2019

ANSWERS (2019)

Premise

In this second edition of the round table, in addition to confirming some of the impressions of last year about the results obtainable with the questionnaires and the meetings, we can see a greater depth of discussion of the topics identified by all the speakers who attended the event of December (2019).

It is very likely that there were three central factors in this positive change:

  1. The reduction of the number of questions;
  2. Better management of the time and of the discussions on the day of the meeting;
  3. The presence of speakers who had also participated in the first edition.

It is therefore clear that the experience of the first edition has positively contributed to the focus of a central theme, capitalism, so relevant and widely debated outside the boundaries and areas defined by the keywords of our project.

On the other hand, if in 2018 we had noticed, on several occasions, a distance of views, more or less clear depending on the question, between the professionals of the gaming universe and the rest of the speakers, on this occasion we found that the differences of opinion focused on the central theme of capitalism without there being a clear link with the professional activity of the participants.

Although it is not possible to schematize the debate and the answers to the questionnaires in a clear and dualistic way, we can however note that on various occasions, even if not all of them, the speakers were divided between those who interpreted the relations of capitalism with videogames and  high culture as a "natural" historical process, not without critical issues, but full of opportunities if properly understood and developed in complex contemporary societies, and those who (a minority), more pessimistically, interpreted this connection as a "poison" which arises from the mass neoliberal culture and is propagated in this interactive communication tool which is fully integrated (with the exception of sporadic exceptions irrelevant to large numbers) in the large media system managed by the interests of the dominant classes.

At the end of the meeting there is always the feeling of not being able to say enough and of neglecting many problems and points of view, but the project was in fact conceived to give rise to discussions and reflections that can then be further explored in others places and moments. The bibliography, thanks to the indications of the participants, is constantly updated (we apologize for all the shortcomings that we are sure are there).

The design element with which we are most satisfied are the questions, which continue to stimulate new perspectives and which we intend to expand to make future meetings increasingly interesting.

1

This question has reactivated the discussion on the relationship between video games and art which, like the previous year, has fascinated all the speakers. In the obvious impossibility of giving a contemporary definition of "Art" and not even wanting to get lost in the, albeit interesting, maze of theories regarding the development of "truly artistic" videogames, we managed, with quite a few difficulties, to direct the discussion on the current relationship between videogames, other recognized forms of expression such as cinema and literature, power and capital.

A key element underlined by several speakers is the extreme fragmentation of the video game productions which, in order to be realized, do not follow a single and predetermined scheme. Even in the most "classic" mode, in which a developer produces a prototype in order to be financed by a publisher to complete and sell the project"It is an inversion of the terms compared to what happened historically in the relationship between art and capital : it is not the patron who seeks the artist to commission the portrait, but it is the artist who produces a series of sketches to be presented to the various patrons of the city to demonstrate the potential of his idea of portrait. "(Adriano Bizzoco).

All the speakers, with various nuances, agree on the impression that the main players in the video game industry have as their central objective the profit, both for the very high production costs of the so-called AAA titles, and for the "historical" approach of the medium focused on interactivity and "pure" fun linked to action rather than contemplation. Nevertheless there are, in particular in a very varied independent sector, completed works and experiments, in some cases supported by not indifferent budgets, which try to trace unusual paths for the videogame universe; works capable of activating, as in cinema or in literature, political, social and existential reflections of great depth.

According to some particularly optimistic speakers, such as Fabrizia Malgieri: “... if, therefore, it is true that large capitals are merged into more popular products, it is equally legitimate to maintain that the sector invests in" high culture video games "with the intention to reach an increasingly demanding audience interested in something sought after and stimulating - also from a thematic and artistic point of view. Just as "auteur cinema" and "blockbuster cinema" exist, video games also enjoy this dichotomy, but without one excluding the other. Indeed, we proceed in parallel, going to satisfy different audiences, but highly interested in equal measure. "

With a similar opinion, Marco Accordi Rickards and Micaela Romanini affirm: “Staying within the Triple A industry, therefore, the risk is often entrusted only to the hands of great Authors who, in fact, minimize the risk by attracting a concretely monetizable fan base , like Hideo Kojima, who with Death Stranding has been able to face existential and complex political issues that are rarely discussed in the mainstream video game."

Much more critical is the vision of Eugenio Iorio, who fears a natural integration of the videogame medium in the media system managed by the dominant neoliberal ideology: "Neoliberalism dominates desires, produces individual imaginations, suffocates collective ones, cancels memory. In a society of enchantment, emotion dominates rationality, reduces the reality principle to fairy tales of the pleasure / desire principle. In video-ludic creation, narrative spaces are generated as territorial forms of social action and its conflicts... "

From the debate it emerged that videogames were born essentially as commercial products of the end of the "short century" and are evolving into something increasingly difficult to clearly define, a reality that in any case cannot, and in large part does not want, to untie itself from complex socio-economic structures of contemporary capitalism.

