Synthesis (2018)


At the beginning of the project, when we wrote the questions, we planned to publish all the speakers' responses in this specific section of the site. At the end of the experience of the round table, after reflecting on what was discussed on the intense day of 17 December, and following a careful cross-examination of the participants' documents, we realized that doing so would have been misleading and reductive.

Involving scholars and professionals from various sectors and disciplines was, as we had hoped, extremely stimulating and productive. In fact we wanted to bring together, and why not (civilly) collide distant worlds, which usually ignore and know little about each other, worlds that, depending on individual sensitivity or cultural trends and generational distance, may distrust or despise productions and sociocultural events related to the videogame universe. While on the one hand this encounter-clash between subjects so different between them has made possible an articulate debate during the round table, we realized that, for obvious reasons of time, commitments and heterogeneous formation of our interviewees, from the point of view of the documents produced we obtained answers that, alone, did not reach, in most cases, the degree of depth that we would have liked to obtain.

We believe the lesson has been that, in consideration of the fact that none of the designers of the project can work exclusively on it, in particular with a multidisciplinary approach, asking such vast and complex questions to speakers so different from each other, we can get excellent insights of reflection, but not clear, meditate answers similar to essays to be quoted in the bibliography (we could not certainly ask each of our guests to write a specific essay for each question).

The synthetic answers that follow, which are therefore to be considered absolutely incomplete, are the result of our impressions and not an actual scientific re-elaboration of the data in our possession (also because we can not define "data" what was collected).

The questions we formulated in 2018, aware that we are in no way the first to question these issues, remain open and will probably be reformulated or integrated into future editions of the project.

As a last note, we hope that, despite the aforementioned limitations, the results shown below may be interesting to scholars and enthusiasts of the topics covered. We also hope that from these studies, as already happened on December 17, 2018, new relationships will emerge, both academic and professional, between those who will meet on the path, real and virtual, that we are trying to trace.

1) This first question, closely connected to the second one, was at the center of the debate of the round table of 17 December 2018. It immediately became clear that the topic was considered central, of primary importance for all the speakers.

Despite the complex nature of the meaning and the historically very controversial parameters concerning the word "Art", all the participants at the round table have somehow said that in order to consider videogames, obviously not en bloc but for single works, as an expression of "High Culture" it is necessary that they achieve a clear artistic status (like Cinema and Literature, or Comics).

Depending on the profession and sensitivity of the individual speakers, the answers are very different. Some developers and representatives of the videogame sector consider the "problem" already extensively resolved at an international level. The fact that important museums have stated that video games are considered art makes the demand almost old. This heterogeneous group admits however that in individual nations or territorial and socio-cultural areas, such as Italy, for example, this acquisition is not absolutely shared not only at the "popular" level, but also by most of the intellectuals and more educated social groups.

Intellectuals and professionals not belonging to the videogame sector, in addition to admitting that they were occasional gamers only in their youth, do not generally consider videogames art in the broader sense, but believe they can evolve in that sense and that individual artistic elements are already visible in some works.

Among the others, the following question emerged from the debate: "Does the battle of videogames to be universally recognized as an art imply the recognition of games in the broad sense as art?". Huzinga would have "solved" this enigma reminding us that in his opinion art itself is to be understood as one of the many games of humanity, games that precede and do not follow the birth of culture.

In fact, continuing on the impervious path of questions, we realized that given the interactive nature of video games (and games) we came to another ancient contrast: the classic dichotomy between action and thought (contemplation). A further question was therefore: "Can a work based on action and not on contemplation be considered Art?"

On the other hand, the complexity of the questions posed appears evident even just by looking for the "simple" word Art on Wikipedia. It is interesting to note that in the English version of Wikipedia, videogames are often cited and considered an essential part of contemporary cultural discussions, while in Italian they are completely absent.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day we did not come to any clear and completely shared answer. However, we note that all participants agree, with more or less intensity, that the composite structure of video games, which contain elements of multiple recognized arts (visual arts and music for example), make them objects created with artistic methods that open (according to some) or will open (according to others) the way to full recognition of videogames as an art form.

2) The second question was de facto treated as an appendix to the first. The positions of the speakers, outlined in the formulation of the previous answer, have substantially re-presented also in this case.

