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.”

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