Video Games Are Impacting Our Lives

Future Insights

The unexpected ways that video games are impacting our lives.  

Do you have a kid wanting to play video games with their friends all the time? Are you worried about them spending too much time on screen and in front of their devices? Do you know someone who is a hardcore gamer and plays for hours on end with the latest gaming rig?

Your initial judgment may be: “they are wasting their time with this useless stuff”. What if I told you that nothing could be further from the truth, that a generation of gamers has impacted and continues to impact our lives most profoundly–maybe not intentionally, but nonetheless consequentially?

Hard to believe? Stay with me.

The expectations for what a video game is, and how realistic the images and speed of actions/responses are, have been ever-increasing. I remember the early emergence of video games in the 70s and 80s. What a big step it was from Pong to Pac-Man on the Atari and then Super Mario on the Nintendo. But that was all “child’s play”. Modern games are drawing massive audiences and with that comes massive investment. Here are some of the big ways in which they influence our lives.

The gaming industry is huge and fast-growing.

The U.S. market for PC-based and mobile games alone is nearly $100 billion. That does not include the equipment required to play the games (which you could argue is multi-use in some cases, more below). Some sources describe it as already exceeding the movie and music industries combined, and the gap is increasing. There is a fast-growing number of jobs directly tied to the gaming industry and its various applications.

Gaming drives technology development.

Few people realize that the incredible success story of Nvidia, the maker of computer chips that are capable of complex computations required to bring the power of AI to life, actually originated on the gaming side. Gamers had ever-increasing expectations for realistic rendering of their game environments. The speed with which millions of calculations had to be performed in milliseconds required an entirely new generation of graphical processing units, GPUs, which Nvidia introduced in 1999. It turned out these chips were powerful enough to process complex AI calculations, ushering in the modern era of AI, which has since become one of the most transformative technologies of all time.

At the annual technology show CES, several keynotes were dedicated to introducing new hardware. The CEOs of Lenovo and AMD did not tire to point out the new capabilities of their computers and chips and repeatedly referenced the ability to power high-end video games to new levels. It is the insatiable appetite of gamers for better experiences that is driving the competition between chip and computer makers and hence brings higher powered machines at ultimately more affordable prices to all of us.

Gaming is emerging as a major entertainment category.

The original design of video games was to entertain the player(s). But as games became more realistic, simply watching a game being played with high skill (and possibly narrated by the player with great enthusiasm) is becoming a pastime in itself. YouTube is full of channels of kids, teens, and adults playing video games for a living because they draw ever-growing audiences and with that advertisement revenue and endorsements from equipment makers.  

Gaming competitions are a serious thing and e-Sports are now professionally organized with major clubs around the world entering the fray. Instead of simply watching an NBA or NFL game, some people choose to also watch the virtual version, being performed at the highest skill level by teams of gamers who have dedicated their lives to perfecting their abilities. In that sense, they are also athletes and we will see at what point they will be able to command salaries that rival those of their real-life counterparts. All those years spent playing games in the basement could pay big dividends.

Gaming is going to reshape education.

In 2020, all of us with kids already experienced the difference in educational settings. Home-based learning had to rely much more on the delivery of content in engaging formats. If the kids can play a game to learn numbers or spelling, they will stay engaged longer (and yes, it is totally fair to discuss how much is too much). But the connection between gaming and learning does not stop with young children.

The gaming industry is discovering that its ability to create immersive experiences can be leveraged in the field of education. Content can be sourced easily, so the barriers to entry are not very high. Creating virtual experiences, on the other hand, is much harder, so it will be difficult for traditional institutions of education to respond to this trend.

Future generations of learners (and maybe some of us older folks as well) may prefer “invisible learning”, learning while playing a game, over traditional formats of reading, repeating, memorizing, etc. Well in truth, we are still reading, repeating, and memorizing, just in an entirely different format. Learning about history while exploring ancient Rome in a realistic setting, while interacting with citizens, is a lot more fun. Learning languages by interacting with characters through real spoken words is more fun than listening to a sentence and repeating it.

Future brains will be different from past brains.

This part is maybe the trickiest. As a parent, I want my kids to have some of the skills I have. Be able to read a book (or at least a chapter), understand it, summarize it, synthesize it, retell it, etc. Our brains are the result of the stimulation we received growing up and the stimulation we received was designed to prepare us for the challenges we were anticipated to face as adults.

The world of tomorrow is increasingly digitized, and much faster moving, with myriads of opinions competing for attention and new formats of information gathering, digesting and sharing emerging every day. This environment may require different cognitive abilities, and we should be careful to assume that our upbringing and educational experiences might be best suited to create those abilities.

On the flip side, there may be side effects from too much screen time (deterioration of the eyes, lower attention span, lacking social skills) that may outweigh the development of new “future-ready” cognitive skills. Playing outside, real sports with actual physical activity, a real conversation while looking someone in the eyes, understanding the dynamics of a group of friends, and many more, cannot be replaced by computer-simulated screen experiences. So, it comes down to creating a balance.

My conclusion is that we tend to underestimate the impact of something we are not personally involved with. Gaming is an incredible force of progress, driving economic growth and technological revolution while providing educational opportunities and cognitive stimulus. At least we should give it credit for that. Now you can tell your kids to go outside and play.

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