Games for Fun and Profit - and Liberum Arbitrium

written by: Pooky Amsterdam

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500 million people globally play video games. The average number of hours spent playing per week,  has gone up from 7.3 hours in 2009 to 8 hours in 2010.  And while social media is uber important, according to Mashable, “the so-called 'Game Layer' will be to the 2010s what the 'Social layer' has been.

 It is no surprise that “gamification” is the new buzzword darling.   So it is with great interest that we want to know what those in the game industry are thinking, and doing. Hollywood Box Office has had to take a back seat to game playing as new game releases are eclipsing the amount of money made by new films . Sit back & relax has become lean forward and engage, we are actively pursuing what we want and when, seeking challenges in our playdom more often than reflection and popcorn. About 85 percent of online gamers play on the PC, as Connected TV grows in scope and reach, what you “do” on the TV will become more and more important. Global reach for Internet TV is  predicted  to reach $81.2 billion within the next 5 years.

While games speak to a challenge and mental excitement which engage us, films speak more often to our inner emotional displays. When a movie makes us cry, we say it was a great film, could we say about a game? ( And I am not talking tears of frustration which we have all felt in some way or another.) Of course both can deliver on special effects and eye-candy but increasingly just to look good, or just to have massive explosions is not enough. Our depth of play reflects an engagement with what we are spending time with, and time is the new currency. What we return to then, must compel us in this age of mega options, because it feels good or has meaning or we can take power of pride in what we have accomplished.  Or of course all three, and games can do this.


What if we can take away not only a high score, but new understanding of who we are. If games can also become mirrors to our true selves, and allow us to understand our own motivations and drive?  I had thought that might be a tall order, until I read this speech by Rod Humble. Mr. Humble is the new CEO of Second Life, and though his background is clearly in games, he understands the humanity behind them, even creating a game called Marriage, which reveals a depth of your own psychology not found in Mario Bros. This bodes very well for a true humanist to helm an enterprise whose residents certainly take themselves seriously. It also portends well to have an industry insider at the top of this major Virtual World. According to Mashable again, In 2009, Internet users bought around $2.2 billion worth of virtual goods; experts forecast that number will increase to $6 billion by 2013. And the best-performing social games can inspire repeat purchases in around 41% of users.

This is certainly the Manna entertainment industry executives are looking for.  They just might find it in the coming years, but to entice and hold, you must offer substance. The entertainment industry is looking to expand onto many platforms and genres: game play and gamification being amongst top priorities.  What the industry giants should look at of course is what people return to and where value is found.  Affording people insight into their own strengths, might not seem like a consumer relations proposition, but including this into ones game development creates a bond with the person that lasts, and of course has value.

Rod Humble talks about free will, about what you can really find out in your state of play if you raise the bar to how you are engaging with it.  As he is now the CEO of Second Life, this is well worth a read for insight into a future we enter virtually, online and increasingly with each other.

Humble believes that evolution, as a challenge to religion, will be remembered as the turning point of the 19th century. In his view, the turning point of the 20th century is the increasing understanding that humans are "less and less important in the scope of the universe."

"We're pretty small and we really don't matter," he said, "I think that big wave has seeped into our culture worldwide and we're just beginning to digest it." And, said Humble, 21st century cognitive science suggests that we don't possess much, if any, free will.

"If you believe we do have free will then the evidence is not going well for your team," Humble said. "I think the science as it emerges is going to become so seeped into our culture it's going to hit us, and change our world view. And I want games to help prove that it is wrong. I would like to solve this problem. Because games are all about choices." 

Pooky Amsterdam is an award winning real-time animation producer using Second Life as a media platform. Visit her website here.

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