Think Design Play, 5th DiGRA conference
hosted by Utrecht School of the Arts
In Defense of Beauty, Rethinking Games Research
keynote by Eric Zimmerman (15 september 2011)
We are at a turning point. Those of us who do study and research games have begun to accomplish much of what we set out to do. Games have achieved wide cultural acceptance. They are taken seriously at universities and are funded by major foundations and government grants. Games have even reached the White House.
We are beginning to understand what games do best: games teach systems thinking; play promotes creativity and innovation; tinkering leads to critical understanding. We are at the start of what seems to be a ludic century in which games will replace the moving image as the dominant model for art and leisure.
The question is, what comes next? Despite our successes, there is a nagging feeling that something is missing. Humanities games research feels wildly irrelevant to developers and players. Social Science research is being usurped by marketing and gamification. And games and learning scholars chase the holy grail of “proof” that games teach more effectively than traditional instruction.
Maybe we’re barking up the wrong trees — or even wandering in the wrong forest altogether. Despite the fact that we all love games, we are instrumentalizing them – to their detriment and to ours as well. It is time for a shift in our approach, to expand and reinvent what we mean by games and research.
Facing down these difficult dilemmas means changing the way we think about games. What questions lurk behind our assumptions about why games are valuable? Why do we all insist that games are good for you? What can we learn from other cultural forms? What are we losing when we instrumentalize the games that we love so much?
Eric Zimmerman (http://www.ericzimmerman.com). Eric is an award-winning veteran game designer, writer, and academic who invents new forms of play on and off the computer. For nine years, Eric was the Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer of Gamelab, a game development company based in New York City. Gamelab's titles included the casual game blockbuster hit Diner Dash and Gamestar Mechanic, a site that lets kids create games, funded by the first major game-related grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Gamelab worked with partners including LEGO, HBO, VH-1, Nickelodeon, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Disney, Mattel, PlayFirst, PBS, Fisher-Price, Leapfrog, and many others.