“It is not so important who starts the game, but who finishes it.”
Well, that is not true.
There are games that cannot be won or finished by crowning a winner. There are games focusing on the act of building together, of creating together. Of bringing people together, despite the distance between their screens.
And those kind of games are Dori Adar’s favorite.
We met game designer Dori Adar, speaker at TEDxVienna’s On The Edge, and discussed how online gaming impacts the game of life itself.
My personal history of gaming starts…with the Game Boy. And I grew up with the idea that boys are the ones playing the game, and girls well, not. Do you think that the gaming industry has opened up to both genders throughout time?
D.A.: Yes, for sure. The industry has matured. The actual first game for girls was Packman, a game about eating problems basically. So it has been a long way from the times where Lara Croft looked like a prostitute to the way she looks now, which is decent and respectful, without those grotesque breasts. You also see more game designers nowadays, not as many as men sadly, but we are on the right way. Mobile gaming, too, has changed a lot. So many people today are gamers only because they can. So yes, we are opening up as an industry to many different social groups.
Gender issues, social issues, racism issues: You argue that by the power of gaming you can easily and directly tackle complex matters. But on the other side, one could claim that making a game out of serious problems may have the opposite effect. That by making it fun, the problem loses its weight. Aestheticizing leads to anesthetizing, to what extent do you agree or disagree with this?
D.A.: I think this is not the case. Mainly because we meet people where they are. For example in Brazil they love telenovelas. And they have this fight against a serious disease caused by mosquito, Dengue, and which demands high standards of daily hygiene. You really have to wash your hand thoroughly. So in one televonela, one of the characters got Dengue and they showed how to deal with it. The same applies to gaming, because so many people are playing games. I believe 90% of the young American population is gaming at least once a week. And this number is enormous. You can embed messages inside the game, make people reflect upon their actions. And it is an amazing medium to do it, because people are not passively watching some telenovela, they are actively taking part of something. Some might say you can exploit this for mean purposes, for example in the case of the Columbine Highschool shootings. It can go both ways.
So, is there a topic that cannot be tackled by gaming?
D.A.: There is a big hypocrisy in the gaming industry. Because you can shoot people, you can torture people and it will be perceived OK and even get a +13 rating, but you cannot show sex without being adult only.
In your talk for TEDxVienna you elaborate on building something together in a game rather than fighting against each other.
D.A.: Exactly, there is no winning in Minecraft. The goal is to create something, together. Minecraft is the most significant game in its category, it’s huge. And we need more games daring to step into this direction.
You studied user psychology, and I have to admit that I am fascinated by the idea of an online user psychology and a different, offline psychology. Could you explain the main topic studied in that field?
D.A.: Addiction is a major issue right now. Games can form habits. People, especially due to the ease of online gaming, spend more time on online gaming than ever, and many label this as an addiction. But I don’t consider this as an appropriate word to use, it is too negative. Take a look at the marketing language of gaming, you will see phrases like “This is the new addictive game”. This is a trick that especially applies to free games, they address this habit-forming effect psychology of gaming and try to get you hooked to the point you pay for specific features.Therefore I try to avoid those kind of games.
Speaking of your personal preferences: What kind of games do you play, Dori? Are you a gamer?
D.A.: I love to play indie games, mainly on the computer not on my phone. Right now I am playing this game called Pyre, it is amazing in terms of storytelling, animation, the play itself is brilliant.
Dori Adar challenges players by measuring how often they, intuitively, act biased towards social groups. Whom would you shoot quicker in a game, a John Doe or an man looking “Arabic” (whatever that is supposed to mean anyway)? According to his research, players pull the trigger in 0.77 seconds when the target looks “Western” and in 0.5 when it looks like a stereotypical man coming from the Middle East. Would you leave the pool if a large group of foreigners suddenly entered it? If you are willing to find out more about your personal biased behaviour or if you are just curious about Dori’s impressive work, check this out.
Eventually, gamers will be gamers will be gamers. But society will only change for the better if industries, such as the gaming industry, dare to take a step towards the edge- and right into the future.