Since its founding just over ten years ago, the Cologne Game Lab (CGL) has developed into a renowned research institution in the field of digital games. Institute directors Prof. Dr. Gundolf S. Freyermuth and Prof. Björn Bartholdy launched the CGL at the time and look back on the facility’s development.
Many great success stories start very small: Several famous software companies took their first steps in small garages, in children’s rooms or student dormitories. One of the university’s own success stories began on Claudiusstrasse – in the former gymnastics room on the top floor. There, in the winter semester 2010/11, the continuing education course “Game Development and Research” of the Cologne Game Lab (CGL) started with just five students. They were supervised by two research assistants and the institute directors Prof. Dr. Gundolf S. Freyermuth and Prof. Björn Bartholdy.
The professors originally taught and conducted research at other institutions: Freyermuth at the ifs internationale filmschule köln and Bartholdy at the Köln International School of Design (KISD). “The path to games research was inevitable from my point of view,” Bartholdy says looking back. “I had done a lot of work on audiovisual design in film and television, and at some point I had the impression that these fields were almost defined out. In the field of digital games, on the other hand, there are more white spaces and whole new technologies and aesthetics to discover.” While Bartholdy was attracted to the creative side of games, Freyermuth was drawn to the possibility of experimental storytelling: “I studied literary studies in the 1970s and learned about text adventures, which were not yet widespread in this country, by chance through an American exchange student. Then, when I played one for the first time, I was immediately excited about games as a storytelling medium.”
The Cologne Game Lab didn’t stay in the gymnasium on Claudiusstraße for long: in 2012, the institute initially moved to premises on Ubierring, where it launched its bachelor’s degree program in “Digital Games” in the 2014/15 winter semester. A short time later, the expansion continued: In the summer semester of 2015, the CGL founded the current Mülheim location together with the ifs internationale filmschule köln at Schanzenstraße 28. At the same time, the CGL received new professorships and established the master’s program “Digital Games”. “Back then, everything happened very quickly,” Bartholdy says today. “Nevertheless, we managed to attract many internationally recognized scientific and artistic personalities to the CGL.” Another milestone in the institute’s history was the establishment of what is now the Mülheim Mini-Incubator in the winter semester of 2017/2018.
Ten years after its founding, more than 350 students are enrolled at the Cologne Game Lab in 2021. In addition, there are a total of ten professors as well as around 20 research assistants and a good dozen doctoral students. In addition to the continuing education master’s program “Game Development and Research” and the bachelor’s and master’s programs “Digital Games,” the CGL now also offers the continuing education program “3D Animation for Film & Games” in cooperation with the ifs.
Serious games and artificial intelligence in games
“Establishing the study of digital games was not easy at first, because ten years ago the topic was rather negatively tainted in public discourse and linked to terms like ‘violence’ or ‘addiction,'” Bartholdy reports. “At the beginning of the decade, serious games – games that not only entertain but also aim to convey information and education – moved into the focus of research. This allowed us to take another look at the topic of video games.” Today, serious games are both an integral part of the curriculum and a regular topic of research projects at the institute. “Games speak a language that young people can understand well. Serious games have enormous potential to make a difference there,” says Bartholdy.
And what are the big issues of the future? “In many areas, the technical possibilities have successively developed over the past few years. This applies to augmented and virtual reality, for example, but also to graphics – here, the maximum, i.e. photorealism, has almost been reached,” says Freyermuth. “The next big development push will come in the area of artificial intelligence in digital games. Here I expect a development in the next ten to 15 years that resembles a caesura and is comparable to the introduction of sound in film after 1930.” If artificial intelligence in video games listens better and remembers better what players have done, that will create whole new possibilities for multilinear storytelling, Freyermuth says.
This article is the translation of the article originally published on www.th-koeln.de