I consider myself a gamer. I still remember the first electronic games I have ever played while not yet being 6 years old (and it was the beginning of 90's in Poland slowly walking out from the Soviet swamp): River Ride and Sea Route to India. I was polishing my writing skills while preparing games reviews for one of Polish cultural portals. And I still play considering it as a great pastime activity and source of cool stories. At some point I started to look also at the educational value of the whole shebang.
Do you already consider yourself a gamer? What does it mean? Who you actually are? Are you accepted by your surroundings or is it frowned upon? Or maybe you are far away from the gaming community and you'd like to understand the phenomenon? Do you wonder why do people like to play games?
Bricks falling down in an everlasting move towards vanishing in a blissful cheer. That's a brief description of the legendary Tetris but parallels of it are limitless and drawn with an understanding hand can help you to see games from a different perspective. Perspective which would show you their importance. Because no matter on which side of the electronic (more traditional too!) entertainment fence you stand, you might have already noticed how fast grows the industry in question. Let me paint a picture.
You begin without knowing much; learning curve and difficulty level depend on many factors, some are out of your control; rules are given, based on the starting point; very often you ignore the guidelines helping you to understand the rules; you interact and experiment with the environment and its mechanisms to fit better, to find places for using your own strengths. Sometimes you play the game, sometimes the game plays you. That's life.
’Looking at that from the beginning. The history of games in general is as old as culture itself as they are formalized expressions of play. 'Games are our brain’s favorite method to learn’, says Viktoria Matrašilina, president of the NGO Youth Senate Tallinn, and anyone raising a child or just remembering one's childhood knows that well. So did know our ancestors. Then my question is why so many people are forgetting about that? Especially when seeing modern examples of games. That is probably because of how well is the learning hidden behind the image on a screen. But it is happening, even without us realizing it – a reason why we love this kind of education! Pure joy of doing something we perceive as fun and something that, actually, builds new connections between synapses in our brains. Even if it is done by 'clicking on monsters'. Though, the more aware we are about the process the more successful it is, but in order to be aware we need guidance and understanding. Here is the sad part – awareness is rarely there, same with the guidance (gap between generations is not helping). In the same time the number of players will be growing, each of them spending in front of the screens at least as many hours as in the walls of formal education, practicing various skills and competences that could be crucial for their future.
I set the tone of this article by quoting Karl Gross. This German psychologist cum philosopher probably couldn't, in the late XIXth century, imagine anything close to the current status of games when writing about the sensation of playing; nonetheless, his words are echoing today with even greater impact than before as elements of 'childishness' are one of the bases of creativity. And that understood as a competence is one of the most important factors that might secure someone's employment in the years to come in the XXIst century. It is not the only one; a short list looks like this:
- spatial imagination
- fast reaction time
and that just to mention a few.
The above is an utopian take on gaming and needs a lot of supervision to be effective. The reality is much simpler – we play games because it is fun. I love the 'blissful productivity'; being immersed in a story which unravels itself while you progress when completing quests; fast action giving fast results; the need of turning on strategic thinking and planning; I love 'beating the game' and also competing with other players; finally – when distant from my friends – I see online gaming as a fantastic mechanism of staying in touch with my buddies. With this I just confirmed most of the points from a famous TED talk by Jane McGonigal and listed what stands behind many of the numbers regarding the gaming industry. About 2 billion people are active online, half of them playing games. What is interesting is that most of us is coming from developing countries rather than those on top of the economical food chain [USA – 50%; UK – 46%; Germany – 37%; Poland – 54%; Turkey – 70%; Argentina – 62%]. I might only guess, judging from my own example, that it is due the escapist face of this kind of entertainment which helps in handling rather gray surroundings. The more we play the easier life is.
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us” (as Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York forged in words the thoughts of Marshall McLuhan) – the games we are playing define us in the same sense as anything else that we do. Strategy? Logic? Action? Genre is as important as the mechanisms which are forcing users to make the best out of certain ways of thinking. How tools are being created and chosen is being dictated by the whole environment. Pure entertainment (summer-blockbusters to use movie metaphor)? Pure education (documentary)? Something in between (thoughtful dramas)? The audience is as important as producers. And here it is worth to mention another thought of MacLuhan, this one coined by himself in the form of a famous one-liner, says that medium is the message and opens a fascinating road for a discussion about the influence of electronic entertainment on our lives, how it is changing the proportions of our choices on the global scale. How together with us it is shifting gears of the multicultural world in which we live in... But with that I am getting ahead of myself.
Forgetting about metaphors, education and opened questions waiting for new articles, just for a moment, let's get back to numbers. I believe that simple comparison is in order for the above picture to be even clearer. Film industry revenue worldwide in 2015 was worth 38,3 billion USD, in the same year global revenues of video games market reached 70,8 billion USD. Films, after years of struggle in their cradle, are widely recognized and valued element of the cultural heritage of mankind; electronic games are still fighting for that kind of recognition. Both are growing but the accents, wallet-preferences, are clearly visible. Nowadays, thanks to the mobile plain available on our pet devices (mobile gaming share in the cake equals 16%), the presence of games in the lives of people is going to be stronger with each year. Consequences of that are huge and should already be quite obvious.
Life is a game and we all play it. In the natural course of action humans turned to games within that game in order to make it more interesting, to forget about problems, fuel imagination, share stories, compete in modern days aristeia, you name it. The growth of electronic entertainment industry is unstoppable and forces cross-sectoral evolution stretching from education to entrepreneurship. Players are ready, are you?
P.S. Statistical data found in the above text comes from statistica.com.
P.P.S. The global games market reached 99,6 billion USD, mobile generating 37% of that number according to the post on newzoo.com.