Changing the game – an industry chasing the next craze
John Tabbernor // Columnist
Just like in our world, the only constant in virtual worlds is change. When I was a kid, I never could have envisioned what this ever-evolving medium would become. Games seek new innovative ways of sharing experiences and telling stories, but they are also businesses that will never tire of chasing the next big thing. As indie developers challenge the definition of what games can be, publishers in the triple-A space are hunting for their next Minecraft.
We as players seem ever eager to latch on to the latest industry trend as sales records and every other perceivable metric continue to be smashed. Just over a week ago, Drake (yes, that Drake) helped game streaming site Twitch break its all time concurrent viewer record for a single broadcast. The impromptu team up between Drake and popular Twitch broadcaster Tyler “Ninja” Blevins speaks to the mainstreaming of gaming culture that we have seen over the last two decades. Though the rest of the world, like Drake and Ninja, are currently obsessed with Epic Games’ Fortnite, I cannot help but wonder when the next sea change will arrive.
Last year at this time, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was about to take the world by storm, and if you had asked me only weeks ago if anything could have matched its meteoric rise to popularity, I would have shown you a bridge I could sell you. Yet change is ever constant. Today it’s Fortnite and tomorrow, I wouldn’t even dare guess. Not only do we see this change in the industry and in our world, but also in ourselves. As I grew with games, so too did my tastes evolve.
When I was younger, I wanted entertainment. Fantasy role-playing games that allowed me to escape into epic storylines and arcane mysteries. Action games that never relented with their delivery of adrenaline and violence. Now that I’m older, I just want escape. Escape from responsibilities, escape from stress, and escape from the world spiraling into the toilet that is the 45th president’s Twitter feed. In a way, all popular media provides this for us. Ten-year-old me definitely found solace in Star Wars: Dark Forces when wanting to fend off thoughts of schoolyard bullies. But tastes change, and now I cannot settle for just distraction, I need an experience that is all consuming.
I detested online multiplayer titles when I was younger but now they have reinvigorated my love for games. Being engrossed in a multiplayer match offers not just challenge but an excuse to evade the horrors of the world. Encountering other players online means there is no pause button. If I’m watching TV or browsing Reddit, I’m constantly distracted by my phone and its ceaseless notifications. In Rainbow Six Siege or Dota 2, I can’t be distracted. I’m enraptured. I’m 100 per cent focused on every frame and every pixel of a competitive match. Not only can we not pause the action, but my four teammates are counting on me to carry my weight. The experience manifests itself not just as one based around competition, but one of social catharsis. I might not have the time to meet my friends downtown for a drink, but we can spend an hour catching up while rescuing a hostage from a digitally rendered Boeing 747.
In the last 20 years, gaming has provided us this new avenue to socialize that has moved beyond the couch. We can be together with those we care about, taking part in the same rituals, while shutting out the distractions of our mundane lives. To an outsider, it can sound comical listening to my friends and I argue politics while breaching a room with shotguns. Talking points are often interrupted by the occasional callout or explosion. One minute we’re debating the merits of legalizing marijuana, the next we’re trying to remember the difference between magic resistance and spell immunity. It’s a cavalcade of nonsense that I wouldn’t give up for anything. Laughing at a silly in-game moment, to lamenting work, or empathizing over a sick parent; these parts equal the sum of my new escapism.
Though these are the games that I cherish now, who knows what I’ll crave in the days ahead. The industry is showing no signs of slowing down. Fans will be waiting with bated breath as it iterates, innovates, and experiments in search of the next Fortnite or Minecraft. There will likely be hurdles on the path ahead, but the shared experiences games provide us make navigating those obstacles worthwhile.