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ADS8: Data Matter – The Gaming Edition

Tutors: Kamil Hilmi Dalkir & Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli with Rhiarna Dhaliwal

“Over 12.3 million concurrent players participated live in Travis Scott’s Astronomical, an all-time record”.—@fortnightgme, Twitter, April 24, 2020 

Since the mid 20th century, the digital revolution has depended on the simultaneous development of electronic hardware and software. The need for efficiency, speed, low latency and productivity in the execution of software has driven the push in hardware development, which is utilised within data infrastructure. In previous years, ADS8 have explored the spatial, environmental, social and political implications of data infrastructure across the globe. The 2020/21 edition of Data Matter will continue its investigation into the material impact of our digital world, constantly negotiating the physical / virtual exchange, while focusing on the digital environments these infrastructures form and maintain. We will look into the potential architectural agency of digital environments and game engines. This investigation has two facets. Firstly, by considering the way in which the material infrastructure of gaming can be developed, explored and manipulated. And secondly, through the use of game engines and video games as testing grounds for the design of other worlds, institutions, forms of restitution and representation.

Travis Scott’s Astronomical concert on Fortnite, Epic Games, April 2020
Travis Scott’s Astronomical concert on Fortnite, Epic Games, April 2020

Context

Unlike any other medium, video games have developed into a popular mass phenomenon since the arcade rush of the early-80s with Space Invaders and Pacman, the console wars between Nintendo and Sega in the 90s, the advancements of sports games in the early 2000’s by Electronic Arts Inc., and more recently with RPG’s (Role Playing Games) and vast open worlds such as the Grand Theft Auto series and Fortnite. The scale of the video game industry has grown exponentially, surpassing the film and music industries combined, as by 2022 global esport revenue is projected to reach USD 1.79 billion.

Arcade Culture, New York (USA), 1981
Arcade Culture, New York (USA), 1981

99.6 million unique viewers watched the League of Legends 2018 World Final through streaming services such as Youtube and Twitch, reaching a peak of 44 million and beating viewer statistics for the Super Bowl of the same year. In 2019, online multiplayer games had an active user base of 115 million people, nearly double the population of the UK. Currently, there are 2.6 billion gamers worldwide – one in three people on earth – a billion of whom are new to gaming in the last five years. This figure is likely to grow rapidly as Africa and India gain the infrastructure to fully realise the possibilities of gaming environments. With the average age of a gamer standing at 34, gaming is no longer a medium for children, but is a huge part of contemporary society across many generations.

The financialization of the industry expands beyond ratings, membership, game unit sales, prize money and paraphernalia. Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) have their own complex virtual systems. In virtual worlds, such as EVE Online, users can buy and sell raw materials, creating their very own fluctuating markets. They speculate on commodities and form trade coalitions and banking systems. It is "an economy that has activity equal to a small country in real life", as described by Eyjólfur Gudmundsson, an in-house economist at CCP Games. Virtual worlds provide unprecedented insights into the workings of the real world, becoming a testing ground for real-world problems.

Two–Way Echo Chamber

The domain of gaming is intertwined with cultural practices and everyday life. The games we design reflect the shifting social and political challenges of our times. The same gender, racial and environmental biases we suffer in real life are mirrored and often amplified in the gaming industry and its worlds. From the lack of female characters to their stereotypical representation, from hyper-militarization and surveillance in imaginary virtual cities to the extreme violence of combat platforms, games act as echo chambers of real-world issues.

Female fans dressed as video game characters at Comic-Con (Prague), February 2020. Photo: Michal Čížek, Getty Images
Female fans dressed as video game characters at Comic-Con (Prague), February 2020. Photo: Michal Čížek, Getty Images


Conversely, ideologies and methodologies originating from gaming are becoming increasingly influential in the way our lives are governed. Immersive, experiential and interactive media is changing how physical reality is perceived, permeating consumer markets and influencing consumption habits.

League of Legends World Finals, AccorHotels Arena, Paris (France), November 2019
League of Legends World Finals, AccorHotels Arena, Paris (France), November 2019

Gamification

In the physical world, gaming processes have become operational platforms for modern day activities. As gaming concepts are applied to organisational and managerial structures of disciplines outside of the gaming world, gamification has been hugely influential in maintaining long term engagement with products and services, becoming a crucial social and cultural category of our times. Our behaviour and interactions have become quantifiable, mimicking traits of gaming such as point scoring and accumulation, competition with others or even artificial intelligence and following rules and instructions.

FAAC, the world’s leading supplier of accurate, high-speed weapon system simulations. Image taken from military vehicle simulator promotional video
FAAC, the world’s leading supplier of accurate, high-speed weapon system simulations. Image taken from military vehicle simulator promotional video

Health care widgets and apps monitor your fitness and dictate how many calories you can consume as a reward for your efforts to exercise. Military training occurs where soldiers acquire combat skills without even stepping onto a real-life battlefield. Remote and drone warfare, where targets situated thousands of miles away, are visualised as pixels on a screen. Social networking rating systems permit individuals to publicise how they feel with a single click. Dating apps simplify the selection process of a love interest to a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’.  Gamification is structurally embedded in our daily lives.

In parallel, gaming culture has taken over visual culture, turning art, cinema and architecture into extensions or surrogates of other digital environments. As gaming concepts cross-pollinate with other aspects and domains of our lives, the distinction between reality and fiction become blurry.

Minecraft Mojang Studios, Entrance to a Cave Mine
Minecraft Mojang Studios, Entrance to a Cave Mine

Unreal Engine, Epic GamesSimulated Hyper-real Architecture and Environments
Unreal Engine, Epic GamesSimulated Hyper-real Architecture and Environments

Studio Practice

With an expansive understanding of design, ADS8 aims to challenge conventional architectural representation by exploring and developing the practice led by each and every student over the course of the academic year.

