Storytelling through simulation
The industry and culture of video games is taking connectivity to new heights

By: December 16, 2016 Arts, Featured, Technology 154 Views

Right now, someone is scaling Mount Everest in the midst of a snowstorm. Someone is orbiting the moon and peering down at Earth. Someone is hiding out in an abandoned bomb shelter waiting for the enemy to return. Someone is summoning magical creatures through spell.

All of this is being done in the same world — a virtual world. 

Darren Kearney, University of Idaho ITS Help Desk manager and Vandal Overnight event coordinator, said every video game player has their own reason for being drawn to games, but they all want to feel a sense of discovery.

Cody Muir | Blot Magazine

“Most of us don’t have the time to go run on some adventure to find hidden treasure out in the middle of the jungle, but you can jump on a game and sort of simulate that over an evening or two,” Kearney said.

It is the adventure and story that gamers thrive on. In today’s industry, Kearney said video games often revolve around real-life events that don’t usually become reality for the average person.

“A lot of games are based around stories and they are based around the ability to do something you can’t do in real life,” Kearney said. “It is fun to find those things that don’t happen day-to-day, and realize that games can make those things into a virtual sort of reality.”

Brian Cleveley, a professor in UI’s Virtual Technology and Design department (VTD) said all successful games begin with a story.

“Sure, one of the first things creators think about is what genre they want to create a game in, because there are so many,” Cleveley said. “But then ultimately, everyone has a story to tell — it’s about what speaks to them.”

Cleveley said video games often become lost behind the rapid innovation of technology, but at the core of each gaming creation there is a rich story that lends to every other aspect of the design. From a story, a game designer and creator will build upon the characters, the scene, the experience and the outcome of the game. But, Cleveley said even then the process takes much more than combining a few ideas and clicking a few buttons.

“All of these pieces come together to create a larger experience, whatever that may be,” Cleveley said. “It’s very complex.”

Adding to that complexity, Cleveley said it takes an array of people to get a video game off the ground and into the production phase.

He said he explains the process of any design by drawing a sketch of what the person wants to get out of what they create. It is a concept-to-output model that has no straight path, making the whole operation multi-faceted.

The process of designing a video game from start to finish is never linear, but Cleveley said that is what makes game design so interesting.

“You have to move forward and come back, and check in with each creator involved,” Cleveley said. “There are more people involved in the process now than ever.”

He said most people wouldn’t expect an anthropologist, an English major, a classical artist and a code developer to be in the same room, but this is a common occurrence when creating a video game. The industry holds a place for many career fields because of how diverse gaming has become.

Though current gaming technology is quickly advancing, Cleveley said the need for an array of creators and thinkers is more than what was needed 10 or 20 years ago.

“I think teams of creators are growing a little more because we now understand the value of having diversity at the table,” Cleveley said. “There are many leaders at different times of the project, and in this industry each contribution strengthens the game’s design.”

Jean-Marc Gauthier, an associate professor in the university’s VTD department, said just as video games require many creators, the gaming industry now requires many different game genres.

“There are just too many facets to the industry anymore to pick out a singular game or style of playing that makes for an essential go-to game,” Gauthier said.

Today’s gamers expect a lot from video game companies. Company names like Atari, Ubisoft and Nintendo will always be recognized, Gauthier said, but their time in the center of gaming culture is not as relevant as they once were.

“When you look at games across time there were always leaders, but the leaders are never the same,” Gauthier said. “There are always new gaming companies that are not far behind, ready to enter the limelight. Companies stick around for a while, but not forever.”

This comes from the many new companies that constantly spring up with new technologies and interesting game ideas. Gauthier said he attributes this growth to independent gaming start-ups, known as indie games.

With the growth of the internet, indie gaming companies opened up a new world to avid players. Gauthier said the original commercial structure of the gaming industry is still intact, but there is now less pressure to be part of that side of the business. The more unconventional side of the gaming economy lends an open hand to young developers and designers, he said.

“So for students, this new feel in the industry is very attractive to them,” Gauthier said. “With a great idea that blends quality, technology and story, there really is no limit to how far you can go as a creator. It’s a wonderful time to be young and part of the new gaming culture.”

This budding side of the industry is what Hal Bateman, a UI sophomore studying video design in the VTD department, said draws him to creating and gaming.

Bateman said playing video games is enjoyable and entertaining, but for many designers like himself, creating a video game is much more exhilarating. The excitement to work with others and think creatively is what Bateman said he learns every day in his classes.

“We learn about collaboration the most, because working in teams is really great,” Bateman said. “When you get into the industry, you almost always have to work with others in a team-like setting.”

Bateman said through friends, instructors and buzz from the gaming industry, virtual reality gaming is where the culture of video games is heading. Virtual reality technology allows users to become immersed in the game via headset where the movement of the user allows them to be part of the experience. He said it is a gaming technology that takes more time to produce because of how realistic the experience feels.

However, Bateman said no matter what is most relevant in the industry right now, there will always be games for any kind of user.

Kearney said that’s among the reasons why the culture of the gaming world is vast — because of how social it has become.

“It’s not just people playing individually anymore,” Kearney said. “Often times, you are playing with someone even if you don’t realize it.”

This is due to the gaming community moving to the online format around 10-15 years ago. Kearney said most people might think that gamers would become more antisocial and reclusive because of the internet setting, but this isn’t the case.

“It sort of started as an in home thing where you played by yourself or you had a couple friends come over and play, but now gamers can reach out to people across the world,” he said.

Cleveley said he believes multiplayer games will only continue to grow because of the social aspect they bring to gaming. He said knowing people all over the world through a single video game is half the fun of playing. With the internet becoming more robust and far reaching every day, Cleveley said he only expects the culture of gaming to become more social.

“It’s a continuum — there is always something new to discover,” Cleveley said. “I think as tech evolves, as social creatures we will evolve with the technology. It will be fascinating to watch it grow, because it makes the world a very differently connected place.”

Beyond that, gaming is now a lifestyle more than ever. Gauthier said for years now children have grown up with technology in their hands, which is what makes the culture of gaming so relevant.

“For some people, it’s more of an artistic hobby to create and play games. For others, it’s just entertaining fun,” Gauthier said. “But for many gamers, it really is a lifestyle.”

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