The professionals of the videogame sector strongly believe in the possibilities of evolution of the universe of videogames, some are convinced that this evolution has already happened, in particular with a sort of gap between action-based video games and video games based on the narration that someone defines " interactive stories ".

Academics and extra-sectoral professionals limit themselves to observing that in order for the videogame media to reach an artistically "mature" and culturally elevated phase (assuming it is possible), a generation of intellectuals, born with videogames, should intervene to remodel the structure and / or essence of gameplay and narration based on new cultural awareness.

A further problem that emerged concerns the role of the market in relation to this need for growth and maturation of video games. The mainstream market is by its very nature not conducive to experimentation, and the high development costs of AAA titles make the necessary expressive transformation of the videogame medium difficult. The so-called independent sector has so far developed many more experimental games. Regardless of the nature of the team, the production, financing and distribution of videogames (all very complex elements in a technologically ever-changing universe) we have found that a difficulty hardly circumventable, in order to mature video games, is constituted by the nature of the development of games in general which is based on the circular principle "trial and error", a generally very long and difficult way that can make a developer withdraw from the intention to do something "too innovative" unless they have resources (time, people and / or money) usable without the risk of ceasing to exist.

The market is seen, depending on the point of view, as an obstacle or a possibility for the cultural growth of video games. If we consider the market as a neutral entity, based on the classic combination of supply and demand, we only need to wait for the players to ask for something new and culturally high. On the other hand, the market also tends to shape its audience, and specifically in the video game market, if having "childish" gamers is a fairly secure gain, it would be obvious to invest in that sense.

At what level does the concept of profit corrupt a creative work? The positions on this question were very different and can not be summarized as they involve really distant ways of seeing creativity. On this, for example, a strange marriage of Marxism and Romanticism could lead us to see the market as an absolute monster that will never give the artist the opportunity to express the purity of his art (still extreme: the art conceived for selling is not art).

How much this need for cultural elevation is felt by developers and players is very uncertain. The feeling is that the industry of videogames is, even more than the others, an industry that runs and develops in a frantic way without allowing itself extensive theoretical or philosophical reflections. On the other hand, single successful game designers, no longer burdened by looming material needs, are producing essays that analyze what has been achieved so far, trying to outline possible future scenarios. Various philosophical and artistic academies are studying the videogame phenomenon with increasing attention, providing developers who have the time and the will to study not only technical publications, new data and points of view on the roads that this world is taking.

Concluding we have the perception, absolutely not the certainty, that the time is ripe for an overall growth of the universe of video games that most likely will be desired and achieved in particular by the most adult developers with a stratified and complex artistic-cultural sensitivity.


NOTE to subsequent answers:

As aforementioned, the speakers were much more interested in discussing the topics arising from the first two questions. It is probable that, due to our incorrect calculation of the times for the introduction to the round table (each guest had about 15 minutes to introduce himself and to mention some personal consideration about our project in general), it was not possible in a single day, adequately addressing such vast questions. The answers from 3 to 7 are therefore to be considered almost as a sort of introduction to possible answers and we will try to treat them again in other places and editions of the project.

3) The thorny topic of addiction-related pathologies has seen a part of the professional videogames world defending the videogame medium, citing studies that not only disprove the inevitability of "addiction" to videogames, or certain types of videogames, but which have identified the cause of these problems in specific diseases that occur in individuals with fragile personalities and tending to dependence in general. The responsibility, according to this thesis, is not attributable to the "videogames" (and the market that produces them), and the solutions are to be found in solid family structures and adequate medical supports.

In truth, as pointed out by other scholars, in addition to a generic "common sense", given that medicine is not an exact science (and psychology does not evade this inaccuracy) and that there are studies and scholars very critical of the whole videogame system, we must admit that we are navigating in unexplored waters and that, perhaps, it would be wise to proceed with more caution than the "free market" does. Banally for a videogames publisher, in particular publishers hunting for "whales" users in freemium schemes, a certain amount of addiction of their client-players can only be a "good deal".

It is also true, however, that the gaming industry, when compared to other entertainment industries, is one of the most self-regulated, one of the industries most committed to the development of an effective content classification system.

In the specific of existential anxiety we could not say much. From what has been discussed, it emerges that existential anxiety is probably central in the search for escape from reality, an unattainable desire to which various pathologies are linked. On this point we would need more information on cyberpsychology and more specific investigations on what has been defined as one of the main reasons why players play: the "psychological flow state". But for the moment we have not gone beyond what is mentioned.