The ultimate aim of ADS8 is to investigate a possible architectural agency in: the way the material infrastructure of gaming can be developed, explored and manipulated; or the way game engines can be utilised as a testing ground for new worlds, new institutions, new forms of restitution and representation. How does an architecture for digital institutions foster other forms of organization that respond to contemporary challenges?

Lundahl & Seitl and ScanLAB Projects, Eternal Return. Image: Hanneke Wetzer for STRP
Lundahl & Seitl and ScanLAB Projects, Eternal Return. Image: Hanneke Wetzer for STRP

ADS8 will work with our students and a cohort of interdisciplinary guests to investigate a number of questions. What is the potential of digital environments? And how can they be developed with material, social, spatial, environmental and political considerations in mind? What role can architects play in these developments? And what can architecture, as a discipline, critically learn from the gaming industry? What is the potential of game engines in relation to history, memory and trauma? Can we develop projects and approaches that affect the way in which games perform as a result of low and renewable energy systems? 

We live in a world of complex digital networks and environments, but we have limited tools to build, control and ultimately access them.  Our sensorial relationship to these worlds remains limited to mediation of devices, such as a mouse, screen, trackpad, controller, joystick and VR eyewear. This presents an interesting challenge to develop innovative ways through which we can expand our relationships to these domains. ADS8 will explore how we can experience these digital worlds through the means of new formats of exhibitions, once again focusing on the physical / virtual, online / offline journey, which is at the core of our interests as a studio.

Workshops & Lectures

In addition to the regular studio practice, we will hold a series of workshops and presentations with leading architects, scholars, designers, artists, filmmakers, writers and musicians, which will serve to explore and expand the theoretical, political and aesthetic dimensions of the students' architectural proposals. The 2020/21 workshops will run across the first and second terms. These include: an experimental workshop on mixed reality compositions; storytelling and the construction of a script; editing and cinematic composition; sound and space; reconstructive and restaging practices. Our guests will include, Marina Otero Verzier, James Westcott, Alice Bucknell, Davide Rapp, Catt Smalls, Nicolas Jaar, Stefanos Levidis, Scanlab Projects and John Gerrard, among others.

Cultural Platform

In addition to the activities of the studio at the Royal College of Art, we have a parallel partnership with Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam with whom we intend to publish student work and organise talks and exhibitions around the themes explored by ADS8 students, past and present. 

Live Project

We will begin the year with a two-week long group project, both to build the studio culture, get to know one another and to dive into the gaming world. We will select a mainstream video game and break it down through the multiple categories that are used to construct it, we will unpack the technicalities of the game - the designs, its architecture, genre - and the inherent bias programmed into it by its designers, coders and developers, such as race, gender, politics.


Tutors

Kamil Hilmi Dalkir holds a degree in Architecture from the University of Westminster, a Master's in Robotics from King's College London and a Master's in Architecture from the RCA. He is currently studying for a PhD in Architecture at the RCA, focusing on the Architecture of Law in the context of the migrant crisis. He has worked with Studio Fuksas, Rome, and Balmond Studio, London. He also works closely with architects, designers and artists on exhibition design, prototyping and fabrication. Exhibitions he has worked on include Designing With Nature, in collaboration with Exploration Architecture at the Architecture Foundation (2014); Equilibrium at the Ferragamo Museum in Florence, with Balmond Studio (2014); 'Secular Cosmologies' for the After Belonging exhibition at DOGA Oslo Triennale (2016), 'Climate Crimes' for the Future Starts Here exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2018).

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli joined OMA in 2007 and is based in Rotterdam. A partner since 2014, Ippolito’s work at OMA/AMO has a focus on research and curation, scenography and preservation. He recently co-curated Manifesta’s 12th edition in Palermo, The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence, and has edited Palermo Atlas, OMA’s preparatory investigation on the Sicilian capital (Humboldt books, 2018). Other projects include: 'Panda', a research and exhibition for the 2016 Oslo Triennale, which focused on the controversial impact of digital sharing platforms; Monditalia, a multi-disciplinary exhibition, which focused on the current status of Italy, at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale; the scenography for the Greek theater of Syracuse in Sicily (2012); and the co-curation of Cronocaos, OMA’s exhibition on the politics of preservation at the 2010 Venice Architectural Biennale.

Pestellini Laparelli has also designed several exhibitions for various institutions, including lR100-Rinascente: Stories of Innovation at Palazzo Reale, Milan (2017), Serial Classic at Fondazione Prada, Milan (2015), Auguste Perret: Huit Chefs d’oeuvre !/? at Palais d'Iéna, Paris (2014), When Attitudes Become Form: 1969/2013 at Fondazione Prada, Venice, and the 24h Museum at Palais d'Iéna, Paris (2012).

In parallel,  Ippolito runs a number of urban and architectural projects such as Agenti Climatici, an experimental masterplan in Milan (ongoing); the renovation of Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) in Berlin (ongoing), and has led the transformation design of the 16th century Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice (2016). Pestellini Laparelli has contributed to various OMA preservation projects such as Fondazione Prada in Milan (2018) and Fondation Galeries Lafayette in Paris (2018). Through collaborations with different brands including Prada, Galleries Lafayette, Knoll, and Rinascente his activity extends to fashion shows, set design, product design, temporary installations, and the art direction of videos and publications. Ippolito holds a Master of Architecture from the Politecnico di Milano. He teaches at the Royal College of Arts in London and at TU Delft in the Netherlands, and has taught seminars at the Politecnico di Milano and at the Berlage Institute among others.

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