Gaming the Future
The mobile gaming market has evolved with gaming visionaries plotting for an exciting future. Reyana Nacerodien gamely reports on its evolution. This article first appeared in issue 6 of In Focus magazine.
Gone are the days when we revelled at a high score on the infamous Snake game on Nokia 6610 phones. The game has now progressed to its eighth version. Early generation games like Snake and early versions of Tetris despite their updated iterations, pale in comparison to their modern counterparts. Newzoo, who offers market intelligence for games, e-sports and mobile, says that the mobile gaming industry is expected to top USD100 billion by 2021, achieving a decade of double-digit growth. The industry boasts global usage statistics of which Asia dominates.
While fintech, connectivity and mobility continue to demand attention, the gaming industry has, not only harnessed developments in those areas but assimilated them in order to catapult its own progress. Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) enabled mobile devices to connect to the internet signalled a surge of inspiration for mobile designers and a catalyst for the next wave of mobile games.
Fast forward less than a decade to the launch of the App store by Apple, facilitating another major evolution for the gaming industry. These days, smartphones are practically game consoles in the palms of people’s hands and 5G and cloud streaming will push this even further changing how and what gamers play. ‘The global games market is moving towards a future in which platform choice is less relevant, driven by cloud gaming, cross-platform game services, and even cross-platform multiplayer — all powered by 5G,’ says Peter Warman, CEO and co-founder of Newzoo. The possibilities seem endless. Experts from Newzoo, predict that mobile gaming will be the fastest-growing segment of 2020. Given the developments in various gaming firms, the future lies in going mobile.
The Butterfly Effect
Practically, the butterfly effect of this burgeoning industry lies in those all-important additions – some obvious and some not. Cloud gaming and 5G will necessitate that more premium game titles be accessible to more consumers via mobile. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Peripherals and input devices are already a crucial feature of the games market. Controllers, keyboards, mice and headsets are already virtually synonymous with the business.
Even further into the periphery, apps have been developed. Two apps that are going to become increasingly popular are Discord and Telegram. They are messaging apps with voice call capabilities that offer good alternatives to traditionally popular messaging apps. Online social gaming, such as Fortnite, has become an alternative to socialising through social networks. The wildly popular online video game has evolved into a place that’s not home or school, where kids can get together and socialise on their own terms. It’s the new mall.
Despite the typecasting for players as antisocial basement-dwellers, much of gaming is designed to be a social activity. Games that enable multiplayer mode give groups – families, friends, strangers from across the world – the space for digital interaction and competition.
Gaming for Good
It’s on this social front that even more interesting development is burgeoning. ‘From our perspective as academics who study the gaming industry and teach college students’ game theory and development, video games can actually create strong social connections and inspire the prospect of tackling important social issues,’ says Jennifer deWinter, Director of the Interactive Media and Game Design (IMGD) programme at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in the United States. WPI offers gaming classes that enable students to better understand human behaviour and health and develop focuses on the emotional modelling and rehearsal that these game offer. Because of this, Jenifer and her colleagues negate the negative stigma associated with gaming.
‘This is actually a historical problem. Humans, like most animals, are playing animals, and games have long been an object and practice of our cultural expressions. The shift toward video games as “masculine” and in particular a type of toxic masculinity can be traced in the advertising media of the late 80s and 90s in particular. Sega, for example, differentiated itself by marketing to boys positioning itself against Nintendo, which was marketed to families. This shift pulled hard into games as masculine, and it was all a product of marketing and developer practice – selling players the pseudo experience of being techno-masculine,’ explains Jennifer.
‘So, that stigma is real, and it’s real because it is constructed and then reified in the practice of daily life by a small subset of gamers. When we diverge from “gamer” as identity and look instead at who plays games, then that stigma functionally disappears. All types of people, different ages, genders, social classes, play games. The mobile market and before that, the Facebook games and PC games, have always attracted and explicitly supported what is often considered “feminised play”— puzzle and pattern games, detective games, hidden objects. So mobile gaming, specifically, has opened up what we understand and value as a diverse audience and a diverse developer base,’ adds Jennifer.
