Cultural Reproduction in Game Development | Morgan Romine

Morgan Romine Dir. of Initiatives at AnyKey talks with Mark Register about Culture Reproduction in Video Game Development.

Morgan Romine – I was studying game development culture, specifically the stuff that was happening in the game development studios that I have seen and studied within, to look at the process of cultural reproduction.

We see cultural reproduction through technology that often is hidden behind closed doors.

You don’t necessarily see how for example with…let’s use Slack, it’s a new technology that people are using that connects people and is doing some really cool things.

You don’t get to see behind the scenes of Slack and the software that’s being developed and the values that are held and shared by the people in the studio as they make that technology.

My argument is that those values that they have in the studio actually come through in the technology and are passed on to the users of that technology and it’s especially visible in video games because you also have artistic content and narrative content, and the things that are important to the studio also become important to the game.

We saw that for sure in the game that I studied and the studio that I studied. They for example were all about a flat structure in their hierarchy, you heard about this in Valve I’m sure, they talk about their flat structure a lot, where I studied they were also talking about doing a flat structure where people were not supposed to be over one another, everybody had ownership over the game and over the ideas and they were included to have that ownership.

There was a lot of freedom of expression, openness, honesty, and transparency like the whole floor of the inside of the office was open desks, so you can see everybody else’s screens and talk to anybody, it became a very distracting place.

You had to figure out how to create your own cone of silence if you wanted to get anything done.

But a lot of the work happens that way, you’re just sitting at your desk and you look over and ask so and so about this idea that was discussed in that meeting, or they play games together all the time, like Team Fortress 2 was a game they played all the time together because these game developers love their games.

That’s something you see in game development you might not see elsewhere, it’s a passion industry and so when you’re making a piece of software like Slack, you might be passionate about communication but you’re not necessarily going to be spending all of your free time playing around on it.

Whereas these game developers, they spend all their free time playing games together.

So like TF2 for example became a really important cultural touchstone for them, for their sort of unity as a team, and then also became a reference point for the game.

So like, we really like that thing and we’re already trying to do this other thing with like the movement speed and the movement feel and you can use TF2, and they did use TF2 as a reference point for that, which is really helpful for when you’re trying to communicate some of the really complex ideas when you’re doing game development, and all of these different technological systems overlapping to create a gameplay experience that’s supposed to be fun, but how do you technically define what fun is?

Game development is actually really, really hard and it’s really hard to pin down.

When you’re using language, language is complicated by itself and can be really unclear so having these kinds of shared experiences are helpful. So that itself is just one example of how the things that they really liked sort of started to show through in the game that they were producing.

And now we’re getting into the content of the dissertation itself, you’re just going to have to read that I guess 🙂

Mark Register – It’s kind of like how Hearthstone came about and why it’s been wildly popular because you had Blizzard employees playing Magic the Gathering game in between shifts or on their breaks and they said we really want to create this.

Morgan Romine – You know World of Warcraft happened the same way with EverQuest, those devs were playing a lot of EverQuest and they were like, you know what we could probably do something with this idea of this sort of MMO sort of thing with all the content we have already.

And they created it themselves and were playing it themselves all the time before they realized, maybe this should actually be a thing not just the thing we’ve created for ourselves to play around with.

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