by Barry Chudakov on April 26th, 2010

The Gaming Metalife

Let’s start with the obvious: gaming is big business. While much has been made of the Apple iPhone app economy, it pales by comparison with gaming. Money is one way to measure our involvement with gaming; time is another. The average number of hours spent gaming per week has gone up from 7.3 hours in 2009 to 8 hours in 2010. This graphic from Online MBA provides an excellent overview:

 

Online Gaming Statistics
Source: Online MBA

 

Once time and money are counted, it is useful to reconsider who is a gamer. According to a 2008 report by The Pew Internet and American Life Project, among older adults 65+ who play video games, nearly a third play games everyday, a significantly larger percentage than all younger players, of whom about 20% play everyday. Yet age is the biggest demographic factor in game play by adults. Younger adults are significantly more likely than any other game group to play games, and as age increases game play decreases.

 

World of Warcraft wallpaper, http://animegamewallpaper.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/world_of_warcraft_wallpaper20

 

Consider those factors the outer layers of gaming. Looking deeper things start to get even more interesting. Recently, gaming has undergone a conceptual transformation. Play, it seems, may not only be an end in itself, it may be a better way to view and understand the world. The brilliant game designer and thinker, Jane McGonigal, has been saying for a few years, “Reality is broken. Why aren’t game designers trying to fix it?” Jane McGonigal directs game R&D at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit forecasting firm where she developed Superstruct, a massively multiplayer game in which players organize society to solve for issues that will confront the world in 2019. She masterminded World Without Oil, which simulated the beginning of a global oil crisis and inspired players to change their daily energy habits. Here is Jane McGonigal at TED:

 

Cosplay is colorful evidence of how games and virtual worlds have generated not only interesting places for us to spend time and explore, they have so captured our imaginations that some of us want to become the characters. By putting something on, in a measure we become something else; looking in the mirror is our way of confirming that. While this is an old story, the multiplicity of mirrors is new. By mirrors I mean more videos and images and games and virtual worlds that act like mirrors; that present other possible identities. Today children are texting at age nine, and playing video games much earlier. Mirroring the characters in comics and gaming is dressing up, even altering your face and hair, to adjust yourself as you jump into the body of the character. Why don’t we take that altering and adjusting more seriously? Is the answer because it’s just a game?

 

Cosplay from the Yume Nikki video game, Flickr, Anna Fischer

 

We need to pay more attention to what we do with our lives when we become immersed in games. What is important here, I believe, is that viewed from ‘everyday logic’ gaming seems unimportant, even a waste of time. This blinds us to the fact that gaming generates alternative realities. Because we view them as fictional worlds that are made-up, invented to entertain, we miss their astonishing utility. These games and virtual worlds provide alternative ways of seeing and thinking. Let me rephrase that: games are like the apple falling in front of Newton’s eyes. Seeing the apple fall, Newton understood something else, namely gravity, one of the fundamental interactions of nature. I am suggesting that we look at gaming with new eyes. Our view of gaming may be a legacy of the live-to-work ethos of the Industrial Revolution; this view may keep us from seeing the powerful uses of gaming.

 

In fact, gaming’s ready-made (albeit carefully crafted) Metalife is one of the best ways ever devised to see, understand, and improve upon reality.

 

The NeuroSky brainwave gaming headset is still a prototype. NeuroSky claims the headset will read brainwaves of gamers when they’re wearing it.

 

The Gaming Metalife: So What, Now What?

1. Games are a powerful way to build community. Corporations and other social entities can learn from the collaborative dynamics of this coopetition.

2. Games create innumerable communication avenues and opportunities.

3. Games are like Zen koans. At best, they present a logic that stuns our thinking patterns and opens us up to seeing the world differently. (For the seminal discussion on how Zen koans work this way, see D. T. Suzuki, The Zen Koan as a Means of Attaining Enlightenment.)

4. Games generate alternate identities. Many of us find these so intriguing that we want to alter our identity to match. This dynamic is worth exploring. If as the brilliant brain researcher V.S. Ramachandran writes, “the self is a fiction,” how crazy are gamers who want to prove that assertion?

5. The online gaming market is almost the population size of Canada. As Jane McGonigal points out, if we could harness that interest and awareness for the collective good, what might we be able to accomplish? Even more important, what could we learn from this many people who love what they are doing?

6. Communication strategies have much to learn from the real-time information updates of gaming. EA Sports NBA Live changes gaming rosters within two hours of players being traded or put on the DL. Could gaming become the newest news in marketing a host of products and services? It has already proven to be a powerful tool to stimulate the imagination and create immersion.

 

More Information

Almost Half U.S. Games Budget Spent on Used, Mobile, Online
Games

Could Gaming Be Good for You?

Tokyo Man Marries Video Game Character

Training Soldiers in Immersive Video Games

Using Virtual Reality to Make Nuclear Reality Safer

 

world_of_warcraft_4, Flickr, king2009_12@yahoo.com, all rights reserved.

 

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