Another topic that we would have liked to address (but the timing and focus of the discussions have not made it possible) is the historical relationship of power with games and entertainment, in particular for the purpose of managing consensus and "public peace". It would have been interesting to understand how much videogames, and esports, have in common with the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome, football or baseball, and what constants, or differences, exist in mass psychology so attracted to such different, yet so similar, playful representations.


2

On this question, all the speakers agreed on the end of the "central authorities" in all the worlds of art and entertainment. The contrast between experts and the public, between commercialsuccess and critical success has not entirely disappeared, but is becoming increasingly complex and indefinable, especially in consideration of the infowars, generated by competing interests, which often take place not only between people but also among artificial intelligences that crowd the multiple communication platforms available today with increasingly elaborate texts.

While in the past there were authorities, canons and institutions recognized with the intellectual power to "certify" the artistic status of individual works or entire sectors of culture, today we live in an era in which the entire cultural building is increasingly indefinable and in crisis from inside and outside of its walls built by societies characterized by incredibly powerful centrifugal thrusts. In the modern and dominant liberal culture, after Duchamp's famous "fountain", today more than ever "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", and therefore the universe of videogames, just when it could, in part, would like to, conquer its place among the great ones of high culture, does not find a "sacred" judge who can give such access because paradoxically it is the whole Olympus of culture that risks collapsing and getting lost in a dark indeterminateness.

Fabio Viola underlined how: “There is no longer high and low or pop culture. Few do not make art for few and not even few make art for many (pop). Everyone does everything for everyone because the works are done together with the public ... the critics is embodied by the visitor / artist overcoming the intermediation historically carried out by specialists in the sector who find themselves compressed in the increasingly close relationship between "producer" and "consumer ", And the related liquid exchange of roles."

Marco Accordi Rickards and Micaela Romanini, focusing on the great influence that commercial aspects have in the construction and communication of a videogame product, tell us: “Remaining in the mainstream and Triple A sphere, the general opinion of critics and the public are all summed up leveled on the same level, due to an industry ecosystem designed to minimize the commercial risks deriving from the release of a single product, by listening to the community, a very aggressive marketing for the most important titles and finally a decidedly dialogue structured with videogame critics, whose important exponents are accompanied by hand in the process of product development, from the announcement to the launch on the market. This proximity to the company allows the critic to deeply understand the creative product that will reach the user, which will be put directly in contact with the vision of the authors. In this perspective, the journalist, almost always in the case of flagship titles, acts as a bridge between the company and the consumer, assuming a role more similar to that of the mediator than that of the "censor" and "discriminator" who, according to the etymology of the word "critic", this figure should assume (not for nothing, among the nuances of the Greek verb krinò there is also the meaning "I destroy"). Although this is a fundamental betrayal with respect to the profession that critics are called to fulfill in other artistic sectors, the "journalist / storyteller" paradoxically helps the understanding of "difficult" products such as Death Stranding. The downside is clearly a general flattening of the critical thinking related to the gaming industry, especially regarding high budget products where the publisher of reference has the task of minimizing any type of commercial risk. "

Fabrizia Malgieri, with a historical perspective of this medium of communication, affirms: “I believe that today's videogame audience is decidedly more aware than in the past, they are informed a lot before purchasing a game and that it is also very more curious. I think this dichotomy between "public" and "critics" is to some extent overcome and that, although there are still some exceptions and resistances (not least the case of Death Stranding which has undoubtedly created a decisive rift among the more "generalist" public "And the criticism), in principle a different consciousness is being created towards video games."

3

In this case too, the speakers tended to agree that the "classic" element of the interactivity of video games should be considered as the central and distinctive character of this medium compared to all the others. This peculiarity seems to make competition even more difficult in a market now crowded with games, large and small, in which, however, very particular niches are developing where the relationship between producer and consumer is very close.

A phenomenon that should not be underestimated is the widespread "free to play" model which has profoundly changed the ways in which videogame products are offered, disseminated and monetised, a model which, with the necessary specific adaptations, will probably contaminate the other entertainment industries as well (for some, contamination has already occurred).

On the front of commont points, in regards with the large mainstream entertainment industry, having to deal with the fragmentation of information sources and an exponential growth of all the various types of products, the only constant that can be identified, regardless of the dynamics specific to interactivity, is the presence of massive marketing investments in every direction to support the launch, but then also the permanence, of the major productions of these industries increasingly attentive to the changing moods of a very large audience that, however, has less and less time to dedicate to individual products as the overall mass of TV series, comics, fantasy books, videogames that are produced, has de facto saturated all the spaces, physical, virtual, and perhaps even psycho-emotional, of the users.