Yunus Telliel, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Rhetoric at WPI believes that the connections between games and society or culture are complex. ‘That’s why the question I find more interesting and perhaps urgent is how games create experiences for its players in ways that those players might find themselves reflecting on norms, values or identities they take for granted,’ he says.
Currently, Yunus is working with a graduate student, Tariq Rakha, on developing a socially-conscious game that draws on Islamic tradition. There are many games out there that uses imagery from Islam or other religious and spiritual traditions. ‘My question to him is what’s the meaning of creating a video game drawing on Islam’s moral traditions at an age where you can have an Islamic version of “call of duty”? Does a video game having the option of playing as a Muslim soldier make it religious? Game designers and developers like Tariq push the envelope, asking whether it is possible to capture spiritual dimensions in video games,’ Yunus says.
Jennifer shares similar inspired examples, ‘One of our students in the Interactive Media and Game Development course created an empathy game entitled Gotta Go. Empathy games use the choice function of games to give the player an empathetic understanding about why people choose to do the things that they do. Gotta Go is a game that’s in direct response to the North Carolina HB2 Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or Bathroom Bill as it’s known. The Bill places limitations on where transgender people could go to the bathroom. The characters in the game need to use the toilet, yet their bodies are controlled both through the law and people responding to that body. Ultimately, it is intended to increase awareness about how bodies are policed in public spaces.’
In addition to social consciousness, games students have developed have considered environmental application. ‘Another game that I have worked with students on is a resource management game about invasive species, entitled Eco Kids and the Paper Pests. The process of playing the game, of trying to limit or eliminate invasive species on an island, demonstrates the threat that invasive species bring to a complex ecosystem. For this, we used real ecological models as the basis of the simulation but provided players agency in those models to show how action has power, but sometimes human intervention cannot win in the face of ecological destruction,’ Jennifer explains. ‘For me, as an anthropologist who is working with game developers and designers, the question isn’t whether video games can or should address social issues. That assumes video games are outside of the society,’ says Yunus.
Yunus sees future possibilities in social innovation and human rights advocacy citing professionals and volunteers in the humanitarian sector are already introducing gamification in their advocacy work. ‘The Humanitarian Leadership Academy, funded by a group of several major philanthropies in the world, offers a free platform in multiple languages where people from all over the world can learn about how to use online and offline games in their humanitarian work. Platforms such as Gamoteca also scale game-based learning for human rights advocacy,’ he explains. ‘One noteworthy aspect of this gamification turn in humanitarianism is that there is a growing emphasis on human-centred design, and the need for humanitarian or human rights games to be locally meaningful and impactful.’
‘We’re firmly moving into an experience economy, largely mediated by interactive media,’ Jennifer affirms. ‘I see the impact of video games and mobile gaming in the transferability of the skills in both building and playing games. Game designers turn experiences into systems; the act of play turns systems back into experiences.’
So, the future, according to Jennifer, is going to continue exploiting the medium in telling experiential, action-based narratives or providing platforms for puzzle-solving. In addition, the experience-design methods are going to be increasingly used in non-gamic uses, pushing the limits of mobile technologies, such as augmented reality for history – using the camera for sight or directional sound for audio or gamic elements in mobile devices to extend social networks in urban landscapes, such as connectivity games that introduce a person to someone that they might not have known.
‘Sometimes, as an educator, when I think about what games teach, I’m asked what they teach the player,’ Jennifer muses. ‘Games are an expressive medium that teaches the developer a tremendous amount of complex, interconnected knowledge in order to then ask that developer to translate that into a system.’
Jennifer speaks highly of the project-based learning used for gaming students and the results she has seen. ‘We also ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate in our interdisciplinary project centres, where we send students all over the world to work with community partners and NGOs to see how people and cultures intersect with real-world problems. In this context, IMGD students have created interactive media, pulling from their games training to develop simulations that teach people in Southeast Asia how to do biogas development in rural schools – a project done in rural Thailand – and created dynamic database maps from scratch to study urban resiliency in Kyoto Japan.’
These projects speak to further possibilities that extend beyond the concept of gaming that many have come to understand. Even further, the financial success and potential value of mobile game is augmented, and, for the socially aware, usurped, by more humanitarian applications that have the ability to bring about even further gaming evolution.
Main photo by Screen Post on Unsplash