Disclaimer: I’ve been a gamer my whole life. Not just video games though – I play sports, board games, cooperative games, riddles, whatever! I love using my mind and talents in a playful and challenging way. So it’s natural that I’m fascinated by the way gaming has evolved. But how we can use games and gamification in schools to help challenge and engage students in their learning?
In part 1, my intention is to build a foundation about gaming. I’ll explore ideas relating to the current state of video game culture, the way video games have evolved with the ubiquity of social media and video sharing, and how our youth participate in this culture.
So take the plunge with me and participate in the conversation.
Have you heard of the super-celebrities: Miranda Sings, PewDiePie, TheDiamondMinecart, UberHaxorNova, VanossGaming, JennaMarbles or Vegetta777?
If you have, then you’re more internet-savvy than most (including myself, because I had to look most of them up). These are some of the highest-paid, most famous YouTubers with millions upon millions of subscribers. Self-made celebrities who earn a very good living by producing videos on YouTube. As you might guess, many of the top YouTubers – including some in the above list – run comedy channels. But you might have trouble guessing the next most popular genre on YouTube. It’s probably because you have little reason to watch these videos, but due to a burgeoning community, there’s plenty of demand. These other top YouTubers produce videos themselves playing video games. Usually the video is set up picture-in-picture.The main screen showing the gameplay, and the inset, a webcam recording of the gamer.
*needle scratches off record*
Wait. Watching video games is a thing? Why are people doing this?
I’ll point you towards a description provided by Twitch.tv. Twitch.tv is a website that hosts “social videos for gamers” (i.e. where people go to watch others play video games live while interacting with them). It is the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers. Oh, and Amazon purchased it in 2014 for a cool $1 billion. From Twitch’s About Us page:
“People enjoy watching others who are highly skilled or entertaining when it involves a shared interest. Twitch, however, is much more than a viewing experience; it is live social video that relies on audio and chat to enable broadcasters and their audiences to interact about everything from pop culture to life in general as they game.”
Video games have grown over the last 30 years to become a cultural force. Here’s some evidence:
- The gregarious gamer, PewDiePie, is the top earning YouTuber in the world with 42 million subscribers and a net-worth estimated at $60 million. After watching some of his videos, it’s hard not to like him. He’s just like a goofy buddy making funny comments while playing a game.
- Sharing images and video of games has gone mainstream. XboxOne and PS4 have engineered their consoles to easily record, screencast, and share images and video with the touch of a button. It used to be that if you wanted to record and share your video game play you would have purchase and setup expensive hardware. Not anymore.
- eSports – professional gaming – is rising fast. Huge prizes, agents, coaches, high stakes, sold-out venues. Approximately 71.5 million people watched competitive gaming in 2013, and it has only grown since then. RedBull even has a section of their webpage devoted to eSports.
- Reddit has a subreddit (r/gaming) that has 9.5 million subscribers and features all sorts of jokes, videos, and comment threads all about games. Note, if you’re not a gamer don’t expect to make much sense of all the memes and jokes.
There’s so much more to say about why and how gaming has become so large, but suffice to say, it’s a different gaming world now than the one you and I grew up in. The old conception was that video games were an expensive novelty gadget for teenage boys who would eventually have to grow up, and invariably separate with said video games, in a drawn out heart wrenching fashion (think Toy Story narrative). That conception no longer exists. The gaming world now belongs to people of any age, any gender, any console/device, all around the world.
I should admit that I did know that recording and sharing video game footage was at least moderately popular. Years ago I started to view videos on YouTube to help me with a notoriously hard game. I wanted to learn more about where to go in the game, where to get certain items, find better ways to beat bosses, or how to access hidden areas. I thought videos about video games was limited to tips, tricks, and cheats – things to help you play and beat a game. But little did I know that at this time video game social videos were garnering lots of attention. This whole idea of watching video games for entertainment seemed so foreign to me and I needed to know more. So I turned to some of my in-house experts (students). A couple guys, Ben and Randall, volunteered to talk in front of a camera while we discussed video game culture and why people watch. I shot questions at them and they didn’t flinch; these guys were fantastic with their answers and insights. We did this for about 10 minutes and I felt much more informed. So what did they say? Why watch others game? It came down to
- To see someone very skilled perform at a high level.
- To be entertained by the gamer’s personality, reactions, and comments.
- To learn new things about the games.
Ben and Randall went on to make an acute comparison between gaming and sports. It is great to play sports but the participation doesn’t have to end there. You can watch sports on TV, listen to sports talk radio or podcasts, watch highlights,talk about it with peers, buy merchandise, and follow and support your favourite teams online. All of these same ideas also hold true for video games. It is an experience that ties millions of people together.
I’ll admit, in researching this topic I watched an hour of PewDiePie playing my current favourite game. It wasn’t hours upon hours of him just playing and talking. He split up the main quest into six, 10-minute episodes. I was surprised by how entertaining I found it! He has hilarious responses and commentary (nsfw language), edits his videos very well, and a certain charisma that keeps you watching. I consistently found myself laughing at his reactions to things that had happened to me in the game. And that was the crux of it. I found it funny because we shared the same experience, he was doing something that I had done. PewDiePie records, edits, brands, packages, and shares his experience to a global audience, and they love it.
But to wrap up, what does this all mean? Why am I spending my time on this topic?
Games engage. Games are collaborative. Games are fun. Games challenge. Games are remembered. Games teach.
Those are words I want to have describe my classroom.