In addition to reflecting on the specific, high risk of "refund" for video games, Paolo Paglianti proceeds with a specific comparison with the TV series: "Both for the series and for the games, the problem today is visibility: assuming that they are good products, it is necessary to be able to emerge from the mass of productions that come out every week. The very high risk is that the public gets confused (if I told you "that science fiction TV series with spaceships and aliens" today, I could mean at least 10 leading productions of the last three years). Both video games and TV series have to deal with competing and often exclusive distribution platforms (Steam, GOG, Gamesplanet, Epic Games - Netflix, Amazon, Sky, Disney +) and with an installed base that can choose products practically for free (at least as perception). There are tons of free to play games (or with subsequent purchases in the app), or hundreds of games in the various flat subscriptions of Xbox, PS4 and Apple. "

Spartaco Alberarelli stresses that: “On the one hand we must consider that video games have taken the place of cinema, or have influenced it to the point that many films have become“ simple ”non-interactive video games. Just think of the enormous success of Marvel titles to understand how cinema increasingly follows video games, while the opposite was once true. "

4

On this question, the "old" separation between the professionals of the gaming sector and the other speakers was noted.

Professionals generally argue that the State, referring in particular to Italy, should actively support the gaming sector on several fronts and in all its manifestations. In particular, it should be noted that in other countries, for example Canada, France or Poland, active support policies for the business sector of the gaming industry have had a very positive economic and employment impact.

The speakers of academia or of other professions, although not strenuously opposed to forms of public stimulus to the videogames sector, limit such aids to the "content" and "genre" of the videogames to be supported. In this case, it is considered that "pure" business already has ample opportunities for growth in such a thriving global market and stresses the need to encourage production focused on education and culture.

Specifically, Elda Perlino tells us: "I do not consider public intervention in support of video games used in the field of entertainment due to their high commercial value and the widespread diffusion and loyalty already achieved among the young population. On the contrary, I consider it very opportune to support financing and public sponsorship for the diffusion and development of videogames in areas related to their most innovative potential use, in an educational and popular sense and in frontier technical-scientific sectors. "

Nico Balletta: “In a nutshell: Yes, of course! Every state, and the politicians in power in particular, need to realize the importance of games. And if they can't appreciate games as something like art, they should at least be smart enough to see the value behind all these modern technologies that - surprise - not only end up in videogames! "

Developers and entrepreneurs of the gaming sector, in particular Italian, wanted to emphasize that although the global turnover is impressive this does not mean that individual companies, without adequate central support (as in the above examples of Poland, France and Canada), can actually access successfully in this incredibly competitive market (small businesses have a very high "mortality" rate).

During the round table we were unable to bring the discussion on the "political" implications inherent in the question (s). In particular, we would have liked to know the perspectivesof the speakers on the need for public authorities to govern this magmatic communication tool in some way, whether to refer to an "indirect" Anglo-Saxon model or to a "centralized Chinese" model or find a sort of new route, but unfortunately when we reached  this fourth question there was very little time left.

Beyond the round table, in regards of these aspects, in the questionnaire Eugenio Iorio writes: “State and state actors are not able to understand the complexity of the contemporary age and, by default, a public action or legislative production cannot keep up with times. If we consider that the sense of a videogame lies also and above all in its gameplay, in its mechanism, which can, in a world of routine and cognitive bias, set in motion perceptual anomalies of the existent, we should understand that video games, both as machines propaganda and as addictive devices, should be the subject of attention, study and standardization as agents of social and cultural change. Videogames can be agents of change for better or for worse. "

Overall, however, this theme needs several insights.


5

Again, the time limit prevented us from adequately addressing these issues. The dialogue was brief and the following is mainly based on the answers written in the questionnaires.

The overall impression is that the influence of videogames on economic structures, and vice versa, is very strong, especially in relation to the digital revolution that occurred between the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium.

Somehow it could be said that Huzinga's intuition-provocation (the game precedes culture) was confirmed by the contamination between the "primitive" virtual monetary systems of the ludic fantasy universes and the exponential growth of the computerized financial instruments with which today it is possible to play on the stock market almost as if they were videogames.

As we have already noted in the past, graphs and financial systems are increasingly similar to strategy videogames in which large realities, public and private, can overcome or avoid the conventional battles blocked by nuclear MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction in case of thermonuclear war between superpowers ), to engage in almost unlimited cyber-financing wars  24/7.

Perhaps one of the strengths of capitalism is precisely this ability to be aggressively ludic and "fun", especially in abstract and immaterial sectors not burdened, at least in appearance, by the weights and responsibilities of material reality.

However, the link between play and economic structures has not been analyzed enough and we believe that in the next edition we will have to further reduce the overall number of questions to be addressed (at least those to be addressed directly on the day of the round table). The topic, which is extremely interesting, will have to be taken up in future, probably independent, sessions.

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