Over the past several years, digital games have become a defining force in our global society— not only in technological or economic terms but also in relation to their aesthetic capacity. This reaches from narrative design to modes of interaction, from ludic patterns to auditory and visual manifestations, among many others. The impact of digital games on our cultural output is so strong that we find traces of their influence all around us. Film and TV content has been affected strongly by game aesthetics; Gamification migrates elements of play into all spheres of daily life; serious games change the way we learn and become politically active; and even contemporary product design picks up elements originating from digital games. We might say that the aesthetics of digital games have become a meta-model of our times, signaling the dissolution of the film and television paradigm.
In the Game Development Summit, we investigated the topics mentioned above (among others) and contextualized this diverse group of concepts within and across broader levels of discourse. In his essay “The Aesthetics of Choice,” Klaus Gasteier ponders if it is really necessary to have the power to make decisions in the narrative space of digital games, as structures in non-linear narration seem not to have developed beyond the strategies established in the late 1980s! A complementary perspective is provided in Daniela Kuka’s article “Games as a Source of Future Memory.” Kuka presents “Future Games” as tools for the strengthening of our capacity to face uncertain futures and wicked problems. These “Future Games” are not designed artifacts; they question the distinction of designing acts and acts of playing, as well as the separation of roles in their development process.
Two other papers deal with sexuality and death in digital games. In “My Hyperideal Self,” Nina Kiel examines the idealized and hyper-ideal visualizations of our virtual selves in the context of sexualization and objectification. Her analysis results in “a plea for diversification.” Michael Erlhoff, design theorist and founder of a design education program without specialization (Köln International School of Design), reflects in his text “Play it again, Sam” on dying in video games (while still being alive) as well as on August Wilhelm Schlegel’s idea of the “poetic image,” which Erlhoff sees endangered by narrative structures in many digital games.
Finally, Ortwin Freyermuth, co-founder of Cloud Imperium Games (CIG), offers a new industry perspective: He reports and reflects on the advantages (and possible pitfalls) of open game development as practiced in the production of the crowdfunded AAA games Star Citizen and Squadron 42 (“Open Development as Disruptive Game Design Praxis”).
All five authors put forth very diverse positions and perspectives on the summit topic, proving that the aesthetics of games and play have an undeniably important role in shaping the future of this ever-developing medium.