The gaming industry is creating new architecture-related careers, with game developers regularly commissioning architects to design in-game worlds and the emergence of pseudo-virtual architecture consultancies for creating world-building games.
For 20 years, The Sims video games series has been giving gamers the power to create and control people. However UNSW Built Environment's Dr Russell Lowe says while playing The Sims won't give you architectural qualifications, relating it to real-world practice isn't that far off the reality of what architects do.
The architect and computational designer, who researches the application of gaming technologies in architecture, says that world-building games are an example of the rise of productive leisure activities – hobbies we do in our spare time, that simultaneously yield tangible benefits. The Sims is one such example, according to Dr Lowe, introducing players to the practice of architecture and even lending itself to the development of architectural skills.
“Building architecture in a computer game as training for your architecture studies, this is a classic productive leisure activity. Any world-building games where you get in there, and you collaborate with other people, and build environments; you're just honing those skills."
He says while it is no replacement for formal architecture training, world-building games, in particularly 'sandbox' games, introduce players to the basics of design -thinking and decision-making, for example, the need to balance aesthetics with performance while working in a team.
“When you play a game like Minecraft or The Sims, you're constantly moving the camera around to get different perspectives on the design,” he says. “It helps the player learn to think about design. If you're playing something like Minecraft, you actually take it down to the brick, and you can design some spectacular [in-game] architecture.”
He says the significant growth in the world-building genre over the past 20 years is helping a new generation to get into architecture in a way that was previously not possible.
“They want to take more control over their environment, and in a virtual world, you give people the licence to build. I think we see it in our students – the drive to change your environment … those are the people we want to see,” says Lowe.
“There are so many more opportunities now. Before, it used to be that you might only be able to get into something like theatre design if you were interested in the experience of architecture more than you were making budget.”
“The industry can really benefit out of it for things like virtual tools to help sell the architecture before the architecture is built, which has always been a massive challenge,” Lowe says.
Dr Lowe predicts that video games will continue to have a transformative effect on the architecture industry and that graduates will be leading the way.
“It's just as real as this real world that we're in now,” he says. “It is the university driving the adoption of new technologies by introducing them to the students, and then they go out into the world with those skills and our graduates then pull the industry forward.
“Computer scientists, software engineers, people creating VR experiences, they need an architect for the spatial experience. And it might not be typical architecture either with buildings, with walls and floors and ceilings, but could be much more than that.”