On 19th April 2021, my Steam account will turn six years old. Although my gaming career started much before that, this is still a milestone for me. The first game I ever played was F-16 Multirole Fighter by Novalogic which was released in 1998. It was my mum who wanted me to start using the computer from a young age and hence she got it for me as an experiment to do so. It was a combination of simple ‘arcade-y’ type controls with realistic physics. I must have been around 6-7 years old then. What mesmerized me the most was how effectively it was able to capture the entire concept of dog-fighting on a simple computer. What started as an experiment resulted in a full-blown hobby for me.
I was briefly on the PC before I shifted to the consoles for a few years. The PlayStation 1 and the PlayStation Portable (P.S.P.) were rare gems in those days. ‘Console gaming’ or even ‘gaming’ in general was not much of a thing in India at the time. Regardless, I spent hours on them. From using an earthmover on a construction site, drifting my car along fictional tourist destinations in Ridge Racer, taking down Bond’s enemies in From Russia with Love, fighting on the fronts of World War 2 in ‘Medal of Honor to helping Remy from Ratatouille in finding lost recipe cards (and then later making those recipes in real life!). Then came the PC era, which continues till date, right around the time my Steam account was created. I experienced even more stories and played through the lives of various historical characters and even fictional ones. It’s been one ‘helluva journey’.
Video games are as effective at telling a story as movies and web-series are. In my opinion, even more so. In the latter, you are presented a story. You are usually the third person who is just viewing the story. Yes there are some which experiment with a first person perspective like ‘Cloverfield.’ But games immerse you in the story they are trying to tell. The best example can be taken from the critically acclaimed The Witcher Series. Though it is originally a book, it has been adapted as a trilogy of games and a web-series by Netflix. Although the series is good, fans of the trilogy know that the games did a far better job of capturing the lore of the world and the characters involved in it. This is because games have always focused on deep stories and mechanics.
A majority of the games in the market have worlds that have been created from scratch. Developers put in a lot of effort to not only create this world, but also establish the culture, traditions, the visuals and even the physics! Every person you meet in-game could have a story of their own to tell. A movie lasts about 2 hours, a maximum of 3 hours for something like Lord of the Rings. TV series last around 10 hours/season and would last about 6 seasons. A decent game for example, The Witcher, can last you well over 80 hours in a single playthrough. With branching storylines, you have the incentive to play again, even if there is just one other storyline, that will still result in an insane 160 hours. This excludes the detailed expansions which are on top of the base game.
There is however a stigma and a perception that games are all about ‘pointing and shooting.’ However, saying this is equivalent to calling tennis, ‘just running, swinging your racquet and hitting the ball.’ In reality, the sport is so much more, it requires dedication and effort to master it and then excel in it to reach a level where you can compete with other players globally. Similarly, games have evolved from the era of ‘pointing and shooting.’ They compel you to use your brain like in Sid Meier’s Civilization 5 where ‘decisions you take today, will reflect through the pages of history of the civilizations you establish.’ Make difficult decisions like, whether to sacrifice an entire species to save the universe as you must in Mass Effect; experience racism, sexism, systemic corruption in our governments, grittiness of crime, social evils through satire and gain deeper understanding of them as you do in the Grand Theft Auto series; or experience horror, pain and suffering through the corridors of Sevastopol in Alien: Isolation as you avoid the Xenomorph and hold on to your dear life.
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Moreover, do you know how much the gaming industry has grown in the last 10 years? According to MarketWatch, the industry was valued at $162 billion in 2020, which is $62 billion more than the global film industry.
Electronic sports or ‘E-sports’ have also been on the rise for the past few years. Just like conventional sports, video games have tournaments as well with dedicated teams and cash prizes. Counter Strike: Global Offensive had a cumulative cash prize of $15.65 million in 2020 itself. You must have heard of famous football teams like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea etc. E-sports also have such teams – ‘OG’, ‘Astralis’, ‘Fnatic’ are to name a few. The International Olympic Committee recognized E-sports as medal games. Thousands of content creators online on platforms like Twitch and YouTube have made full-time careers out of gaming. This is a legitimate career now, and it is only going to grow as the world moves towards the digital era especially after COVID-19.
India can be a powerhouse when it comes to this. In the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, India won a bronze medal in the E-sports category (read more here). According to Deloitte India, the Indian Gaming industry is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2022 with a compound annual growth rate of 40% (The report). This rise is credited to the fall in prices of smartphones, mobile data and a general rise in disposable income of the people. However, there is no formidable policy that has been created to encourage this industry. This industry can employ thousands of developers, graphic designers, scriptwriters, online-content creators (YouTubers, Twitch streamers etc.), voice artists, actors, musicians and so many more.
What can be done to promote this industry? The first and foremost move would be to shift Indian E-sports from the ‘entertainment category’ to ‘sports category’. Being classified as under entertainment misrepresents it. Furthermore, they are taxed 30% ‘entertainment tax’ rather than the 20% sports tax. It will also include E-sports within the regular framework of sports policies and also shift the people’s perception which will help legitimize it as a career which people can pursue.
National and international sports players receive scholarships for their performances. Similarly, E-sports players should also be eligible for receiving these scholarships. University of California and University of Utah in the United States as well as University of Roehampton in the United Kingdom have launched these one-of-a-kind scholarships. They act as security for families who are apprehensive about letting their children commit to E-sports.
Recently, Ubisoft India was given the project to remaster an age old classic, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. This is probably the first major title that an Indian studio is working upon. Although not an entirely original project, it is a step in the right direction. India has a rich and diverse culture and history. Popular Games such as Total War and Assassin’s Creed which focus on these aspects, can be refreshed with the injection of Indian themed games. It will be excellent for ‘digital tourism.’ These games recreate some of the major cities and historical landmarks and players like to visit them. If you remember the Notre Dame fire, Ubisoft had given away Assassin’s Creed Unity in which they had recreated the majestic cathedral. Players visited it and explored it in detail, learning about the cathedral while also enjoying the game. If you follow some Reddit forums or 9GAG’s gaming section, you will often find players posting pictures of themselves visiting these places in real life. It’s beneficial for tourism.
Gaming has a bright future, not just as a medium of entertainment, but also as a major industry for employment, a medal-sport and for exposing ourselves to cultures we might not normally know about. We get to experience detailed stories from the past as well as fictional ones. It even acts as a fun activity to do with your friends especially when you are unable to meet due to the pandemic or because of living in different cities (my friends and I regularly play Among Us, giving us something fun to do while at the same time catching up with each other). You can also sit back and enjoy while building your own city in Cities Skylines or competing against 59 other ‘Jelly Beans’ in Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. Its a completely new experience, flying ‘under the radar‘.
Till then, I’ll see you on the streets of Los Angeles chasing down criminals and solving crimes as a police detective in the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1950s.