The IGGI Vision: #2: The IGGI Vision

In the previous blog post I introduced IGGI – a research training centre with funding for 120 PhD students to work with 100 games industry partners, research leaders and others and a vision for positive change. In today’s blog I’ll present the IGGI vision and start to talk about how and why that vision came about.

Why is a vision needed at all? Yuval Noah Harari puts it well in his book, Sapiens, where he talks about the unifying power of common visions, ideas and stories in bringing together large groups – right up to billion-citizen nation states. An organisation like IGGI consists of over 200 people, who bring individualism and their own unique motivations and ideas, unified by (1) common processes and bureacracy, and (2) a shared vision. To coordinate and motivate this large group of stakeholders a common vision is essential. The vision should be a living thing – changing over time as necessary, usually slowly with the inertia of the large group’s collective opinion.

A vision for change needs a positive delta. Taking a situation as experienced by a group of people and empowering those people to get to a better situation, through research and other ideas, through tech, through education, or through the provision of more fundamental things of life if these are missing. I prefer not to see this as problem-solving – though I did until recently. Problem solving puts the solver’s abilities and ego at the front. Better to think of it as empowering people to understand and change their own situation. When taking credit is to the fore, it encourages all sorts of undesirable behaviour, not least of which is to maximise the size of the problem!

In future posts I’ll write about the many people that contributed to the IGGI vision and helped get it funded (I don’t want you to feel unloved and forgotten – ours is a good story!). For now I’ll just talk about what “we” found as the IGGI vision.

In the early 2000s, the games research community went through a huge growth spurt (which continues to this day). The economic, social and cultural power of video games meant that politicians and funders could no longer brush games aside as kid’s stuff. An opportunity arose in 2013 with the announcement of a competition for funding around 100 centres for PhD research in a focussed area of science or engineering. While it was clear that the call would be massively oversubscribed and very competitive, games seemed a good fit given the rise and rise of the financial size of the games market1 and the growing research community. We had more and more friends and contacts in the games industry. And we had shown that games could be funded at scale via projects such as UCT (£1.5 million) and NEMOG (£1.2 million).

A group of people from across academia and industry, with an interest in games research, came together to submit a bid and form a consortium. Our joint goal was to “make better games” and “make games better”. My role in this was as a synthesiser of ideas, as a recruiter of people who shared and refined these ideas, and as a writer/lobbyist who could package them up for referees who almost certainly lacked enthusiasm for games research.

So what vision did we end up with? I talked informally about what ‘IG’ and ‘GI’ stand for in the previous blogIG is about using research advances to make better games that provide richer, more fun experiences and GI is about research which uses games to understand and inform people. In more detail: the following two paragraphs, from the 2013 IGGI bid, were probably among the most carefully written of the text in the whole bid document (redrafted dozens of times):

Our vision is twofold:

Intelligent Games: IGGI PhDs, investigators and collaborators will use research advances to seed the creation of a new generation of more intelligent and engaging digital games, to underpin the distinctiveness and growth of the UK games industry. We will weave technical and creative disciplines: using games as an application area to advance research in areas including artificial intelligence and computational creativity; human-computer interaction; interactive sound, graphics and narrative; robotics, agents and complex systems. The study of intelligent games will be underpinned by new business models and by research advances in data mining (game analytics) which can exploit vast volumes of gameplay data.

Game Intelligence: IGGI PhDs, investigators and collaborators will investigate games as a medium to achieve scientific and societal goals, working with user groups and the games industry to produce new genres of games which can yield therapeutic, educational and social benefits and using games to seed a new era of scientific experimentation into human preference and interaction. We will create new games to conduct large-scale analysis of individual behaviour, leading to better understanding in economics, psychology, sociology, biology and human-computer interaction. We will build games which promote physical and mental health and educational achievement, underpinned by advances in mobile technology and data mining.

This vision was refined and updated for the 2018 IGGI resubmission, especially given the enormous advances in machine learning and the cultural and social successes of games, but the text above remains a reasonable overview of the high-level IGGI vision.

So there is the what and why of the IGGI vision. In the next blog I’ll talk about the conception and birth of the IGGI bid, and the team of people who attended the birth. I’ll present fragments from the first ever IGGI proposal draft, which laid the framework for the present-day shape of IGGI. And I’ll talk about why I decided to become principal investigator.

  1. When I talked about games in the early 2000s, I recall that the size of the games industry approached that of film and music. Games is now much bigger than either film or music, and is due to surpass television in a few years time given it’s current rate of growth.