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MFA Candidate Daniel Rehn co-launches a non-profit center for video game art, design, and research

originally posted by Forbes

These two men want video games to evolve. Their LA Game Space will be a nonprofit center for videogame art, design, and research. While we wait for Modern Warfare 4 and FIFA 14, perhaps this is the real future of gaming?

Humans are sense making machines, we like to understand how things work, we have to get to the bottom of things. If you do anything for any length of time you not only get better at it but naturally understand it better, start to make sense of it.

Writing about video games and technology everyday means that I (hopefully) get better at the writing but also I piece together an understanding of where the games industry is today and what opportunities and dangers it has in the future. An internal sense-making story develops about this thing I spend so much of my time with.

These meta-ideas only seep out here and there while reviewing a product or game, to add a little spice and a broader picture. Today though I’ve stumbled upon a project that hooks into my inner understanding of video games so I’ve got the opportunity to go straight to the hard stuff.

LA Game Space is a project from Adam Robezzoli and Daniel Rehn, complete with an excellent Kickstarter campaign, that aims to create a center for videogame art, design, research. More than helping fledgling developers get into the industry it wants to create a hot bed of creativity that redefines what a video game is — something more cultural, engaging, socially aware, something more grown up maybe?

This kind of rhetoric was more than a little familiar and reminded me of some similar projects I’ve been working on — although my “in” has been the player or critic perspective rather than the developer. I did my best to communicate this in my TEDx talk titled “Sustainable Perspectives on Video Games“. In it I suggest we needed to talk about games in a new way — addressing meaning as well as entertainment — and attempted to underline my point with the various musicians, playwrights and comedians I work with to produce unusual responses to games (of which I’ve included an example of at the bottom). LA Game Space seems to be doing just the same, although subverting the expectations of developers as well as players.

Link to TED Talk:

The response to my talk was not what I was expecting. First off, Exeter Cathedral invited me to put my money where my mouth was and integrate a videogame into their Sunday service, not something I had seen coming. Others, who I expected to be more savvy, didn’t quite get my “games can mean something” perspective. Even a recent TED blog on the 7 Benefits of Gaming still focused on self-improvement rather than meaning as the best way to justify gaming.

As Rehn, co-founder of LA Game Space, puts it “we share a desire in expanding the notion of what games can be and who plays them. Much of our efforts at LA Game Space will be around expanding ‘video game’ both in terms of content and audience.”

Put more formally, LA Game Space is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary center for art, design, and research. It will explore the potential and expand the possibilities of video games through residencies, exhibitions, research labs, talks, and workshop. Although it is based in the Los Angeles Arts District, it aims to offer access to these resources to everyone through online participation.

Although less obvious, Rehn outlined how the project wanted to engage with more than just developers. “We’re also a public nonprofit with more than half of our space dedicated to exhibitions. While our day-to-day existence does have a rotating artist residency at its core, we’ll also be having regular exhibitions where anyone can come and play/experience new game experiences. Like you, we intended for these exhibitions to reach gamers and non-gamers alike, and semantically fracture what it means to be someone who plays games into a million pieces.”

The kind of support LA Game Space will offer is not new in the industry. Flower, Journey and more recently The Unfinished Swan are games that have benefited from Sony‘s foresight in supporting small developers. But this is the exception to the rule, and most developers have to go the well trodden path of mainstream game genres if they are to attract publishers and, ultimately, an audience.

In many ways it reminds me of the work that the Game City festival in Nottingham UK does to engage the broader public with people making games. They have gone on to reach out further into the cultural market place with the Game City Prize that draws on a panel of distinguished judges (outside the world of gaming) to pick a top game each year.

It’s the cultural possibilities for video games, hinted at by these sorts of projects, that keep me interested in playing games — as well as the general enjoyment of the hobby. I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges from LA Game Space in particular. If you like the sound of it too there’s still time to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign (and receive their super pack of 30 indie games).

I’ll leave you with two videos, one about LA Game Space from David Surman and one example of a creative video-game response from Rebecca Mayes. Both benefit from having been impacted by Silent Hill, and both suggest that games can be more than they have been already. Why not play them both together?

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