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Are video games the ultimate tool for a cultural reboot?

An interview with gaming expert Youri Loedts (VAF) - 17.09

Chances are you have taken up gaming (again) these past few months. No better way to escape reality. No better way to safely spend time with your friends. And speaking of: at Media Fast Forward we’ll talk about gaming too! For instance during our Gamemedia session, where we’ll bring together people from the gaming and media industry. To moderate this, we’ve invited Youri Loedts, head of gaming at VAF (Flanders Audiovisual Fund).

Youri, you’re no stranger to us. Last year, you moderated the ‘Meet The Makers’ session on gaming. What’s your biggest takeaway?
Youri: I really enjoy leading such conversations, to keep things going. In this session I spoke to gaming influencers. They often get a bad rap, but I find them to be a new kind of journalist. Of course you have to watch out for “cheaters”, but all in all I think their content is just as valuable as a traditional review. More and more consumers get most of their information from let’s plays (videos in which a gamer plays a certain game, often commenting on it, ed). My ten-year-old son, for instance, gets a lot of gaming-related information through YouTube.

Indeed, a lot of those influencers cater to a very young audience. Not your average Media Fast Forward visitor…
Youri: Sure, but on the other hand video games can no longer be ignored. And Fredo (De Smet, curator, ed) knows that as well. Especially these last couple of years, people have gained respect for the medium. Many people who grew up playing video games, now hold key positions in the industry. They’re in control and that’s wonderful to see. By the way, the government also has an action plan concerning video games, involving VRT.

So it only makes sense we’re going to welcome you back this year. What’s the plan?
Youri: Well, this year we’re organizing a session called Gamemedia. It’s an interactive conversation between game developers and media producers. We’ll talk about different cases and we’ll discuss how both parties can benefit from each other’s expertise. We’re not yet finished arranging everything, so I can’t tell you too much. However, I can announce one topic already: the successful, Flemish game ‘The Smartest Person in the World’.

What is it that connects game developers and media producers?
Youri: More and more, gaming engines are being used in TV and film production, like Unreal or Unity. For instance, entire sets of The Mandalorian were created in Unreal. So there’s more and more overlap between game design and animation for TV and film. This, of course, makes game developers high in demand. Even the financial world is interested, for instance for the development of their mobile applications.

That does sound like a suitable topic for Media Fast Forward. But what about Culture Fast Forward?
Youri: Games have a cultural side too, you know. I’m immediately thinking of The Almost Gone, a game produced in Flanders. It tells the story about the ghost of a young girl, looking to find out how she died. It’s written by Joost Vandecasteele, a Belgian author. He tackles pretty heavy subjects such as death and divorce. These kinds of narrative games have been gaining popularity over the past years.

That does sound like a suitable topic for Media Fast Forward. But what about Culture Fast Forward?
Youri: Games have a cultural side too, you know. I’m immediately thinking of The Almost Gone, a game produced in Flanders. It tells the story about the ghost of a young girl, looking to find out how she died. It’s written by Joost Vandecasteele, a Belgian author. He tackles pretty heavy subjects such as death and divorce. These kinds of narrative games have been gaining popularity over the past years.

And actually, gaming itself is a form of culture too.
Youri: Absolutely! I’ve been saying that for over 20 years. Too often people look down on gamers. As if they’re just a bunch of teenage boys. People don’t realise the diversity of the current gaming market. Just like in film, there are blockbusters and indie games. Or games with a lot of depth, diversity or a breathtaking soundtrack.

Do you think the media plays a big part in the way video games are perceived?
Youri: The media often only talks about gaming as soon as something fails. Even though there are a bunch of positive stories to tell. For instance, now that schools have been closed for several months due to the pandemic, I can imagine there’s a lot to talk about. Games have always been a virtual playground for kids. But with schools closing down, video games were their only playground. My kids have been allowed to spend way more time playing video games than before, just because it was one of the few ways to stay in touch with their friends. It’s more than just playing games. Animal Crossing, for instance, has offered peace of mind to so many people during a confusion, stressful time. And look at all the events being organized in Fortnite. Gaming is also a way of experiencing things together.

Fortnite is certainly more than just a game. Would it be a suitable location for Media & Culture Fast Forward?
Youri: I don’t think so. But perhaps we can organise it in VR? The American festival Burning Man did something like that this year. And that was quite the experience. Nothing like the real thing, but fun anyway. Especially when people are going through a lot, stuff like this can really make a difference. But! This kind of digital version has to be really good to be successful. I’ve seen a lot of poor attempts in the past. Sterile environments, weird looking avatars,… Burning Man, on the other hand, was created together with artists. It consisted of artworks, without the limitations of the world we live in.

Any last words?
Youri: I hope more people (re)discover the medium of video games. Many people have outgrown it even though it’s interesting to see what has changed. I recommend discovering what’s out there right now. And I can assure you that there’s something for everyone. You just need someone to guide you through it. And sometimes that person can be your ten-year-old son.

 

Interview by Jacotte Brokken
Analog & digital creative
Media & Culture Fast Forward