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The art and science of computer games

26 May 2015

Ahead of the Professorial Lecture on Wednesday 27 May, Professor Gregor White explores how computer games have become a serious area of cultural expression and scientific enquiry.

Professor White will give a talk titled ‘A game for all seasons – cultural expression and scientific enquiry’, and we caught up with him in advance to learn a little more.

How has the audience for games changed in recent years?

"There are a wide range of factors that have contributed to changes in the audiences for games, some demographic and some that can be ascribed to technology disruptions. It is a symptom of the relative youth of the medium that the underlying trend in average age of gamers is still climbing roughly year on year.

"In the past, new technologies like the Nintendo Wii with its easy to use motion controller made gaming accessible to a much older demographic. The biggest impact of the fashion for motion controllers, including PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect, was to establish the games console in the living room as a piece of family entertainment technology.

"Games designed to be played with family and friends like Wii Sports and Dance Central finally broke the stereotype of the bedroom gamer and introduced new generations to playing video games as a mainstream pastime.

"The simultaneous growth in popularity of social media offered another opportunity to create games in the social space. In the late 2000s the explosion in popularity of social games like FarmVille engages new players in enormous numbers. The appetite for social and casual gaming has been fed by the increasing capacity of mobile and tablet devices to support increasingly sophisticated and visually rich games.

"In a very short period the medium has established itself as an integral part of everyday life."

Does this older audience present new design challenges or creative opportunities?

"As audiences mature their tastes change. They are less likely to play fast-paced action games or have less time to play 40-50 hours of a console game. As a result we can observe an increasing diversification of game genres and the emergence of new trends for games that offer sophisticated narratives, stylistically rich visuals and intellectual challenges.

"We should also bear in mind that games developers are maturing, as well as their audiences. As the original bedroom boys approach their 50th birthdays they are moving away from the big budget titles they cut their teeth on and are more aware of the potential for games to engage children with education or civic life, or to offer more meaningful experiences.

"As a result there is an observable spirit of adventure in the design and development of games across the sector.

"Successful independent games studios are creating distinctive content that stands out in the congested market through innovative gameplay like that offered by Minecraft, novel approaches to the game space that can be seen in Space Budgie’s Glitchspace or interpersonal relationships like the collaborative play in thatgamescompany’s Journey."

Games are increasingly engaging with the arts and sciences. How can different sectors get involved with games?

"One of the most fascinating developments in recent years has been the increasing number of games that are being developed in partnership with arts and science organisations. Most notably in Dundee are recent releases by Guerilla Tea and Quartic Llama.

"Guerilla Tea worked with scientists from Cancer Research UK on Play to Cure, a game that takes advantage of people’s natural pattern recognition to recognise tell-tale genetic structures embedded in the game world. This resulted in improvements in efficiency and efficacy on traditional tests.

"In the arts, Quartic Llama worked with production and writing professionals from the National Theatre of Scotland to design a companion game to the highly successful play Let the Right One In stage at Dundee Rep Theatre. The game is located in Dundee city centre and players listen to stories and events unfold as they walk through the city, gathering clues to where to find the next part of the story.

"The potential offered by computer games and digital media to engage with real-world problems and cultural life has led to some fascinating outcomes. Current projects underway at Abertay see teams working with epidemiologists, soil scientists, medical professionals, museums, galleries and artists."

Which game developers or projects are you excited about?

"There are so many good games around at the moment. Monument Valley by Ustwo explores the idea of Escher-like fictive space in a way that is only possible in a games context. Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer offers a rich story environment and a mature animated visual style.

"We have recently developed a strong relationship with a company on the south coast of England called The Chinese Room and our students have been contributing to their new title Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished game.

"It always gives me pleasure to see new games being released by our graduates. We now have graduates working all over the world and contributing to some of the most successful games ever made.

"There are also an increasing number of graduates who start up small companies in Dundee. Of these I’m very impressed with Hidden Armada’s new release Mutiny, and looking forward to Pixel Blimp’s Scrunchlings and Baum by A Fox Wot I Drew."

Tickets for the lecture are free - book your place now on Eventbrite.

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