I'll be the first to admit it: gaming doesn't really get the love it deserves around here. I don't play games like Halo much, and I feel much more comfortable thinking and writing things (like remix culture: it's msuic-related, and more fun, to me). Unless I'm missing something, I think it's safe to say that most planners/strategist types (digital or otherwise) go on and on about engagement, storytelling and the rest, but pretty much ignore the world of gaming. This is a shame, as there is so much to learn about things like transmedia, alternate reality platforms, community and yes, engagement from the gaming world.
Video games like Halo are also where interesting things have been happening in the fusion of play -> interaction -> storytelling. I recently saw a show on Bravo called The Future of Books, and the main thing I took away was how hypertext has slowly changed the very essence of storytelling: what was once fixed (beginning and end) is becoming a more open-ended, participative, interactive process. The same is happening elsewhere, like newspapers and journalism, for instance. What is happening with music and remix culture is also being seen in publishing and traditional notions of storytelling. And it dawned on me, that pretty much sums up what gaming is about, isnt' it (thinking of games like Halo)? Gaming is very much about storytelling.
Just last week Wired published a fascinating article on the development of Halo 3, and the thousands of hours of meticulous observation and research that went in to the design of the game. It's really phenomenal stuff. Designing an experience which is immersive and challenging, but not too easy OR overly frustrating involves analysing every virtual square foot, and massively sophisticated modelling. In a word, engineering fun is very, very serious work, and the degree to which brands will need to "engage" consumers accustomed to participation/interaction/play makes games like the Halo franchise I all the more important for digital communications-types need to study and understand. Static and fixed is being replaced in all media with fluid and malleable.
This excerpt from the Wired piece outlines what I think is one of the keys: the idea of "flow" states will need to become part of how interactions are designed online, not only for games but for anyone (marketers included) to engage people (I don't like the word 'engagement' either, but what else to use?)
ideal in gameplay, the goal every developer aims for, is an experience that keeps players in a "flow" state — constantly surfing the edges of their abilities without bogging down. Modern videogames are often compared to Hollywood movies, but the comparison, many Bungie designers will tell you, is inaccurate. A movie is static. "You sit there and absorb it all in a single two-hour shot, and it's perfectly linear," says Frank O'Connor, one of the writers tasked with scripting the story line in Halo 3.
Creating a game, in contrast, is like a combination of architecture — constructing environments that influence the behavior of people inside them — and designing a new sport. Gamemakers have to devise a system of rules and equipment that gives players a few basic goals and then allows them to find their own ways of achieving those goals. The flow comes from constantly discovering innovative ways to solve these open-ended problems.
That may be an awfully lofty goal for marketing communications to aspire to, but a couple of things that I want to point to: definitely check out the great insight from Paul Isakson on the idea of game/play and brands.
Also, check out this and this on Alternate Reality Gaming. Good stuff, and the author on the second one makes a great point:it's no coincidence that the successful campaign for Halo has been created by video game designers (42 Entertainment).
It's often said that the worlds of music and gaming are the progenitors of social media; the wider changes taking place in media today have their origin in those worlds. Remix culture, new models of storytelling, community, interaction, play, it's all there, and has been there in music and gaming communities for ages. I definitely see this from the perspective of remix culture and community (mainly because that's the world I come from).
Recently the Nine Inch Nails nailed (ouch, pun) a great transmedia campaign, prompting some to suggest that marketers can learn a lot from how the music industry and artists engage their audience. Now I can see a little more clearly why gaming really deserves a lot more attention, at least around these parts!