Proud member of the echo chamber

I may be on to something when it comes to the upcoming gaming decade. — November 21, 2010:

A few years ago, Nin­tendo took a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent approach to what had been done in the con­sole game world. His­tor­i­cally, the trend had been to games that used more pow­er­ful video proces­sors to increase the level of real­ism in games aimed at the smaller por­tion of the pub­lic called “gamers,” a seg­ment mostly com­prised of men between the age of 15 and 35. With Sony and Microsoft hav­ing taken the high ground in those proces­sor bat­tle, it looked like Nin­tendo was in seri­ous trouble.

But, with the release of the Wii, and its motion-sentitive con­troller, the Wii became a sys­tem that was aimed at a more phys­i­cal expe­ri­ence of gam­ing, engag­ing the whole body. Nin­tendo also opted for a more car­toon­ish treat­ment when it came to char­ac­ters in their games. Between those two deci­sions, Nin­tendo ended up mov­ing games into a mar­ket that hadn’t pre­vi­ously been addressed. All of a sud­den, it became cooler for the whole fam­ily to play together.

The suc­cess of the Wii in expand­ing the over­all gamer audi­ence left its com­peti­tors won­der­ing how they too could enter that mar­ket. Sony recently unveiled the Playsta­tion Move con­troller, which is essen­tially a copy of the approach Nin­tendo has taken with the Wii.

Microsoft, on the other hand, looked at the model and decided to com­pletely do away with the idea of a phys­i­cal con­troller and unveiled Kinect, a sys­tem that com­bines video cam­eras, infrared cam­eras, robot­ics, and infrared sen­sors to let peo­ple use their body as the con­troller. It’s a pretty rad­i­cal move in that any­one can now oper­ate those games, remov­ing one bar­rier to get­ting involved in that space.

The games that have been included as part of the Kinect launch also allow for mul­ti­ple play­ers to get involved at the same time, cre­ate a space that is more social as a result, in a way rem­i­nis­cent of board games in ear­lier times. As a result, videogames will prob­a­bly get more inte­grated to a greater extent in fam­i­lies’ lives.

But social and gam­ing is not purely lim­ited to the liv­ing room. In fact, social games are now one of the biggest trend, with Zynga being the leader in deliv­er­ing offer­ings that com­bine games with a dose of social­iza­tion and a dash of com­pet­i­tive spirit. In only 3 years, the com­pany has estab­lished a num­ber of gam­ing fran­chises that are now being played by over 60 mil­lion peo­ple on a daily basis.

But most inter­est­ing in the social gam­ing phe­nom­e­non is the fact that the major­ity of social gamers do not fill the tra­di­tional pro­file of gamers: a sur­vey ear­lier this year showed that the aver­age social player is a 43-year-old woman.

Between the trends sur­round­ing social gam­ing and the new impact that game con­soles may have, com­bined with the increased num­ber of peo­ple who are play­ing games on mobile phones, it seems we now need to rede­fine the demo­graphic pro­file of gamers.

I would ven­ture, for exam­ple, that the pro­file of gamer is now com­pletely diluted into the pro­file of most peo­ple. The suc­cess of Rock­band has already shown that music and the gam­ing space have now merged suc­cess­fully to cre­ate a new kind of enter­tain­ment that has given new­found life to older musi­cal tal­ent. The launch of the Bea­t­les edi­tion of Rock­band last year was such a cul­tural mile­stone that it even war­ranted its own New York Times Mag­a­zine cover arti­cle.

And the big movie hit of sum­mer 2010 was Incep­tion, a movie that used lingo like lev­els, chal­lenges, and play­ers as part of its nar­ra­tive. In doing so, the movie may have been the first block­buster to fully lever­age game cul­ture with­out being based on a game.

I’d ven­ture that this past sum­mer was actu­ally a turn­ing point in the accep­tance of games as a legit­i­mate form of enter­tain­ment. With it, the whole of our cul­ture is now in the process of shift­ing to sup­port of games as a legit­i­mate enter­tain­ment form, to take their place along­side books, music, and movies.

And 7 days later, I open the Arts and Entertainment section of the New York times and find the following.

The New York Times — November 28, 2010:

Of the major game console makers, Nintendo was the first to start doing away with buttons. While Microsoft and Sony were busy trying to make more realistic high-definition explosions, Nintendo was realizing that all those buttons on game controllers were alienating hundreds of millions of potential players around the world. The answer of course was the Wii, with its intuitive motion-sensitive controller that has drawn families and women into gaming in a way they never had before.

But the big boys, Microsoft and Sony, have not been too proud to learn from their rival, and this fall they introduced systems that go beyond the Wii in bringing natural human movement into games. The less ambitious of the two is Sony’s Move for the PlayStation 3, which is basically a more accurate and precise version of the Wii control wand. Coupled with the PS3’s high-definition graphics (the Wii is not high-def), the Move replicates certain types of physical activity, like golf, Frisbee tossing, bowling and sword fighting, more accurately and enjoyably than has ever been possible in the living room.

But Microsoft’s Kinect does away with electronic controllers altogether. With Kinect you just stand in front of the TV and move your body to make things happen on the screen. You actually dance and throw and kick and punch and running (in place). You are performing the actual yoga pose or exercise. You can even talk to it and it understands (though only for basic menu commands at the moment).

With products like Rock Band 3 and Kinect, the art is becoming a real experience. It is a phenomenon familiar to serious players of online role-playing games, where managing relationships with other people is at least as important as the science-fiction or fantasy action of the game itself. In Eve Online high-level political leaders with names like SirMolle (Swedish), Vuk Lau (Serbian), UAxDeath (Russian) and the Mittani (American) have directly shaped the game playing of tens of thousands of other players around the world, and yet can be laid low by individual acts of deceit, misdirection and plain old incompetence, just like politicians in real life. In a persistent online game, without other people to cooperate and compete with, there is no game at all.

Some may call it plagiarism, I just call it validation. Obviously, I’m not the only one to see the upcoming decade as one that will be dominated by gaming but I’m quite surprised by how quickly this notion is making its way into the mainstream.

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