The perception of a gamer as a socially awkward outcast who barely experiences any light or human interaction apart from their television and their mother has long since eroded. With 2 billion gamers worldwide, and the global gaming market surging past 100 billion dollars last year, calling yourself a “gamer” in 2017 is almost like calling yourself a cell phone user. Indeed video games and their creators have long fantasized of overtaking Hollywood as the medium of the 21st century.
Because we're so used to them being a part of our lives, it's easy to dismiss the immense cultural value video games hold. Numerous studies have shown that they can provide the cognitive stimulation needed to aid in learning and memory. They can connect you with friends — a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center titled "Teens, Technology, and Friendship" found that 53% of gamers said their gaming habits formed friendships. The huge demand for blockbuster games encourages the tech industry to innovate constantly, developing exciting new gadgets with applications beyond just gaming, like virtual reality for example.
And most importantly, and perhaps most obviously, video games are just plain fun. They're a unique synthesis of multiple engaging art forms like animation, voice-acting, writing, illustration, music, storytelling, etc. These art forms combined with interactivity make video games so easy to escape into. That's why it's important to pay attention to the evolutions of video games and its industry, because like every monstrous, and highly immersive media market, they display innate yet powerful expressions of what we value as a culture.
Video games are ubiquitous to life in the digital age, but I bet there's plenty you don't know about them.For example, did you know that 1990 game Golden Axe on the SEGA was voiced entirely by prisoners on death row? There are a plethora of interesting factoids about gaming that illuminates higher truths about our consumption society. But here we present just five curious things you might not have known about video games and their impact on the real world.
1. The most important games in the world are...
Did you know there's a World Video Game Hall of Fame? It's located at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester N.Y., and among other things, it honors the individual games that have had the biggest impact on the industry and society.
The winners are — and they really shouldn't surprise you — Donkey Kong, Halo: Combat Evolved, Pokemon Red and Green, and Street Fighter II.
Other contenders included: Final Fantasy VII, Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, Myst, Portal, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and Wii Sports.
Without these games, who knows what the state of the gaming world would be like today (probably a lot duller).
2. Which video game went to space?
None other than the intergalactic strategic warfare game Starcraft. How fitting. In 1999, missions specialist Daniel T. Barry took a physical copy of the PC game Starcraft into space with him as he orbited the Earth 153 times, showing not just his love for the game, but its overall impact on our cosmic imagination.
3. Video games have profound effects on your brain
No no no, video games don't actually make you more violent. This has been debunked time and time again, most recently by a study from the Southwest University in China.
Instead, video games can actually positively impact your neurochemistry — just so long as you don't play for 100 hours straight and die from exhaustion like some overzealous gamers have. Everything in moderation folks, even good things.
Anyway, I'll link the sources to all these ridiculously wonderful claims below, but so far I've found that video games can: teach and enforce teamwork, improve your vision, enhance hand-eye coordination, teach you multitasking, chase away depression, act as a pain-reliever, and — especially with virtual reality games — can promote physical exercise.
CheckPoint is a fairly new organization that's devoted its resources to researching and understanding the link between mental health and video game habits; so far, according to their website, they've found positive relationships.
According to joint research done by the University of California and Akili Interactive Labs, games like EVO can help improve attention skills, and sensory processing, in children with ADHD.
4. The video game industry has a serious diversity problem
Like the multi-billion dollar tech industry in Silicon Valley, or the star-studded, culture defining clique of Hollywood, the video game industry is rife with discrimination and representation issues.
Despite huge AAA games coming like Watch Dogs 2, Uncharted 4, Mass Effect Andromeda, and Mirror's Edge 2 (to name a few) coming out last year with women or minorities as protagonists, representation is still a problem, both in and outside the digital world.
According to a report in the Guardian, just 14 percent of people working in the UK's gaming industry are women. For Black and Asian folks, the industry representation is just 4%.
Here in America, the stats are roughly the same; a survey from the International Game Developers Association found that from the 1,186 game developers surveyed, 75 percent were white males, and just 2 percent were made up of black and latino people. Only .3 percent of those surveyed identified as transgender.
What can be done to break up this old boys club?
The gaming and entertainment magazine Mic suggested a couple months ago that gaming companies release diversity reports on their staff, like most tech companies (Facebook, Uber, Pinterest) regularly do. These reports, Mic argues, could increase transparency and accountability, and drive the necessary change from inside to employ marginalized folks, and add nuanced and accurate depictions of minorities inside their video game universes.
5. Virtual Reality horror games might get even more terrifying
Strapping yourself into a fully immersive, 360 view insane asylum, or an eerie underwater research facility like in the first person VR game Soma, is already a pretty scary experience. But game developers at Soma are making the experience even more lifelike and terrifying by adding this innovative technical feature: eye tracking.
The grotesque creatures and strange humanoid robots in Soma will now know when you, the player, are looking at them and will attack accordingly. This game will turn your own eyesight against you, which is just freakishly cool.
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