With the worldwide population on lockdown, virtual reality takes on new meanings, making room for unusual scenarios for the future of events, where video games are the new protagonists.  Will this continue?

Even without the pandemic, living while straddling offline and online dimensions is nothing new. But there has definitely been an acceleration of digitalization in our ways of communicating and socializing. The unexpected protagonists (at least for older users) have been the gaming platforms.

“Lockdown has confirmed an online communication model that already existed for some time and was utilized in many sectors, especially in that of online video games,” says Alessio Grancini, architectural designer in the department of advanced technology of Morphosis, the American multidisciplinary architecture firm. The reason is simple, and it is called experience. Because while live streaming on Instagram and YouTube has spread, the world of video games goes further, offering users a very high level of engagement that suggests much wider potential.

On 24 April, more than 12 million people gathered online to watch a virtual concert by the American rapper Travis Scott, performing on the most played video game platform of the latest generations, Fortnite. A key event in terms of impact and performance, which for the first time put the general public face to face with these new forms of entertainment. To compare the live act of Travis Scott to a concert is a bit reductive, and perhaps logically incorrect. Instead of trying to recreate the concert experience, Fortnite has interpreted it on the basis of virtual language and the power of technical means, compensating for the physical absence of Travis Scott with a highly immersive experience. “One major difference between video games and social media is the inclusion of space and three dimensions in the interaction of the players,” says Grancini. “I believe the management and creation of events can be strongly influenced by how this factor is utilized inside digital platforms.”

The events are not just about music. Recently there has also been a lot of talk about e-Sports, competitions of professional video gamers that have a structure, teams, championships, tournaments. If you think this means an event for nerds, think again. The latest League of Legend final in Paris had more spectators than the Super Bowl, prompting interest on the part of institutions like the Olympic Committee and investments from sources that previously overlooked this sector. “It is easy to understand the importance of video games in terms of influencers, sponsors and data collection,” Grancini continues “The term ‘video game’ is expanding its meaning, and it is starting to include many facets of communication and organization of virtual spaces.”

Precisely because they belong to a play reality that is different from our reality, these events widen the possibility of choice and can be seen as alternatives – not replacements – that are destined to remain. As Grancini asserts: “video game platforms will be crucial, or even infrastructural, in the transition towards a more virtual reality, which includes events like concerts or other spectacles.” After all, we have been coming to terms with the trend of digitalization for some time now. “These are not isolated episodes, but peak events that are built on the democratization of new technologies, including the hype of the XR or Extended Realities, the rise of digital accounts on social media (from @lilmiquela on) and similar trends.” Add to this the fact that “the reduction of costs, the viral spread of artistic content and the way we use social media today can be key factors to make this type of event into a standard, rather than an exception.”

The metaphor of the virtual square we have inherited from the social networks is even stronger if we apply it to video games. Today we are all potential gamers. “The big change in progress is in the scale at which these media become accessible, and with it the way these platforms are governed,” Grancini says. “The analytics pertaining to video games are a very precious tool, and they are what is behind the expansion of video games in mainstream culture. Fortnite, like other games of the past, has broken away from the gamer stereotype, creating a community that contains any type of individual.” Paradoxically, although the architecture of video games is systematic and complex, “the way a game is distributed and the market tactics connected to the project are not very different from the organization that is behind social media.” This prompts thinking about the opportunity represented by games for all other sectors, including design.

One fundamental role is in the context of display. “The world of design will absolutely have to make use of virtual spaces. There is already a strong impact, which has proved the possibility of organizing events with this format. Without excluding traditional methods, I foresee a balance between what can be physically displayed and what can be highlighted more effectively through access from a browser at home,” Grancini says. “Virtual photogrammetry is also taking on an important role in the industry of real-time visualization, and this often applies to architecture. Collaborating as a programmer for the video game Sorry, I am drowning created by Andre Zakhya, I am impressed by the level of detail that can be offered by a virtual environment constructed with this technology.”

The increasingly blurry boundary between real and virtual is now a given, and it should no longer frighten us.

The photos in the article are a part of Tecnologie domestiche di quarantena, a project in progress by Studioboom, an architectural collective founded by Fabrizio Piras and Flaminia Ratto, which investigates the evolution of living and the relationship with the post-Covid city. 19. The awareness that in the near future it will be possible to alternate quarantine periods with others of semi-freedom, suggests housing typologies capable of intercepting and satisfying renewed individual and collective needs. The first part of the project is focused on the possible evolution of the domestic unit. Subsequently, the relationship between the various houses, the private and public space and, finally, the city will be analyzed.