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 –
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.
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.