Video games have a bit of a bad rap in modern society. They are often seen as time-wasters at best and dangerous motivators to violence at worst.
Greg Bayles, a student in the Entertainment, Arts and Engineering (EAE) master’s program, is working to change this perception. Working on the production track at the U (which means he helps in game design, team management and scheduling) and in the U’s Therapeutic Apps and Games Lab, he is pushing the boundaries of video game design and applications to make them more relevant to a wider audience.
“I think video games are the future of storytelling, the future of medicine, the future of education,” Bayles said.
Bayles became interested in video game narrative when he was an undergraduate student studying English at Brigham Young University. He said Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, which describes the common archetypes of protagonists throughout history, and Jungian psychology, which emphasizes the individual’s psyche and their personal quest for wholeness, were major influences in this interest as an undergrad.
Bayles said in the future he would like to earn a PhD in either artificial intelligence or machine learning to continue his work in creating immersive narratives, which he said is a very underdeveloped field of game development. This is a shame, he feels, because video games are one of the most interactive mediums.
“Not only do you have all the same tools that you would have in traditional narratives — novels or screenplays or movies — but you also have agency as a factor,” Bayles said. “So you can play around with these ideas of theme, but you’re also injecting the vitality of the player experience into that — their own decisions, their personalities — and that can lead to some really interesting interactions.”
While there are games that are pushing the boundaries of interactive fiction, games where people can truly become authors in a virtual world don’t yet exist. Bayles names “The Walking Dead” and “The Wolf Among Us,” both by Telltale Games, specifically as pushing the boundaries, but no big game is breaking into truly immersive fiction.
Bayles is currently trying to push the boundaries in his own studies. In the Therapeutic Apps and Games Lab, which develops games to help people medicinally, Bayles and his colleagues are creating a game that functions as a mix of a Tamagotchi and an alarm manager to help people to remember to take their medication on time. When a person takes their medicine, they receive supplies to take care of a virtual plant. For his thesis game for the EAE program, he and his team created a first-person shooter game where the player has 360 degree vision at all times.
“It’s still kind of a blue ocean of possibilities, there’s still a lot to be done in that area,” Bayles said.
Bayles believes many people do not see the possibilities in gaming, or have a negative attitude towards the medium because they have been traditionally made by white males for other white males, which has produced many games focused on violence and sexuality.
“I think that the cure for that problem is not to shut down video games but is to get other people making video games,” Bayles said.
Bayles said he thinks the recent growth of games made by native cultures (such as Alaskan Inuits and indigenous Hawaiian peoples), women, minorities and LGBTQ+ individuals is a great way to push video games into the more general consciousness as an extension of human nature rather than as a distracting or trashy field.
“I love this idea of tearing down the walls surrounding game development,” Bayles said.
Bayles said ready-made gaming engines that allow people to make games are a good place to start tearing down walls.
“I would say to anyone who’s thinking of getting into game development to get out and make a game right now, make it about something that you are about, with whatever talent you have,” Bayles said. “If you’re an artist, put in great art. If you’re not, put in squares and circles. It’s just such an exciting field and there’s so much that each individual person can contribute.”
Bayles said Jose Zagal, a professor in EAE who teaches courses such as experimental game design, is one of his biggest mentors. Zagal said he enjoys having Bayles in his courses.
“Greg is a great student and a fantastic human being,” Zagal said. “He’s always pushing himself to be better, professionally and as an individual. I’ve learned a lot from Greg, and I’m thankful he’s in our program.”
Zagal said being a student is a great opportunity to try new and experimental game designs, such as the ones Bayles is interested in, that would otherwise be ruled as too costly or time consuming to try.
“I want our students to be agents of change and innovation in video game creation. I want them to write the future of video games, and in order for them to do that, they need to feel comfortable pushing boundaries, looking at things with new eyes and, more importantly, creating those things we didn’t even know we wanted,” Zagal said. “I guess I’m a bit selfish in that I want to be surprised and excited by new developments in video games, and I want my students to do that.”
Bayles said the program at the U has primarily helped him connect to people who are making really meaningful contributions to the field and immerse himself in a community.
“When I got into the program, I had played games. I had dabbled in making games in my own free time, but I had no idea what the industry was like,” Bayles said.
Bayles said one of the hardest parts of the program has been learning to work in groups, though this has also been the best part of the program. This combination of people from all backgrounds, whether it’s academically or culturally in the way that the U’s program does, is one of the greatest ways to bring out the best in gaming culture.
“One thing that I love about it is that it’s so holistic — it brings in so many different fields of study into one really interesting, really exciting field,” Bayles said. “It’s music, it’s art, it’s engineering, it’s psychology, it’s writing, all of those into one.”