Playing seriously

Gaming on the go

The first computer and video games were invented in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, and their growing prevalence, first in arcades and then in homes throughout the industrialised world, began in the late 1970s. Even though electronic games are a relatively new form of media, they have already become a widespread phenomenon with people of all ages playing them everyday. The proportion of people who play electronic games is quite high in western nations and is growing steadily and fast in developing countries. Two myths stand to be busted in the current scenario. These two relate to the myths of age and gender as far as gaming is concerned. It has been widely acknowledged that a large proportion of gamers are actually grown ups, and less than 30 percent of the gamers are below eighteen years of age. This is based on data in the United States but could hold true in other counties too. In the least it can be established that the gaming market is wide open as far as age is concerned. The initial concerns about gaming being a male bastion too have been allayed as there is an ever increasing participation from women gamers.

According to the NASSCOM study on the Animation and Gaming industry in India, the worldwide gaming market (demand perspective) stood at USD 21 billion in 2006.

This market is expected to reach USD 42 billion by 2010, growing at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of nearly 18 percent over 2006-2010. Developers’ costs account for around 25-30 percent of revenues. Consequently, the worldwide gaming content market (developers’ perspective) was estimated at nearly USD 7 billion in 2006 and is expected to cross USD 13 billion by 2010, a CAGR of about 17 percent over 2006-2010. In the gaming market, mobile and online gaming segments are expected to grow significantly at CAGRs of about 30 and 25 percent respectively, through till 2010.The US and Europe remain the biggest markets for outsourcing animation and gaming related activities. Majority of the work from these markets is being outsourced to destinations in the Asia Pacific region and in East Europe.

The global animation market is even more prolific, with estimates placing the market(demand perspective) at USD 59 billion in 2006. This market is expected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 8 percent over 2006-2010, to reach USD 80 billion by 2010. Of the total revenue earned in the segment,approximately 40-45 percent is attributed to the cost of development. Consequently, the global market for animated content and related services (developer’s perspective) is estimated at USD 25-26 billion and is forecast to cross USD 34 billion by 2010.

Setting the record straight

The title of this article seems at first like an oxymoron. Gaming has been traditionally aligned with entertainment, addiction, wastage of precious time, and parental concern. There are widely held beliefs that gaming is the purview of adolescents, who  get addicted and this effects their school performance and induces violent behaviour. This is consistent with a lot of  research and publication on the social dynamics of video and computer games, wherein the idea of ‘effect’ is paramount. In fact most research on electronic gaming has focussed on negative impacts on children and adolescents. The conventional wisdom perceiving video games as a youth epidemic largely ignores evidence that games are becoming a larger and more accepted part of modern culture. Also no casual link has been established between violence and gaming. A more serious allegation has been that of addiction, where gaming is obsessive and shares traits with other addictions. However this charge falls weak too on looking at the average age of a gamer. As gaming becomes a norm rather than an exception the occasional addiction of the activity can be compared to the occasional addiction of many prevalent practices. There have been a similar formulation of the notion of web-dependency or Internet addiction, with accompanying symptoms as withdrawal, anxiety, and depression, but such studies remain one dimensional and inconclusive.

Charting new territories

Gaming too is finding various applications apart from entertainment. Gaming has proven to be an effective tool in training purposes. It can be used for business purposes, for brand building,   and for communication purposes. It can also be used to raise the historical, and political consciousness of citizens, as well as for various advocacy related communication.  Teachers can now use a variety of games for getting students interested in history.

However as with the Internet technologies, games and animation are also resourceful for the conservatives and other interest groups. According to ‘Mother Jones’, “Advergames” are an increasingly popular method of bringing commercial messages to the nation’s 117 million or so video gamers. Interest groups are also getting into the action, hooking up with design shops such as Persuasive Games, which, for a mere $40,000, will design a custom game to get out your political message.’ The serious games initiatives therefore need to be aware of such manipulations of the potential of gaming. Gaming cannot be seen as a wholly beneficial or a wholly malign phenomenon. One visit to white supremacist website will convince anyone about the ways that extremist ideologies can make use of animation and gaming. As an example the website showcases a game called ‘Border Patrol’ which has as its purpose the keeping out of mexican drug smugglers and ‘breeders’.

On the other hand there is the ‘Darfur is Dying’ game that by self admission is a game for change that provides a window into the experience of the 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan. Via the game  players can also learn more about the genocide in Darfur that has taken the lives of 400,000 people, and find ways to get involved to help stop this human rights and humanitarian crisis.

At this juncture the serious gaming initiative needs major attention. There is a big opportunity to reach out to the gamers of the world, for various communication purposes. Business has been quick to capitalise on gaming, and it is high time that gaming is put to more constructive uses. Schools can reap the benefits of using games for teaching of most subjects. There are games available for free for the teaching of Geography, History and other social sciences starting from games for first graders to advanced games for higher learning. Information on health issues and health services also can be relayed very effectively through games. Recently games have been created for the dissemination of information about HIV/AIDS.

Civil Society organisations are only now beginning to see the potential offered by gaming. In India, there is especially a potentially enormous market for mobile gaming. Mobiles offer a much cheaper option rather than gaming consoles. Small sized mobile games can therefore be used to reach millions of users who are likely to take to mobile gaming. With children becoming used to mobile phones there is a huge market for mobile learning content and games could be very effective here. Efforts must me made by all concerned to give an impetus to the development of purpose oriented games, which aid in healthcare management, education, advocacy, and reform.