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Playing Video Games Is Just For ‘Entertainment’. Hell No! Here’s Why

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By Sidhartha Kumar Mohanty:

A decade back, if you were an adult male having a conversation within your male camaraderie and committed the audacity of mentioning ‘gaming’ as your favorite avocation, you’d raise some eyebrows. Though you wouldn’t be judged with the same harshness like you would have been if it were a formal interaction in the office party. Nor would you be judged like you had committed a cardinal sin if you mentioned it during a B-school admission interview, but you surely would have committed the necessary offense to be labeled a ‘nerd.’

Well, it’s 2016 now. People have heard about GTA and NFS (well, a few beyond the gaming community at least). Electronic Arts and Ubisoft would ring a bell for quite a few ‘non-nerds’ too. So what has changed? For those of you who aren’t aware, well, a lot. While you hung out with friends at the IMAX, marveling at the visual excellence of the celluloid today, and pulled out your cell phone to play ‘Angry Birds’ or ‘Candy Crush’ before the movie began, and thought of a hard-core gamer as a ‘guy in a geeky shirt’, staring through thick glasses at a colourful blotch jumping in Mario Bros or Contra, and yanking at the chords of an expensive console (or computer… eh you never cared to venture into that space anyway), what you didn’t realise was that games today looked like this –

 

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And cost millions of dollars and took years to develop and produce. And the ‘geek in the shirt’ was perhaps looking through an Oculus Rift (a 600 dollar device) hooked up to a system that could cost as much as $4000. Raised your brow yet?

The gaming industry is estimated to be roughly around $90 billion at the end of 2015 and is expected to reach the $100 billion mark soon. It earns much more than Hollywood does in box office revenues. In 2014, the global revenue for games was estimated at $83.6 billion. Meanwhile, the movie industry worldwide grossed $36.4 billion in the same year. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, with a budget of $378.5 million the official record for being the most expensive movie ever produced. Destiny cost a staggering 500 million USD to make and is the world’s most expensive video game, beating the Pirates of the Caribbean by a significant 122 million dollars (that’s almost seven times the 18 million budget of Bahubali). And, the fastest-selling entertainment product in history is a video game (that’s right), the GTA 5, earning $800 million in its first day of release (“Avatar” needed 48 weeks to reach $760.5 million) and $1 billion in its first three days. Game development takes significant time too. It took a core development team of 150 skilled people four years to make the GTA IV (released back in 2008). It’s not uncommon in the game industry to work 6-7 (18+ hour days) days a week in a crunch. Now these numbers are more than suggestive of the seriousness and attention extended to this industry. But gaming is beyond that. It can be the most immersive and engaging entertainment experience one could avail from the comfort of one’s couch.

But it’s not restricted to entertainment anymore. Video games are finding an extensive use in military applications. Be it human combat or a flight simulation marking the prologue of the career of a jet pilot or drone operator, simulations have provided an alternative for real combat training and deliver an experience as close as possible to real combat training. An economical alternative too, saving valuable dollars and minutes while removing the possibility of injury to human life. In fact, the US armed forces took the lead in financing, sponsoring, and inventing the specific technology used in video games. Spacewar, one of the earliest digital computer video games, was developed by graduate students at MIT, who were funded by the Pentagon. After the release of Doom (a pioneer in the first-person shooter genre), the US Marine Corps noted the growing influence of games and realized the potential use of games in combat-strategy training. One Lt. Scott Barnett was assigned to try out PC games on the market and identify the ones that might fit the bill, and he eventually selected Doom II. It was then modified from its sci-fi Mars terrain to small desert village; more real-world adversaries replaced demon enemies; and the resulting product — though nowhere near realistic — was intense and engaging, and promoted the kind of consistent, repetitive teamwork a Marine fire team would employ in combat. america's army

The US Army also uses combat-simulations as elaborate recruitment tools – like the military game project America’s Army. Available for free download or on disc at army recruitment offices, it was an online multiplayer, first-person shooter game that had players assuming the role of different infantry-related jobs in the army. Financed and developed by the Army, the game challenged its contemporaries in quality. The game was also designed to reinforce army values and training; players had to complete a virtual boot camp and marksmanship test before jumping online, and specialized roles like medic or sniper were locked behind further tiers of training.

