Rod Humble Speech Released

In 2011 Rid Humble gave a keynote speech titled: Apocryphal Game Design Problems at the UC Santa Cruz meeting Inventing  the Future of Games. For whatever reason, the speech was just released on the Design 3 blog and popped in my news scanner. At least this is the first time I have come across the video.

Rod Humble at UC Santa Cruz 2011

Rod Humble at UC Santa Cruz 2011

I found this speech to be an interesting insight into Rod Humble. He has some interesting ideas on game design. Now that we are having a national debate in the US about mass killings and how to stop them, the viewpoints expressed in this speech should be well understood.

Transcribing audio is not a task I enjoy. Nor in this case would it do the topic justice to turn it into written document. The video provides the sense of timing and body language for the humor to come across and aids in placing comments in perspective. Still I’ll provide a summary to give you an idea of content and an index to the video because I suspect at some point I will want to refer back to parts of this speech.

The video runs 51 minutes. I found it worth the time to hear. 


To summarize the speech I can describe some of the ideas expressed. However, you’ll only get the full meaning if you listen to the video.

I found Rod to have built a rational train of thought and reasoning. His delivery is rather scattered and he rambles off on tangents, related tangents but, often out in the weeds. Writing the index as I listen and back the tape up and re-listen to write, I think it becomes more tied together.

Rod starts with the idea of games being art. Not just computer games, which are the latest iteration of games. But all games. If you have tried to define a game or art (in all its forms) you understand the controversy that swirls around the idea. However, there is little doubt there is art in games and that creating games is an art. So, the debate narrows to whether a game can only HAVE ART (include) or whether the game as a WHOLE can be art. (Wikipedia, Smithsonian)

Whatever your belief, Rod sees computer games as art and builds on that idea. The question he asks is does art change the world? While it is debatable, Rod knows of art that has changed him. I suspect more of us than not have personal experiences of art changing us. Therefore, if one is to argue that computer games are art, then these games do have an effect on society.

Rod is of the belief that the game design industry has a split personality. He used the concept of a clown nose. Seeing game designers wearing the nose when government wants to regulate games, ratings, time allowed to play (China), and even the games you are allowed to play (Australia). In such cases it is all just a game, lighten up. But, taking the nose off when there is a desire to have games taken as serious art.

Rod points out the time taken to enjoy art verses the time spent with a computer game. If art can change people by their observing it for short periods of time, how much more so can games change people when they are designed to provide 500+ hours of in a game play?

Therefore, game designers have to ask some serious questions. To put things in perspective Rod quotes Pope Benedict XVI speaking in 2007 asking the entertainment industry to consider what they are producing. Rod says he is neither Catholic nor religious. But he sees the Pope’s point as rational and realistic.

As Rod looks at games he sees them as playing a highly influential role in shaping peoples concepts of power, class, and free will. I think there is far more shaping free will than Rod gets into, but he sees it as being the major paradigm shift for the 21st century. If that seems an odd statement, listen to the video.


There is much more to the video than my brief summary provides.

0:00 – 1:30 Start & Intro

Rod points out times are good for game design (2011). There are no major European or world wars. Interestingly the last major wars were won by the sides investing most in war games. But, from 2011 the future of gaming looked bright and wonderful.

3:30 Rod looks back 100 hundred years to see what questions he would ask and compare them to the questions he would ask now.

4:40 Game theory suggests some problems we will hit. There once was a question as to whether one could claim games can be predictive.  1911 Orson Wells was writing about such things. The primary questions were: Can games change the world? As an answer he used the Honduras – El Salvador soccer game that started a conflict in which a thousand people died. So, they obviously can start conflict. But, have games stopped or prevented a war? Thomas Schelling and the game of brinksmanship suggests they can. (Wikipedia)

8:00 Game theory and game theorists… comparing to gamblers… Rod recommends any serious game developer have knowledge of game theory.

9:30 Games become an art form.

12:00 Rod was inspired by Chris Crawford’s 1992 Dragon Speech (5 videos – Wikipedia) – Games not good enough.

13:00 Does art actually change people? If games are art, how will they change people?

14:00 Rod’s personal experience of how game art can change people. Game: The Marriage. This game was intended to be art. There is an explanation of the game and links for downloading it (500k+ file) on the page I linked to. Rod relates how people responded to the game and the feedback he received. He seemed to realize the game had the power to improve and degrade marriages a power he did not really care to have. Rod sees games as having enormous power to change people.

16:00 Socrates and Power Point. Distrust of one way dialogs: Propaganda. The only trustworthy dialog is an interactive one.

18:00 The critics. Benedict XVI, 2007: “I appeal to the leaders of the media industry to educate and encourage producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family.”

20:00 Poem by Turner: The Snowstorm. Rod relates the impact the poem has on him. But, imagine him reading the poem for 500 hours. In gaming 500 hours of game play is the base target.

When China limits it citizens time online with games, is it that unreasonable? When Australia decides there are games they do not want in their country and sets a rating system, is it that unreasonable?

These are games that can condition and change people. So, as much as game designers do not like ratings and limits, it is obvious the governments are taking games far more seriously than the game designers.

22:00 Clown nose on/off act when legislation is being written. For legislation the nose goes on and it said, “Hey, it’s only a game” don’t take it too seriously.  Outside the legislative context the nose comes off and the games are art, to be taken seriously.

23:00 A game has a message. Examples of games NOT influencing behavior and influencing behavior.

25:00 What games should we ethically build? Games that honestly portray the areas of power, class, and freedom.

Perfect Distance – a man in a war that comes to believe he has no free will.

33:00 A tool for guiding one in making a responsible game is to ask, How does one make a game for God? Considering that He knows the future a poker game is out of the question.

38:00 Free will in games and in RL.

42:00 Touring test.

51:00 End

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