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Seminar analyzes the cultural and social impacts of games

by Richard Meckien - published Feb 06, 2017 11:55 AM - - last modified Feb 07, 2017 03:21 PM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa.

Christian Stein - 2/2/17
Christian Stein, from the Humboldt University in Berlin, was the speaker at the meeting

The gaming industry has been growing in many countries, including Brazil. In addition to its wide use as an entertainment resource, games have also been used as educational tools for school education and professional training, for data collection and many other activities.

This range of use has even led to the emergence of a new social phenomenon: gamification, which is the subject of numerous discussions about its positive and / or negative impacts in different contexts  of life.

The study on games, their production and practical use in museums, and even as a research tool, were analyzed in the seminar Architectures of Knowledge: About Interdisciplinary Research on Games, Virtuality and the Global Museum, on February 2. The exhibitor was Christian Stein, from the Humboldt University in Berlin.

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Moderation was in charge of Martin Grossmann, former director of the IEA and coordinator of the Research Group Fórum Permanente: Cultural System Between Public and Private, which organized the meeting. The debaters were Gilson Schwartz, from USP's School of Communications and Arts (ECA), Giselle Beiguelman, from USP's Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU), Davi Nakano, from USP's Polytechnic School (EP), Wilson Mizutani, from USP's Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME), and Ricardo Karman, from Kompanhia of Centro de Terra.

Stein is a young researcher with a peculiar academic and professional background: he founded a software company while studying literature, linguistics, and computer science at the same time. Then he became a doctor in German literature. This multiplicity of interests seems to fit perfectly with the laboratory guidelines in which he works at the university,, focused on interdisciplinary research and development of games. is part of the "Knowledge Architectures," the core area of the Excellence Cluster Image Knowledge Gestaltung..

Stein said that this conglomerate of laboratories has been operating for four years as an interdisciplinary space with more than 200 researchers from 25 disciplines, currently involved in 25 projects divided into five concentration areas.

"Knowledge Architectures" encompasses and three other lines of research: one linked to experimentation in interdisciplinary collaboration, another to the modeling of interdisciplinarity as a network of actors, and the last for the description of physical and virtual research objects.

He explained that the laboratory looks at games as a cultural technique, that is, as objects of research, research tools, mechanism for crowdsourcing and knowledge transfer.

An example of this work is the game produced by Stein's laboratory for the scientific exhibition +ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge at Martin-Gropius Bau Berlin. Visitors who decided to visit the exhibition with the help of the game had to complete "missions" (by identifying three objects present in each room). The fulfillment of the missions made the system generate narratives about the experience of each participant.

During his presentation and the discussion, Stein emphasized the motivational aspect of the games, the importance of relating them to a physical environment (using traditional or augmented virtual reality) and commented on inappropriate gamification processes, such as in the use of structural elements of games in the online stock market, social networks or any work that must be done digitally, in which the individual earns points according to what they do and must make some bets to get something, stimulating competition among users.

Gilson Schwartz - 2/2/17
Gilson Schwartz, a professor at ECA-USP and currently on sabbatical leave at the IEA, defended a critical analysis of game design

In Gilson Schwartz's view, the problem with digital technologies - of which he considers himself a "fan" - is that they are always presented "not only as virtual but also as virtuous."

In his opinion, it is necessary to develop a critical analysis of what these resources represent in society and why they still have not allowed great leaps of freedom, creativity and citizenship despite the promises.

For him, the first epistemological and political issue to be discussed is whether it would be better to emphasize game design as a discipline rather than using it to reaffirm structures and patterns that have long prevailed in society. From this perspective, Schwartz wanted to know from Stein what kind of epistemological impact can be expected from game design.

Stein replied that in the first place there must be a clear distinction between what the market is, with its interests and rules, and what the university is, which "is or should be a source of independent criticism." He commented that all critiques to gamification come from academic studies and that "if one looks at the issue seriously one should have a critical stance, but not necessarily a dystopian view of the process." He believes that the new technologies and uses that emerge constantly, and the infinity of new developers who enter the area at all times will result in systems of great social utility.

At the end of the debate, Martin Grossmann stressed that the discussion had many conceptual and critical issues, and said that he himself has a "somewhat skeptical attitude towards gamification". He affirmed that games have not been contributing to the expansion of the experience, but only moved it to the virtual environment: "We have not transcended our reduced scale of notions of time-space".

However, Grossmann stated that he is often comfortable with gamification because "games can be narrative-related and thus be very useful, for even a pure mathematics researcher will not know how to communicate it if he can not construct a narrative." And by relating the games to narratives it is possible to "politicize them in the sense commented by Schwartz, in contrast to the effect that sometimes results from them: the production of an infantilized world."

Photos: Fernanda Rezende/IEA-USP