Digital ‘games’ or digital ‘virtuality’?
If, like me, you are not a teenager any more, you will surely remember a time when computer games or digital games as they are now known, were principally notorious as time-wasters and some as outright dangerous.
Had digital games still mainly referred to people using a computer-generated scenario to kill, maim, steal and enslave, be it driving cars, waging overt or covert war, or running organised crime syndicates, then all the original doubts and questions about the social benefits of digital games would still prevail.
But today’s nature of digital games ranges from killing zombies and blowing things up, to learning how to manage a multi-national corporation, fly aircraft, carry out surgery, and control a sea-port.
One would be hard-pressed to define these two extremes in terms of the same social outcome. This inherent distinction gives rise to the term ‘serious games’.
In essence, serious games are intended to impart skills and knowledge that could potentially raise a person’s professional profile, rather than simply provide basic adrenaline rushes and entertain more basic instincts. Among many other activities, modern serious games are routinely used to teach pilots to fly planes and students to manage companies, train engineers to construct and maintain national power grids and power stations, and help manufacturers to visualise a process before implementing it.
Such games have a critically important role to play in today’s professional development. There is no implication that all digital games should be ‘serious’ to be acceptable.
The distinction between serious and purely entertainment-oriented digital games should be recognised and appreciated in meaning. It should be understood to fall under the general nomenclature of digital games.
The development of modern digital games requires much more than what many people generally think it entails.
If a modern digital game is to be commercially successful, its development needs to be as multi-faceted as, say, the development of a modern-day film needs to be.
Film-making and digital game development share many common considerations.
Both need to have sensible plots, the story-line needs to converge, it must conform to acceptable aesthetic and social standards, it must be entertaining and visually pleasing, it needs to be marketed, incorporate the latest technologies in its development, and requires a team of talented individuals.
Digital games would not be possible without the enabling influence of technology, mostly in the form of ICT, but that by itself is not enough to create an effective digital game, be it serious, entertainment, or both.
The University of Malta recognises that true digital game development can never be a one-discipline endeavour.
It has decided to approach this emerging challenge with the inclusion of university academics and researchers from various disciplines, including some from the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology, and currently coordinated through the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Science to create a critical mass of specialists who will offer the right context for research, growth and project work.
With the great strides that technology is making in areas like graphics, processing power, mobile devices, and display technology, one can truly wonder whether the right word to use is digital ‘games’ or digital ‘virtuality’.
Dr Cachia is the dean of the Faculty of Information & Communication Technology at the University of Malta.