Computer Games in Professional Development
“Games have helped to shape the development of AI applications”
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu has been Managing Director of the Foundation for Digital Games Culture since February 2018. In this interview, we asked the games expert, how computer games and professional development go together, and which competences can best be conveyed with digital games. We also wanted to know, which changes game fans can expect thanks to the enormous technological advancement relating to AI.
Hello Ms Uzunoğlu, thank you for making time for this interview on (serious) games. We are particularly excited to hear your answer to our first question. Do you have a favourite computer game?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: No, I have no absolute favourite game. One of the games I really enjoy playing right now is Supertype. It is both simple and fascinating. Players can train their physics skills and abstraction capability by solving small riddles.
That sounds entertaining but also demanding. The foundation you’re managing aims to highlight economic, cultural and social potentials of digital games as sophisticated as this one. A rather extensive and ambitious goal? What specifically is behind that mission?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: What is behind games? Groundbreaking content, design approaches and technologies for the digital age. Yet, these games components are barely developed for applications outside of the games industry. Our foundation wants to change that. We believe in a society that leverages games to shape digitisation, employs gamification to find new approaches to problem solving, and understands digital games as enrichment of its cultural identity. On that note, we consider ourselves a bridge between the games industry, society and other parts of the economy. We highlight opportunities for collaboration, and create new connections between players from different fields. That is why we also describe our work as a cross-over approach.
What would you say makes a computer game valuable?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: Games are cultural goods. In principle, every game has a certain underlying value. It is always a cultural product created by certain persons under certain circumstances. Commercial productions are primarily concerned with the games being fun, fascinating and engaging – the same criteria that mark successful books or movies. Of course, there are games that create awareness of relevant issues, or aim to convey specific content. That also applies to serious games. Yet, even an abstract game without a clear message can have artistic value.
Do you think certain competences are best learned in a game rather than by other means?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: In general, games teach us to deal with frustration and failure. In the long term, you can only be successful if you are able to learn from your mistakes. Most games are based on some sort of system. This makes them particular suitable for getting across relationships. You learn to grasp the consequences of your actions. You understand how individual changes affect a bigger process. According to a recent study by PwC, HR managers who already use serious games utilise these primarily for training soft and hard skills, as well as their employees’ cognitive skills. Digital games are also used more intensively in training and professional development. The interactive aspect helps to convey complex learning material and solidify knowledge.
Where do you see possibilities and opportunities for companies for imparting competences with a game-based approach?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: For many people, games open the door to the digital world. So, when it comes to digital topics, gamification and serious games allow you to pick up from where their daily life begins. According to PwC, more than half of the HR managers using serious games see a clear benefit from these games. The same applies to colleagues and superiors who hold that the fun factor helps to understand and manage work processes. Everyone can progress at their own pace, which also removes any fear of real consequences. At the same time, results are easy to analyse and compare. That is why HR professionals see the greatest potential for serious games in the training process.
Can computer games challenge themselves? How can computer games sensitise for moderating the use of digital games?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: Games that question their own content have been around for a while. For instance, the German game “Spec Ops: The Line” deconstructs the image of the heroic soldier and the just war. Meanwhile, at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, the protagonist faces the fact that their reality is only a simulation and that they should switch off their console. Apart from such content-related conflicts, there are also certain mechanisms that indicate that a game might have been played for too long: game characters getting tired or text overlays.
Let’s move on to the scientific topic of the year: artificial intelligence. AI has a major impact on digital formats and solutions. How do you see technology changing the gaming sector? What is your assessment of that technology in principle?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: Artificial intelligence has always played a crucial role in games. After all, we are competing against the computer unless we have a human opponent. Thus, the games industry has helped to shape the development of AI. Especially when extensive animated game worlds are produced, complex AI systems are working in the background which react to our interactions. Some games also allow us to build relationships with characters that are controlled by the computer. These relationships will change depending on our actions in the game. AI systems in the background make this possible.
Which AI-based serious games do you know? Where are these successfully utilised?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: For most games, AI is a key component of a bigger creation, just like graphic and audio design. Naturally, the same holds true for serious games. Digital games respond to our actions or inputs based on algorithms. These are AI systems, albeit weak ones. The main drivers for innovation are found in the large entertainment games segment. A while ago, “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor” based on The Lord of the Rings caused a great sensation. In this game, AI opponents learn from every battle and adjust to the players’ behaviour. You could say they “remember” past encounters.
What future trends do you see for AI-based computer games?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: Especially in the major international games productions, the trend goes towards the creation of even more realistic worlds inhabited by almost lifelike characters. Of course, if you want a character to appear more real and behave more intuitively to the player’s behaviour, you need more sophisticated AI systems. So ultimately, it is about leveraging AI to create virtual characters exhibiting plausible reactions to ourselves.
Do you think there are limits to the use of AI in computer games? What would those limits be?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: Generally speaking, limits are dictated by the current state of the art and the budget. That is why continuous funding for games on a national level is crucial for the German games industry, especially with regard to the last aspect mentioned. German developer studios can only keep up with the international competition if they have sufficient financial means. That applies to AI specifically, but also to games production in general.
We are curious about your foundation’s upcoming projects. Which one are you most excited about?
Çiğdem Uzunoğlu: First of all, we initiated a new event series on cultural aspects of games this year as the next instalment of “Quartett der Spielekultur,” which is supported by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media. We also launched GamesTalente, a nationwide sponsorship programme for teenagers, together with Bildung & Begabung (“education and talent”), the national centre for the advancement of young talent. In line with our objective to build bridges, we will guide representatives of various foundations and a group of educators through this year’s Gamescom trade fair, and introduce them to the particularities of the industry. Several other projects – some with national reach – with renowned partners like the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (EVZ Foundation) are in the application stage. Naturally, I am greatly anticipating feedback and responses to these.
Thank you very much for the exciting interview, Ms Uzunoğlu! We will keep a keen eye on your planned projects, and wish you every success with all your ambitions!
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I’m excited to figure out how e-learing and digitization affect the future of work.
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Topics: E-Learning Trends, Corporate Social Responsibility, Press and Influencer Relations, New Work