and teachers?
The base market for games, until fairly recently, was thought to be young technogically literate males. There are some signs that this market is broadening to include women and that people are playing games much later in life than was initially anticipated. There are also a growing number of casual gamers whose expectations and demands are fundamentally different from hardcore gamers. What impact will these new markets for games have on the design and development of software? What can game designers do to reach these new markets? Does the potential of reaching these alternative markets impact the design and development of games? What lessons, if any, can we learn from the first generation of products that have sought to court these new markets?
Why do people like to play games? What factors do you think have contributed to the rapid growth of the game industry? What specific kinds of pleasures or experiences do games offer that differ from the experience of watching a good film or television program?
From time to time, people have expressed a concern that game-playing is a socially isolating activity. What has the games industry learned about the social contexts in which games are played? What kinds of games have encouraged social interaction or the formation of virtual communities? How has the growth of on-line gaming furthered the social dimensions of game-play?
Going back to its puritan roots, American culture has always had ambivalent feelings about play and recreation. On the one hand, it has been distrustful of immediate gratification or frivolous activity. On the other hand, the consumer economy depends on our desire for recreation or luxury. How might these long-standing cultural conflicts have influenced public debates about the social and cultural impact of games? Given such conflicts, how might we explain the fact that more and more adults are playing games?
Would we agree that games are a storytelling medium? Or might it be more accurate to say that games are seeking to create meaningful and pleasurable experiences? What are the trade-offs between crafting a compelling story and granting players greater control over what happens on the screen? What techniques have game designers developed for shaping plot and character development without detracting from the interactive nature of the game medium?
Can we create compelling interactive narratives without resolving current problems surrounding the development of artificial intelligence? In other words, can we tell meaningful interactive stories without creating compelling characters that are responsive to player imput?
Are there some kinds of stories or experiences which can be conveyed more powerfully in games than in other kinds of media? Are there some kinds of stories that it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell well given the current state of game technology?
How does the need for players to quickly assimilate the rules of the game and to understand what roles they are expected to play influence the range of stories that games tell?
What will the form and content of games look like five years from now? Ten years from now? What obstacles or challenges must games overcome in order to achieve their full potential as a medium? What technological or artistic breakthroughs do you forsee in the near future which might fundamentally alter our understanding of what a game is?
The next generation of game consoles promises a dramatic increase in the availability of processing power. The processing power of the PC is also expanding rapidly. How will this new processing power be used? What will it allow game designers to do that they have been unable to achieve previously? How might it shift the relations between the games industry and other sectors of the entertainment industry?
How have improvements in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life impacted the game industry? What new directions might games take if we had better means of modeling autonomous thought and action?
Will multi-player games displace single-player games? Will on-line games displace stand-alone games? Why or why not?
Given the growing cost of game development, how do we insure innovation, experimentation, and creativity within the electronic games industry? Will we see, in the future, the digital equivalent of The Blair Witch Project or are we doomed to see only Titanics?
How might the introduction of such new or projected technologies as virtual reality visors, body suits, wearable computers, smart appliances, digital television, or nanotechnology impact the games industry?
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