Why you should care
Win or lose, these games could shape societies and drive tech. Check out OZY’s original series on the future of gaming.
Google ‘gaming’ and the images you’ll most likely see are those of young men wearing headphones, focused on a screen in front of them, seemingly disconnected from the rest of the world. But you might be surprised by the games they’re increasingly playing – and indeed by those playing them.
Welcome to The Future of Gaming, OZY’s latest editorial series that prepares you for the shifts that could transform how games are played, what they’re about and those bringing them to you.
The gaming industry generated an estimated $135 billion in revenue in 2018 – more than the size of Ukraine’s economy. In the process, it’s reshaping societies – from ancient cultures to war-torn regions – and forcing tech giants to adapt. We’ll bring you stories – some fascinating and fun, others surprising and serious – about how the future of gaming could, in some ways, mirror the future of society itself.
Spurred by the success of Fortnite, tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are all leaping into the world of game-streaming. They’re each launching platforms that use their cloud computing heft to power game-streaming free from the pricy consoles that have anchored the video game industry for decades. Broadband slaying the game box. They’re also setting up or buying over gaming studios to develop their own arsenal of games with which to woo players. At stake is more than a slice of what’s a new market for most of these tech titans. This is equally about retaining control of the social media market, at a time when games like Fortnite and streaming platforms like Twitch are holding user attention for much longer than Instagram, Snaphat or Facebook.
As a child, Laura Alajma would role-play those figures prevailing over their war-torn life in the Palestinian territories — Israeli soldiers, fighters and martyrs, many of them terrorists in the eyes of Israel. Laura would be a “journalist” during the make-believe clashes. Now, the 29-year-old math and applied economics graduate from Birzeit University, the “Harvard” of Palestine, is using Live Action Role Playing (LARP) games to help her compatriots deal with the pain of conflict and challenges such as gender inequality. From games where a country is under occupation to others where women must decide whether to embrace feminism, her organization Bait Byout – the first LARP organization in the Arab world – is helping spread this genre by relying on storylines Palestinians can relate to.
India has an ancient tradition of card games, but barring special occasions like on Diwali – the festival of lights – they’re mostly frowned upon socially, seen as an extension of gambling. That’s now changing. The digital gaming industry is not only changing perceptions about card gaming – acknowledging that these require great skill, dexterity and experience to master, as with any sport – but are also offering a niche but well-paying career option to bright Indian millennials who want to go about life differently. And for those still uncomfortable playing in public, the internet’s now allowing them to play from the sanctuary of their room, without the risk of having to visit a public venue where they could be spotted by someone who knows them.
They’re called “fumblecore” games for a reason. This new genre of games is designed in a way that it’s practically impossible to win at them. With clumsy consoles that mimic absurd scenarios – how about a bear driving a car trying to catch fish? – these games are nevertheless fun, relaxing and a reminder that gaming is about more than winning.
The traditionally macho world of gaming remains male-dominated – from the players to the fans, and the earnings available. But the cracks in that dominance aren’t appearing in the liberal West, but in the more conservative East. South Korea and China have the highest proportions of female esports fans in the world. And China’s the country where female video game content creators are likeliest to be paid – even likelier than their male counterparts.
More than 1.5 milion Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917, and million others survived only because they fled. Now, there’s a video game available on Google and on app stores, on escaping from the genocide, designed by a team of five people and supported by a German foundation that’s trying to find innovative ways to broach the topic of migration and freedom. The game is based on the creator’s great grandmother who fled the genocide to Lebanon, where there is a sizable Armenian community.
Since the halcyon days of Italian plumbers rescuing princesses from evil gorillas, narratives in video games have been pretty straightforward. Players control a hero (almost always a man) and are tasked with jumping on unambiguously bad guys until the princess is rescued or the world is saved. Now that’s changing. Gamers are growing up, and games are trying to keep pace by finally beginning to abandon long-held tropes. More and more studios are developing games that move away from deep-seated themes of masculinity to instead offer more nuanced narratives that touch upon softer emotions and often involve playable female characters.
SHE’S HELPING AFRICAN WOMEN GAMERS CLIMB THE RUNGS OF SUCCESS
South African Jana “Salty Monkey” du Toit is a qualified chemical engineer and a full-time business analyst. But it’s the world of gaming where she might be making the biggest difference. When the 28-year-old first started, she was dismissed or sexualized in a male-dominated industry. Now among Africa’s top performers at CSGO, a team video game, and Hearthstone, an individual card game, du Toit is leading efforts to ensure the next generation of African women gamers have it easier.