Flight simulations are used to train pilots, and one must have come across the uncanny comparison between flying a drone to playing Call of Duty. And why only military? Simulators are used in professional racing too. Formula 1 teams use heavily modified versions of commercially available games like rFactor in training and assessment. Though their modified versions get an accurate recreation of the tracks, rendered digitally after laser-scanning every inch of the real track.

The efficiency of video games in the education system is also being acknowledged. Let me quote Wikipedia, “When someone plays a video game, they are challenged mentally with a problem. Through playing, they will discover many different ways to solve problems they will come across. Often, players will find that they require these skills later on in the game as well, and thus are required to maintain and hone their skills for later use. Video games typically provide instant rewards for succeeding in solving a problem. This is in contrast to classroom environments where students wait for graded tests and are only rewarded occasionally with report cards to report their progress. Video games can instantly tell a student of failure or success and often this can be used to develop skills along the way. Thus, video games can be utilized as an alternative to the classroom setting, while still maintaining levels of difficulty that foster learning in a gamer.”

Apart from being an active medium of learning, a videogame might end up providing some content for learning too. I have picked up about Operation Overlord, among other sources, from Medal of Honor. I learned from video games that the M1 Garand was the standard U.S service rifle during WW2; that the Allied forces used the Thompson submachine gun and that Nazis used Luger. I came to know about the models of Porsche (and how you pronounce Porsche) while playing Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed on PlayStation One. Later editions of racing games taught me the difference in under-steer and over-steer and why racers prefer rear-wheel drive, thanks to their extremely detailed in-game physics.

Games have found their way into the marketing world too as is evident from the fact that Nike+ has garnered over 11 million users. Talk about the effectiveness of Gamification!

And for those who like ‘Log Cabin to the White House’ sagas, 29-year-old Phil Fish’s story might be inspiring (The guy became a millionaire developing the acclaimed Fez.) or the Candy Crush guys (Candy Crush was sold to Activision for $5.9bn). Well, it gets more interesting – you can make money playing games too (Yep. You heard me). You could become a game tester. Large video game companies employ video game testers, whose job it is to test games in development and report problems they find. There are also eSports tournaments you could take part in to encash your skills. And if you were wondering (with a condescending smirk on your face) about how much one could make by winning a video-game tournament, well search for a Chinese Guy named Jiang Cen. He earned most of his cash playing “Dota 2.” The largest prize he took home from a single tournament was $200,000 in 2012 (almost three times the amount what Dhoni made a day in the same year when he was listed as the highest-paid cricketer, as well as the highest-paid athlete in India by Forbes), as part of a team called Invictus Gaming.

But apart from everything else that might poke your curiosity in gaming, it’s the experience it delivers that will allure you. Like I said, it is the most immersive and engaging entertainment experience one could avail from the comfort of one’s couch. It provides you a means to take an immersive dip in history as it is being recreated and rendered on your screen. (I’m taking about Medal of Honor). Or take a virtual walk in the lanes of 15th century Rome or 18th century New York (Assassin’s Creed). You could steer through the vast opens of ocean during the golden age of piracy (Assassin’s Creed Black Flag) or lead an elite team of American fighters (Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon). You might never actually drive a Lamborghini Gallardo, but you could take the next best thing – a virtual drive in one, being rendered with perfection to even the most minute details on a 4K screen and recreating the melody of its exhaust note on a 7.1 Dolby surround sound. You might ridicule the comparison, but being pragmatic, I would live in it; for I don’t have the means to get in the cabin of a Gallardo, so I have graciously chosen the next best thing and believe you me… it’s mesmerizingly wonderful.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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