MORE GAMES WITH SUBSTANCE
Recently, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts held its annual game awards, and introduced a new category, Game Beyond Entertainment. As BAFTA put it, the award was, “introduced to recognise games that deliver a transformational experience beyond pure entertainment.” The winner was Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for its exploration of mental illness. But the fact that an institution like BAFTA is recognising such work says a lot about where the games industry is and where it could be going.
“I think games that cover realworld issues have been around for a long time, and should continue, too,” says Frontier founder and CEO David Braben. “Hellblade was a worthy winner… Issues like bullying and bad behaviour can happen within multiplayer games as we all know well, and developers put a lot of effort into reducing and ameliorating some of this bad behaviour.”
Taking some degree of social responsibility has been a tricky business for gaming, typically because when it comes up it is in a confrontational situation, such as violent games being implicated in real-world violent behaviour. But when everyday behaviour spills into games, developers can act, just as they can feel more confident in treating real-world issues more directly in their narratives and mechanics.
Social responsibility is something we know Blizzard’s Overwatch team takes very seriously, so we were keen to get director Jeff Kaplan’s take on this. “Games have transcended into mass culture at this point, and are widely accepted as entertainment and even art,” he tells us. “With the increased accessibility of game-making, it’s becoming more and more of a reality for people to express their life experiences using our medium… We know we have a voice in society, and I believe many of us are trying to use that voice for positive and constructive influence. It’s nice to see BAFTA recognising those efforts.”
So where can this go? We hope there’s confidence that there’s not only awards recognition, but also an audience who enjoy it. “I’m hopeful that we will see this side of game development grow,” says Jodie Azhar, technical art director at Creative Assembly. “Games are an excellent medium for building knowledge, empathy and understanding, as the interactivity of games makes them a much more immersive experience than films or television in that the player often needs to give input to progress the game, and so has a stronger personal connection to the actions being performed and the outcome of the experience.”
“The various mediums of entertainment will become more closely related,” Terra Virtua CEO Gary Bracey insists. “The ability to have an even stronger narrative element in games has certainly made an impact already, but the social aspects of genres such as Escape Rooms and real-life simulations promote a stronger social aspect for more collaborative-type experiences.” So perhaps a blurring of lines between mediums is where this is really all heading?
“What I expect – and would like to see – is closer integration between entertainment media,” Braben adds. “This is likely to create new forms of media too, including new kinds of entertainment. We may possibly cease to see our industry as the ‘games industry’ but as part of the broader ‘entertainment’ industry – although games as we know them will continue to exist in this wider context.”