Friday, May 9, 2008

Video Games: The Epitome of Fun?

Barry Kurdowitz, the MIT Toy Professor, came to talk to us, he identified various areas that make something a toy and make something fun. He identified a toy product as something designed to function primarily for play. Furthermore, there were various aspects that identified types of play. The ones that Barry used were sensory, fantasy, construction and challenge. He then went on to identify that these four attributes could be almost used as the axis of a graph to identify how various toys were used and perceived.

As Barry was talking about these various aspects, the examples he used were very distinctly physical and tangible toys. They included everything from dolls to Nerf guns to a cardboard box. For some reason he very briefly mentioned the realm of video games, but these electronic forms of entertainment were definitely not the focus of his presentation. While I think that Barry was right to not include the market of video games into his presentation, I believe that this can-of-worms is revolutionary in the fact that many video games exemplify everything that Barry defined to be “fun.”

The video game industry is an enormous international market with many different outlets. The NPD group reported that the video game industry was worth on the order of $10 billion. When I look at many of the extremely popular video games, I see many of them masterfully encompassing nearly all of Barry’s four qualities that he talked about. For example, look at the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG). There are an estimated 16 million subscribers for all MMORPGs, of that about 10 million are subscribed to the extraordinarily popular World of Warcraft series.

The common thread between many of these MMORPGs is that your avatar enters a massive world with millions of other players and embarks on social and self-enhancing quests. These games are extraordinarily sensory with rich visuals and sound. They have enormous degrees of fantasy as magical kingdoms or far off space battles unfold. They are highly constructive as players spend enormous amounts of time building their optimal character. They are finally very challenging as players are faced with increasingly more difficult tasks to encounter.

From the perspective of sensory, fantasy, construction, and challenge, video games such as MMORPGs should be one of the most “fun” things you can do. To an extent, this is true for some people as World of Warcraft is notorious for being overly addictive and destroying lives. However, if video games are the ultimate of “fun,” then why aren’t there more people playing video games?

This question is an extremely controversial one that can argued forever. However, I think that there are few very significant factors that prevent things like MMORPGs from becoming the ultimate in “fun.” First of all, there are lots of social stigmas placed against many video games. While many people may find World of Warcraft “fun,” most of them may not be inclined to partake in the activity in the first place. Even though there are video games that encompass many different fields and many different subjects, many people are still adverse to the concept of drawing their entertainment from a video screen.

This leads to another very interesting limitation in video games. For the most part, they are not tangible things. One crucial aspect about “fun” activities is having a tangible object to interact with. The idea of interacting with a mouse and keyboard is unappealing to many, but when the Wii introduced a whole new way of tangible interaction, an entirely new market of gamers was born.

Now what if we could take this abstraction to a whole new level in the future?

What if the games we played were extremely tangible? Imagine a video game that had the richness and depth as a modern MMORPG but could become something that was extremely real and tangible. This is starting to sound a lot like a “Holodeck” from Star Trek or other similar science fiction show. However, this is one of the reasons why I think a true holodeck is a very bad idea. If we made something that could tangibl fulfill our sensory, challenging, and constructive fantasies, then would we have something that was too fun. Would the addition to something this fun be overwhelming to society? Luckily, nothing like a holodeck exists…. Yet.

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