4) Answers and discussions about the link between death and videogames have roughly followed the outline of the discussion concerning the previous question. Also in this case studies have been cited with which it is possible to support opposing thesis and positions (or in the worst case confirm rooted convictions and preconceptions).

Although there were discordant opinions about the role of video games in relation to the emotional states of the players, no speaker said that video games could be the univocal, or principal, cause of specific manifestations of violence in our contemporary societies. For some, under certain conditions, they can be one of the many pieces of a complex puzzle, which is however also composed of other entertainment and communication tools, as well as pre-existing cultural factors.

We realized that the question was probably badly placed since we would not have wanted to bring the discussion about the relationship between videogames in which we can "kill for fun" and violence in reality, or at least not only. In the preparatory phase of the questions we asked ourselves how the theme of death is present at the unconscious level in the developers, in the market and in the players. We wondered how the "escape from reality", more than "legitimate" and beneficial if used consciously by people with a balanced psychic state, can be an escape from the ancestral fear of death. In this perspective, according to the opinion of some of the speakers, it is important to note how the theme of death in art, as well as in the game, is not absolutely new, but something that human beings explore since they started to "make art".

We have also not clarified in any way a question important to us, we wanted to understand if video games, as well as having a function in part cathartic, are also expression (not the cause), halfway between the conscious and the unconscious, of a "Natural" human tendency to extreme and ultra-violent competition, in particular in virtual environments that do not have immediately visible material consequences (considering in this case the "invisible" psycho-emotional level).

5) Although education was a central theme of this round table, we could not develop the topic as much as we wanted.

Very succinctly all the speakers, with the necessary clarifications about the modalities, agree that video games can be, or already are in some advanced international situations, an excellent tool to support traditional teaching.

The developers who participated in the event have already successfully implemented "educational" products and are strongly convinced that the public education sector should actively invest in this domain. Such a powerful tool, if left only in the hands of private companies, obviously interested mainly in profit, cannot produce large benefits for the entire student community.

The participants also made a distinction between the creation and use of videogame products to support traditional activities, and the implementation of "gamification" mechanics within the school. In particular, the danger deriving from an incorrect implementation of gamification mechanics in the classes was highlighted: some badly set up dynamics could have negative outcomes in the scholastic context (competition and dependence). We have also asked ourselves whether it is correct to accustom children to further feedback that could make them dependent (or even more dependent) on external validation.

We would have liked to discuss new ways of creating games with educational content, new non-didactic forms of expression, but there was not enough time unfortunately.

6) On this question there was a division of opinions similar to that created with the third.

Unlike the aforementioned previous discussion in this case the conflicting opinions were present in both "groups": professionals and "external". A further question has arisen in the general debate: is the impact of contemporary videogames more positive or negative on school-aged children?

Scholars such as neuroscientist Marianne Wolf have been quoted as saying: "Up to two years children should not have digital screens in their hands. Which can be introduced later, in increasing doses according to age. Kids should learn to read books. And teachers should be trained on how to use technology in the classroom. "

But there were no hints about the positive effects that video games can produce in the education of children.

Regardless of the judgment, more positive or negative, all the speakers agree that the role of video games in the education of young people and children is central today. Some believe that the market, as in other sectors, tends more to exploit and capture the attention of young users only to make more profits, others believe that, overall, even if the conditions are not perfect, the current reality brings many more benefits than problems.

In general, most of the speakers agreed that more studies and investments of the public sector would be desirable to deepen, balance and better govern this dynamically evolving reality.

7) In theory we really wanted to develop this theme, but we were able to say very little about direct or indirect links, heterologous or spontaneous between games, videogames and politics. Quoting the classic phrase "Panem et Circenses" one cannot deny, in particular by observing the exponential development of e-sports, a not too thin red line that unites videogames with the logic, and necessity, of the dominant powers. Some speakers think that it is "natural", and not too original or of great interest, that video games, like cinema and television before, can be a very useful communication tool for political power, others assume that video games are at the center of the great clash of global communication tools in the hands of a variety of competitors. Unfortunately, on these issues we were not able to go beyond these very brief reflections because the time at our disposal was over.

It is our firm intention to analyze these issues again in the future.