Game on in Cologne again – gamescom takes place in Cologne from the 18 to the 21 of August 2016. The world’s largest games fair is expecting over 800 exhibitors and is open to the general public too. In addition to computer games, the fair also comprises a huge entertainments programme that, according to the organisers, transforms gamescom into a real “event experience”.
Benjamin Beil, an assistant professor at the Institute for Media Culture and Theatre, University of Cologne, will also be visiting gamescom. He talks about computer games and the gamescom congress …
gamescom, gaming at uni and smart phone literate mother-in-laws
VisitKoeln: Professor Beil, what’s your tip for gamescom?
Benjamin Beil: As a rule, I participate in the gamescom conference. It’s conceived as a broad platform for networking between academics, marketers and educators. The good thing about Cologne is that it offers a varied mix. Connected to gamescom alone is a whole range of smaller and larger events. That’s relatively easy to do in a large city like Cologne since everything can be bundled around the large conferences.
VisitKoeln: You are a junior professor at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Media Culture and Theatre. What does playing computer games have to with the University?
Benjamin Beil: We play computer games, discuss them and research into them in order to contextualise this complex medium within the framework of our everyday lives. How do they interact with other mediums? Why are increasing numbers of people playing them? It appears computer gaming has taken on a new cultural significance. To that extent we play computer games at the University, but not how some people might imagine.
VisitKoeln: Initially, a huge amount of hype surrounded this fledgling discipline …
Benjamin Beil: Hype can have positive or negative connotations. Until a few years ago a huge debate raged about the impact of violent video games. Since then things have changed. Now we read about how clever computer games make us, how athletic they make us … a tendency which continually tends towards the extreme it seems. But, ultimately, this isn’t unusual in terms of attitudes to the new medium.
VisitKoeln: Since 2015, Cologne is in the privileged position of being able to refer to itself as a digital capital. Does city digitalization play a role in your research?
Benjamin Beil: It does since computer games play a big role in this. What’s interesting, is that almost no one knows what a digital city actually is. What’s exciting, as is the case with computer games, is that it’s not about digitalising everything but finding ways of supporting classical offerings with digital ones. Likewise, computing gaming isn’t about virtual worlds but communities that evolve from a shared interest in gaming.
VisitKoeln: Is it to your advantage that Cologne is further down this road than other cities?
Benjamin Beil: Inasmuch as the topic is increasingly in the spotlight. One small facet of this is Cologne as a gaming location.
VisitKoeln: For instance?
Benjamin Beil: Take the term gamification. Here we’re talking about gaming structures in non-gaming contexts. Fitness armbands, for instance, that record physical activity, feed information into a database, allot points and create the basis for competition. There’s some crossover therefore that leads to gaming cultures developing.
VisitKoeln: Would it be right to say we’re now more open to computer games and to research into them?
Benjamin Beil: Familiarity with the technology plays a role. Even my mother-in-law has a smart phone. They are now commonplace. You can play games on them too. Playing games on your smartphone is a wonderful way familiarising yourself with games and the technology. As a result, we lose our fear of complex technical devices. Initially scheduling software or an email client can be – depending on how one is socialised – daunting but games offer you immediate access to the device. Games often provide a more relaxed entry point into new technical devices.