Benjamin Beil

Portrait von Juniorprofessor am Institut für Medienkultur und Theater der Universität zu Köln Benjamin Beil
© KölnTourismus GmbH, Foto: Axel Schulten

Computer games always get compared to films, but in reality, the next closest medium is the theatre.

CCB: You are a junior professor at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Media Culture and Theatre. What does playing computer games have to with the university?

Beil: We play computer games, discuss them and research into them in order to contextualise this complex medium within the framework of our everyday lives. How do they interact with other mediums? Why are increasing numbers of people playing them? It appears computer gaming has taken on a new cultural significance. To that extent we play computer games at the university, but not how some people might imagine.

Initially, a huge amount of hype surrounded this fledgling discipline...

Hype can have positive or negative connotations. Until a few years ago a huge debate raged about the impact of violent video games. Since then things have changed. Now we read about how clever computer games make us, how athletic they make us... a tendency which continually tends towards the extreme it seems. But, ultimately, this isn’t unusual in terms of attitudes to the new medium.

You studied in Siegen. And now you’re a Junior Professor in Cologne. What is your favourite spot in Cologne?

I don’t have a favourite spot in Cologne. I’m always discovering new locations. Cologne is a green city. The Flora and the Botanical Gardens. They’re unusual in Cologne and I’m particularly fond of them!

Since 2015, Cologne is in the privileged position of being able to refer to itself as a digital capital. Does city digitalisation play a role in your research?

It does since computer games play a big role in this. What’s interesting, is that almost no one knows what a digital city actually is. What’s exciting, as is the case with computer games, is that it’s not about digitalising everything but finding ways of supporting classical offerings with digital ones. Likewise, computing gaming isn’t about virtual worlds but communities that evolve from a shared interest in gaming.

Is it to your advantage that Cologne is further down this road than other cities?

Inasmuch as the topic is increasingly in the spotlight. One small facet of this is Cologne as a gaming location.

For instance?

Take the term gamification. Here we’re talking about gaming structures in non-gaming contexts. Fitness armbands, for instance, that record physical activity, feed information into a database, allot points and create the basis for competition. There’s some crossover therefore that leads to gaming cultures developing.

gamescom, the European Game Developers Conference, the digital marketing exposition & conference (dmexco) take place in Cologne. Do you take part?

I participate in the gamescom conference. It’s conceived as a broad platform for networking between academics, marketers and educators. The good thing about Cologne is that it offers a varied mix. Connected to gamescom alone is a whole range of smaller and larger events. That’s relatively easy to do in a large city like Cologne since everything can be bundled around the large conferences.

You cooperate with the Technische Hochschule (University of Applied Sciences) Cologne (TH)?

We work with the Cologne Game Lab (CGL), which is part of the TH Cologne, on various different projects. We are responsible for the cultural/scientific side of things. The CGL is more focussed on applications and game development, for instance, in education. Our different perspectives on computer games complement each other very well.

For the photo shoot, you chose the theatre-science collection at the University of Cologne. Why?

Because it interests me. The theatre-science collection at Schloss Wahn is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. Among other things, it contains an extensive collection of figurines. From there it’s just a short step to digital puppets, digital game characters and avatars. Computer games always get compared to films, but in reality, the next closest medium is the theatre. They are both about performing, about playing a role. Our institute is called the Institute for Media Culture and Theatre. And the collection belongs to the institute. The old and the new mediums. What a wonderful contrast!

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