Gravitas Plus: From a time pass to a soft power tool, how ‘gaming’ has emerged as the new gold

How many of you grew up playing Mario? Helping this plumber save the princess or duck hunt where we spent zillions of hours shooting flying birds. How about Aladin making this street rat jump rooftop? Or contra it was quite the rage back in the day some of you may not have played these games some of you may not have heard of them but there’s a fat chance you missed this one, Tetris. The classic brick game some are still hooked to, most people will tell you that playing a video game is the harmless pastime even grandmothers know what candy crush is, toddlers, know how to play angry birds.

Gaming is a part of more lives than we imagine. It is also a profitable business richer than the global box office and the global music industry combined it has driven scientist to enhance computer speed, it has helped Hollywood make science fiction films but how did gaming begin and how did it blossom into the lucrative industries in the world.

The history of video games goes way back to the 1950s. They started as a source of recreation as computer engineers and inventors designed the basic game to kill time. In 1966 one such inventor decided to make it mainstream. Ralph Bear was working at an American defense company and he thought of getting video games to American TV. The idea of playing video games was just a fantasy back then. So, Mr Bear got along with two of his colleagues and came up with this device – the brown box. This was the first video game console. It looks quite basic now but at the time it seemed real, people could plug it into their television sets and play simple board games virtually. It was officially launched in 1971 as Magna Vox Odyssey. It sold some 130,000 units in just 12 months and became the prototype for many such home computing devices. Between 1972 to 1981 at least nine such gaming consoles popped up but the gaming industry gained prominence only in 1982 when Nintendo entered the market. The Japanese company that had been making playing card for about a century shifted focus and began making a video game. They came up with Mario – a game that changed the industry forever. It gave video games mascot something people could connect with.

Having cassettes to different Mario games became a contest among friends. Even to this day, Mario remains the best video game selling franchise with 670 million sales and counting. In the 1980s and 90s, the gaming business explodes and video games began selling like hotcakes. Electronic Arts came with road rash, Sega came up with Sonic the Hedgehog then there was Tetris, Street Fighter mortal combat, Contra, Tekken, Fifa, Pokemon, etc. Video games became a cultural force and the video game industry began swinging like Mike Tyson and every giant company wanted to stake a claim in it.

Microsoft entered the gaming business and if you have Window 3.0 you could play solitaire on your desktop. Sony jumped in too with the PlayStation the most sold video game console in the world selling 430 million units and counting. It’s what kids want on their birthday, it’s what college students play in their dorm rooms, some retirement homes keep the play station for recreation. The gaming industry has grown faster than anyone could ever imagine. Its reach is much bigger than we know.

Let’s show you some number in 2019. The global gaming market was worth USD 151 billion that’s nearly 7.5 times the GDP of Afghanistan and in 2020, 2.7 billion people were playing video games – which is one-third of the world’s population.

Gaming also has its own world cup, by the way, the first one was held in New York in 2019 in front of an audience of 23,000.

A total of 2.3 million viewers on the internet with a prize pool of three million dollars it was a surreal thing. The gamers who attend such global tournaments are treated like athletes and celebrities and most of them happen to be millennials.

26-year-old Preston Blaine Arsement has 16 million subscribers on Youtube and his net worth is USD 15 million, isn’t that incredible? Let me tell you how incredibly some countries are performing in this area. In America alone, the gaming industry generated 90.3 billion dollars for the economy in 2019. It also supported nearly 429000 jobs. The same year in China it generated 37.9 billion dollars in revenue and supported 330000 jobs. In Taiwan the government is betting on video games for economic growth. Just last month it held the annual game show in Taipei and invited gammers from more than 30 countries and it’s not just about money here, gamming is also about soft power.

The US, Japan, South-Korea the world’s leading game manufacturers are spreading their values, culture, music, language, even fashion through video. The background score of Mario has been remixed into countless songs. South Korea’s Genji sport has inked 15 deals with Puma in the last two years to dress characters in its games in Puma Jerseys. Louis Vuitton partnered with the League of Legends in 2019 to make exclusive outfits based on the game’s characters. Some games have turned into Hollywood films – Mortal Combat, Resident Evil, Lara Croft to name a few. For millions of people video games have also become a way to discover new bands and artists for some other they have become a crash course into a country’s history and culture. The world’s leading countries are using video games to enhance their soft power.

India has not boarded this bus yet. Even though India’s latest figures show youth constitutes 27 percent of India’s population, that’s more than one-fifth of the 1.3 billion people we have. There’s a massive untapped base for gaming.  According to KPMG, there were 120 million online gamers in India in 2016 and most of them were spending 42 mins per day solving puzzles or playing snooker. But can they make a career out of this? Is gaming today a viable career option? Well yes and no! The answer is complex, there’s a lot you can do in the gaming industry — Game Animation, Game Creation, Game Design, Game Programming these are legit careers you can train professionally for all of these. But if you just want to play games for a living, if you want to be just a gamer, you’re pretty much on your own. There is no institute per se that will train you to be a gamer, and if you are a gamer already your salary will depend on which tournament you win and how much you win is a tricky proposition if you’re gamming in India.

Most gamers don’t make a lot of money in India. Many of them end up as gaming YouTubers more like content creators, they record themselves playing video games in their rooms, they mix it with humour and pop culture references itself and if they are lucky they get some subscribers, they begin getting sponsors, it’s not a structured industry. There’s no fixed salary or benefit. The bottom line is that you must become a professional gamer if that’s where your interest lies, but do know it’s not a piece of cake. It’s not a long term career either, the popularity of games changes so does the popularity of those playing, plus addiction is a serious issue. Research shows that up to 16% of video gamers are addicted. Though the definition may vary from country to country the symptoms and side effects remain the same.

The World Health Organisation classified gaming disorders as international diseases. Too much gaming hurts you physically and mentally. It is said to affect your way of coping with real-life situations. Children tend to show more aggression and poor cognitive functioning adults suffer a higher level of stress and this is not to say that every gamer is addicted, there are those who play just for fun or for some money, and last we checked both were legal. So. here’s my two bits play all you want to escape reality for a while if you must but do balance is the name of the game.

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