Interactive and Participatory Culture

Games are heralded for being interactive media, even more so as video games have become more sophisticated not only in the area of technology—for example, artificial intelligence, physics, and graphics—but also in the area of game design. Digital games have evolved as exemplars of participatory culture where users not only play the games but also often contribute to further iterative developments. This participatory game culture yields a variety of added resources, in the form of new content in the game for others to play (e.g., new levels, new objects, new characters, environments) and outside materials that support the play of the game (e.g., walkthroughs and value databases).

It is important to recognize that in some ways games provide an innovative dimension of “co-creation” between the audience (gamer) and the storyteller (game designer). Beyond download sites where users can actively upload, download, and browse each other’s content, propagation and dissemination of community-generated content has been automated in games like Electronic Arts’ Spore, in which each end-user’s single-player game world can be autopopulated with creatures that other players have created in their own games. In this fashion the game developer is able to increase the number and diversity of in-game assets at little or no marginal cost (because it is the players, not the game company’s artists and animators, who create the assets). This trend is likely to become increasingly significant for the broad base of game development, in both entertainment and serious games, as the technologies and tools continue to evolve and more powerful computational platforms become available at lower cost.

It is worth noting that such innovations in game design are not dependent on either HPC or, indeed, any increase in core computing power. They are innovations in the social dimension of games that leverage existing, non-cutting-edge capacities of the Internet, and the commodification of storage and bandwidth. As game platform life cycles become longer and gaming moves increasingly online, the trajectory of the industry is no longer a technological arms race, as it was in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Some of the most compelling and engaging experiences are and will continue to be delivered on relatively low-cost machines (e.g., the Nintendo Wii), making their influence widely accessible.

Social Interaction Through Games

For many years the popular perception of digital games has been that they are solitary experiences enjoyed by those who shun social interaction, such as introverted teenage males, in so-called real life (a term common in the domain of virtual reality). These are mistaken assumptions, as digital games have evolved to be highly social environments that appeal to a much broader demographic.

Because of both their persistent nature and sheer scale, massively multiplayer online games (MMO games, or MMOGs) support a level of social complexity and social interaction that is surprisingly rich and diverse.2 One product of this is the presence of groups that self-organize both for the sake of socialization and for game play, collaboration, and competition. In most cases, MMOGs support these groups (which are commonly referred to as “guilds” for MMOGs or “clans” for smaller-sized competitive online shooters) with in-game features (such as guild management and guild chat) designed specifically to facilitate the organizational behavior. The most dedicated guilds often have a complex social structure with leaders (who determine policy and planning), officers (who implement policy), and regular members. Further, the work of scholars such as Williams (2006; Williams et al., 2008) and Yee


See Appendix E for a more complete description and discussion of genres of MMOGs, such as MMO role-playing games like World of Warcraft and MMO simulation games like Second Life.

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