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Gaming Horizons

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Gaming Horizons (Gaming Horizons)

Reporting period: 2016-12-01 to 2018-01-31

Gaming Horizons is a ‘sister project’ funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020. The project’s objective was to examine gaming and gamification as areas of research and development in Europe, adopting a multidisciplinary perspective based on the integration of the social sciences and the humanities, and proposing ‘alternative framings’ informed by criteria of responsible research and innovation. The project run from December 2016 to January 2018. Developing a sister project provides an opportunity to tackle themes that are usually technically driven, from a multidisciplinary perspective. The project was therefore a short-term Research and Innovation Action, which focused on one specific area of the 2016-2017 ICT Work Programme: gamification/gaming.
In the 21st century, video games are as common in daily life as television was during the previous four decades. Like all new media before them, video games have also been dogged by controversy. In particular, accusations of violent video games causing aggression remains an area where conclusive evidence is lacking, despite this being one of the most heavily investigated areas. Nonetheless, the stigma has remained. Alongside violent content, enduring concerns about leisure and productivity have stifled the cultural debate around video games, as the prejudiced perception that they lack quantifiable benefits (i.e. playing games as ‘timewasting’) has led them to be excluded from many research and development funds except with strict provisos regarding their content. In this regard, a strand of video game development focused on ‘serious’ or ‘applied’ games exists. These games purport to be only prosocial in their impact and, therefore, have been framed as suitable candidates for research funding. Our position, as a project, is that this approach is constraining and should be challenged.
The spectrum of games that would traditionally be classified as ‘entertainment products’, i.e. their topics, their gameplay mechanics, their narrative aspects and the characters in them, has become significantly broader. This trend affirms that video games are a significant new medium of expression. The Gaming Horizons project examined whether the existing framing of video games in research and development fits with their reality, and whether the funding goals of Horizon 2020 matched the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) goals of the programme.
The project’s overarching goal was to examine gaming and gamification as areas of research and development, adopting a multidisciplinary perspective based on the integration of the social sciences and the humanities, and proposing ‘alternative framings’ informed by criteria of responsible research and innovation.
The project was divided in two phases of work:
1) A landscape analysis phase concerned with a multidisciplinary literature review, the discourse analysis of H2020 official ‘texts’ (strategic documents and funding calls) and in-depth interviews. This phase lasted from December 2016 to July 2017
2) A ‘cultural expansion’ phase concerned with a more proactive, public-facing process of delineating policy recommendations and practical advice, drawing on the previous phase, as well as additional consultation activities with stakeholders. This phase lasted from July 2017 to January 2018.

Our key deliverables provide an evidence-based, impact-oriented set of recommendations and practical advice, which taken together represent the project’s response to the challenges facing gaming as an industry, an area of learning innovation, a professional field, and a context of great creative vibrancy.

In terms of dissemination, our strategy was based on the principle that stakeholder engagement was to be embedded in the programme of work from the outset. As a result, several project tasks were geared towards consultative, dialogic interactions, carried out face-to-face and online. Our events, workshops, webinars and key public-facing outputs (the Scenarios and the Manifesto) were informed by this principle.
Gaming Horizons’ impact is based on a programme of work that produced an extensive, evidence-based range of outputs targeted at relevant stakeholders: policy makers, researchers, developers, educators, young people and their families. We believe that our recommendations and scenarios represent a rigorous, systematic attempt to influence policies and practices, based on a dialogic redefinition of what video games are and what they can achieve in various contexts, including of course education and learning.

The project produced a large number of insights and recommendations, here is a selection:

a) The Analysis of the H2020 Discourse on ICT and gaming more specifically shows a gap between the stated political aims and the actual implementation priorities. On the one hand, themes of Responsible Research and Innovation are, without doubt, visible within the European R&D agenda. In particular, compared with its predecessors (FP6 and FP7) Horizon 2020 represents a more explicit attempt to account for a range of societal, environmental and cultural concerns associated with technological innovation. On the other hand, there appears to be a discrepancy between the rhetoric of ethics and social responsibility in the high-level strategic discourse, and the way these themes are featured in the more operational documents - the funding calls above all.
b) Our mandate as a sister project was to expand the horizon of what games are capable of, and this led us to engage with the world of mainstream and independent game development, which largely operates in highly competitive market conditions outside of the existing frameworks of European funding. These developers - often small studios - expressed significant reservations about the current institutional frameworks to support serious and applied games in Europe. While they are very interested in the potential of games to tackle socially and culturally relevant themes, they find themselves pressed between the rock of the market and the hard place of European funding, viewed as constraining and rife with creativity-stifling requirements.
c) Games have great potential for learning, thanks to their motivating capacity, their engaging power and their ability to create active and student-centred learning opportunities. However, harnessing such potential in formal education is far from easy. Students’ positive acceptance of game based education cannot be taken for granted: gaming is by definition a free exploratory activity; hence, playing when, where and what the teacher decides contradicts the very nature of play. Besides, students do have personal preferences as far as games are concerned, that make game choice a very critical decision. This is particularly true for some serious games where the playful/gameful dimension is a mere cosmetic layer added to instructional interactions. Special attention should also be paid to gender and cultural differences, digital divide issues, and special education needs in order to avoid exclusion, demotivation and frustration. Respecting preferences and differences requires being open to creative and personalized learning strategies, as well as availing of a broad knowledge of all the possible options.
Project logo
More stakeholder engagement
Yet more engagement
Playfulness inspired several activities
One of the comics used in our scenarios
Manifesto Cover
Our Stakeholder event in Brussels