The D&D Week in Review: Is the Console Dead?

As John and I grow closer to finishing up the Second Edition, we’ll be writing more on the blog. Instead of rehashing our work and discussing the elements that are new, we thought it would be more interesting to talk about emerging trends in today’s world that mirror a bit about what we wrote about in the book.

Computer games and large-scale interactive worlds are at a crossroads. This isn’t a dire “games will end” crossroads; instead, it’s one brought on by the confluence of high-end mobile technology, interactive television systems, and powerful laptops. These three bits of technology mean that computer games will begin to spill out into the world in unforeseen ways.

This is great news for game designers and interactive storytellers.

Each week, we’ll be exploring some of the bits of news the combine elements from our book with what is on the cusp of happening. We’ll do that in a variety of ways, but often it will include one or two big theme pieces, and then some interesting links to other places.

And if you see something interesting, please let us know by clicking on that Contact Us link at the top of the page.

The Death of the Console, Long Live the Games

When we started working on Dungeons & Dreamers in 2002, we had to make a decision about what games we were going to cover: computer games, video/console games, mobile games, or arcade games.

The computer game angle was easy because the PC was the natural home for role-playing games for many years. In the 1990s, the business got a little bit murkier with powerful home consoles (with the added on-the-couch convenience) became the place for these MMORPGs and RPGs.

(We never truly considered the mobile experience because at the time there were no devices that could easily marry to two experiences, and arcade games have almost no connection to the Duneons & Dragons roots of PC games.)

In 2013, we’ve come back to the question of PCs or home consoles.

One of the reasons we set about updating our book was the issue of figuring out where games head next. We now have powerful mobile devices, e.g. tablets, that suck a great deal of time. We have integrated television services, e.g. Apple TV, that blend the Web and television experience. And we have very powerful laptops capable of both connecting to the television and providing a high-powered desktop experience from anywhere.

The Education of Interactive Designers

In the 1990s and early 2000s, interactive media meant games.

If you went to school to learn how to create interactive media, you generally had a limited number of choices: computer science for the hard, coding side, or the art/television degree for the soft skills and storytelling side. Certainly there were limited opportunities for human-computer interaction or large-scale digital product development, but even that largely resided within the computer science department.

(Even today, computer scientists are many times loathe to engage with HCI folks who approach the process of development in a more holistic way.)

Today, interactive media has spread far beyond the computer science realm, and you have programs such as Media Informatics and Interactive Digital Arts teaching students how to conceptualize, create, and test interactive media with story and design baked into the process from the beginning.

I bring up this change because that has created an interesting blowback from the world of computer science, as these departments now must focus not only on hard science, but also soft skills.

The UC-Santa Cruz program emphasizes both the technical coding skills and the design skills.

This is a bit different than other post-baccalaureate programs, such as Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, which focus on project management and storytelling by recruiting students from a wide variety of backgrounds, e.g. computer science, theater, English, and then building interdisciplinary teams.

Regardless of the specifics, it’s clear that in the 21st century game design is a way to teach interactive development skills through interdisciplinary teams.

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