Video Games Deeply Embedded in Our Lives & Culture

Video games or interactive media is deeply embedded into our lives and culture. Games are  being exhibited at art galleries and science centres. It infiltrates education, TV, music, movies, social lives and represent the future careers for our children. According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, in 2012, 58% of Canadians are gamers, the average age is 31, 54%  are males and  46% are females players. Whether we like or not, 90% of our kids and teens are gamers.

Before the shiny new Nintendo DS was unwrapped at my son’s 5th birthday party, I had little love or interest in video games. However, I was completely sucked into this tiny touch screen electronic device. I haven’t spent 180 hours playing Assassin Creed or anything like that, but I am quite fascinated with the multifaceted aspects of the games and the industry. As a Mom, I found myself jostling and competing with my son for game time. I am in the 80% of parents who play games with their children.

If we lived in New York, I would take my son to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA)  which has recently added 14 games, including Pacman and The Sims to their architechture and design collection. Lucky for us we live in Toronto, so I am planning a road trip with my son and  six of his 10 year old friends to the Ontario Science Centre to see “Game On”. The exhibition looks back over the 60 year history of games and is hosting 150 playable games. I am not sure if one trip will be enough or if I will be able to extract the kidlets from the endless melee of sights, sounds, and competition of the arcade.

The Canadian game video games industry employs appox 16,000 people, a host of concept artists, audio technicians, programmers, developers, designers, game publishers, project managers, hardware producers, test users, plus a whole host of other assorted  creative and techy folks. These people generate a tremendous amount of creative and technical output to design games.

Video games are designed to capture you mentally, intellectually, emotionally and physically. There are some avant-garde games, which have evocative intriguing music and artistically rendered imagery, such as JourneyFlow and Limbo.  The good majority of the popular games with millions of players are RPGs and MMRPGs. Role playing games or Massively Multiple Role playing games which give you the ability to play out your fantasies, no matter how light or dark your preference. Video games been designed to motivate you, to keep you playing  and reward you when you, complete or achieve  a solution some or solve a complex situation or puzzle. All these games are constructed  with a specific flow which  keeps you entranced.

So as happen stance would have it, I ended up at Toronto’s digital festival Digifest, hosted by George Brown College. My son and I attended and watched a 3D printer pump out little plastic prizes, we explored games controlled by brain waves, jewellery illuminated by your heart beat, motion capture suits and played a plethora of games. While he was entranced playing an indie game, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, I met  Emma a Prof from OCAD, who introduced me  to Jenny a co- founder of DMG.

Dames Making Games  hosts a couple of game  jams throughout the year for women only.  You have  to apply to participate and they give you all the info you need  to build a video game from scratch.  DMG is not for-profit organization which supports women breaking into the male-dominated world of video game creation.  My son was quite appalled that he could not participate, although I did sign him up to be a game tester.

In November, I applied and was chosen to participate in DMG’s  “No Jam”,  a 10 day incubator, where I got a crash course in game making and game culture.  The session covered project management, history of games, level design, visual & audio creativity and one-on-one assistance from programmers, artists and audio techs. I developed a story, a character and actually created a maze style game. It is  played with the arrow keys on your keyboard.  Believe me it was a much scaled down version of my orginal lofty design of a 3D maze. Over the course of two weeks, I am pretty certain that I grew some new neurons and pathway in my grey matter and I gained a broadened perspective about the gaming industry and culture.  Just as in my day job, in the  world of technology, the video game world is generally a white male dominated industry. DMG had a wide spectrum of female participants, I was relived to see other women of colour participating. Black Girls Code  is non- profit organization in the San Franciso focused on introducing girls of colour (ages 7-17) to the field of technology and computer programming with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts.  Kimberly Bryant, the founder  was recently honoured at the White House as a champion of change in technology.

Video games may appear to be annoying brain-sucking kid and teen activity, but in Canada it is a $1.7 billion dollar industry with a backend of art, science, technology engineering and mathematics. I live and breath in the male  dominated culture of IT and telecommunications, so video games industry might be a natural career transition for me, but really I am hoping all the hours of gameplay will mold my son into a math genius entrepreneur !