With Kim Kardashian’s game raking in $75 million last year and on track to take in $200 million this year, it’s no news that games and celebrities can have a symbiotic relationship. What I think will be more surprising is just how far this connection between game players and celebrities can go, and how culturally significant it will become.
The culturally transformative power of social media is easy to take for granted, but the actual impact it’s had on culture over the last ~10 years since it became mainstream is hard to underestimate. These days, nearly every celebrity, artist, performer, creator uses the power of the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, etc, to define and amplify their image and creations. But more significantly, they do so in a way that allows direct interaction with fans; those that enjoy the creation become the means for its dispersal, and therefore its success.
What’s more, the direction of interaction is not wholly one-sided, the audience interacts with the artist via these medium, and artists interact with each other publicly, an interaction captured and broadcast to millions of mutual fans. Nearly gone are the days of the gatekeepers; the audience is the gatekeeper themselves, and it is the aggregators (the YouTubes, the Kickstarters, the Twitches) that focus this collective energy into something tangible.
Following from that, we see a trend emerging: the audience, once a static recipient, is becoming more and more involved in the work itself. They are themselves artists and broadcasters (with varying scales of followers), and the works they consume are not so much consumed as they are participated in, they are part and parcel of the final product. Observe ‘Twitch plays Pokemon’, or the game Choice Chamber where the audience literally creates the landscape the broadcasting player is playing.
The future it’s moving towards I believe is one in which the separation between creator and consumer, between celebrity and fan, between artist and audience blurs ever more. We are all creators, we are all participants, and we are all in the same game. We have already seen this to an advanced degree in social media, but from the field of video games it is nascent. What games are there where you can interact with these big broadcasters? Where is the ‘Twitter’ of the game world, where everyone has an audience and the audience is everyone? Where can we see artists in their interaction, their play, and participate? It’s coming and soon, I believe, and it will have huge cultural implications.
We’re creating a game Scribbly Wits that has this equalizing effect in mind, the connection of audience and artist. It’s a user-generated content game, an implementation of the classic party game Telephone Pictionary, where each player draws or describes a phrase or picture from the previous player and the results quickly become crazy and entertaining. It’s aimed to be a platform where the primary content you engage with comes from people you care about, whether they be your friends or celebrities. It’s a game where these big broadcasters can interact with their followers via a video game at a new scale; a YouTube star could create a drawing and thousands of players could branch a new game from it, starting a game with their friends and the artist. Similarly, interactions between artists are captured: if two celebrities play with each other, that content is shared with followers of both, and thousands can participate in branched games. It provides value to both the followers of the artist who wish to interact with their content, and the artists themselves who want to reach and interact with their followers at a larger scale, and every gradation between. Every artist is themselves an audience, and vice versa.
There’s unlimited numbers of experiences that can be designed that make use of this blurred line between artist and audience, they just don’t exist yet. What will a future look like where they do exist? It’s easy to point to games like Kim Kardashian’s and proclaim it a bleak future of lowest-common-denominator entertainment, and I think that will always be an element, but far from the most interesting one. It will be one where everyone is a participant, everyone is acreator, where deeper interactions occur between content creators of every scale, where ideas mix and flow with an unseen kind of freedom. The same way that Twitter’s early representation as a way to broadcast your breakfast didn’t belie the effect it would have on the scale of world events like the Arab Spring, I believe the early steps of games will lead to something much more grand and ambitious and similarly powerful, on a massive cultural scale. What’s more, the barriers between here and there aren’t technological, they’re problems of designs, and we have much exploring to do.