Chapter 11
Conclusion: Point of No Return

Determining when you are near the end of a video game, particularly those with broader, more sprawling narratives, has become a fair bit easier in modern games. Many introduce what is colloquially known as a “point of no return”—this is where the player (and their avatar) advances the narrative to the point that the lead up to the conclusion of the game kicks off in earnest, ending only in the roll of the credits. Modern games have adopted a number of more or less subtle cues at the point of no return—anything from in‐game characters telling the player they should “finish up other business” before proceeding, to less elegant but very direct prompts from the game UI asking the player to confirm if they would like to continue.

Players have a choice—they can forgo saving the world/galaxy/whatever for a while to finish up other tasks, collect various MacGuffins, and power themselves up for the climatic ending, or charge headlong into the final moments of the game. Either way, it is a false choice—in many of these same games various iterations of “New Game+” exist (where upon completion of the game, the player can go through it again on different terms) or DLCs can extend the narrative sometimes indefinitely. The story and journey never really end, even after the ominously titled point of no return.

You may see where I'm going with this—we've reached our own point of no return. We're heading to the conclusion of this story arc, but one that will continue beyond the pages here. The influence of gaming has broached beyond entertainment, and its impact on the construction of virtual worlds, social connectivity, competitive entertainment, or simply existing as mass‐consumed media remains in very early stages. What was presented here was the start, enough to get interested parties towards this newly developing game (hopefully with a plus!), but it would be folly to consider this journey at an end.

How do we proceed past this point such that we aren't compelled to circle back and finish any insights (should we choose not to)? Let's review:

  • In Chapter 2 we learned that gaming helps us understand new technologies. Many of our biases against it are rooted in moral panics defined by older generations unwilling or unable to understand the pastime of younger ones, spurred in part by an initial economic focus on young men. As those economics became unsustainable due to the rising costs of advanced game production, the proliferation of gaming has risen due to both more accessible technology and design to make game types for virtually everyone, in ways that could be threaded into everyday life.
  • What constitutes a game fan had changed, and in Chapter 3 we tore down the incredibly durable conception of what a gamer was, by understanding the influence of moral panics on public perception. The “othering” of gamers by the media fostered a tendency to calcify the gamer identity among game players at the time (young men), who in turn “othered” those wishing to enter the domain of gaming—by exhibiting extreme tendencies towards ownership and participatory culture. The gamer exists, but it's a small part of the population that drums up most of the negative connotations around the larger gaming fandom. Investment, ownership, and the highly affective nature of the medium mean that the psychology of these spaces is somewhat unique, and should be handled with care when introducing new elements (be it ads, technology, messages, or otherwise).
  • We addressed the more problematic or concerning issues around the psychology and culture of gaming in Chapter 4, where we tackled issues of brand safety and representation in gaming through the lens of common concerns related to violence, addiction, and toxicity. We found that scientific consensus on games leading towards addictive or violent behaviors is incredibly mixed and largely blown out of proportion by moral panics, and all sides of the game community are incentivized to stamp out issues of toxicity, which is in part rooted in threated identity by the growth of the gaming umbrella, particularly among women. The drawing power of games (and therefore, their value to marketers) should not be overly conflated with their potential for abuse.
  • Having established a platform for understanding game play, Chapter 5 addressed immediate opportunities in gaming, with a focus on advertising, partnerships, and advergaming. The scope and desired audience must be balanced against development needs and time, with the understanding that outside interactions are partially funding the gaming ecosystem as it exists now. Creating value to the player and not disrupting the game play or game environment are paramount, as is an empathetic approach to working with game developers and a level‐set on what manner of opportunities are more turnkey (such as advertising) versus requiring significant partnership. The disruptiveness of an integration carries a price tag in value that can be given back to the player—no opportunities are impossible, but a narrower set is economically viable as things currently stand.
  • We transitioned to the broader phenomenon of gaming viewership in Chapter 6, starting with esports. New, evolving, and innovative business models in esports trail viewership that is still very much growing and quite unique in experience relative to viewing other traditional sports. The legacy of gaming being the domain of young men, and disproportionately those with adequate wealth to participate, forms a persisting problem of representation in the industry that bears consideration and is only partially offset by opportunities prevalent in game streaming.
  • We jumped into the history of esports in Chapter 7, with an emphasis on the social, cultural, and technological factors that have shaped the trajectory of the industry. While esports have a number of parallels to traditional sports, which provides a road map towards understanding, it is differentiated by its complicated relationship with traditional media (resulting in at least one industry crash) and rise to prominence via new mechanisms for broadcasts such as game streaming. This has shaped the prevailing business models around esports organizations, which are predominately digital and lean towards emerging trends such as influencer marketing to funnel much‐needed revenue into developing businesses.
  • The focus was widened in Chapter 8 to discuss game streaming more generally, wherein we find that virtually any game can be an esport of sorts, and game streaming as a vocation is both a mechanism to inject money into the esports ecosystem and a cause of strain for content creators when work and play are combined. This relationship bears due consideration in Chapter 9, where we explored opportunities in game viewing across esports and streaming, falling largely along the lines of advertisements, sponsorships, and leveraging gaming talent for the purposes of content or influencer marketing. Not unlike gaming, a wide palette is open, though often in direct negotiation with a variety of complex stakeholders ranging from game studios to talent, with differing levels of influence and possibilities that some degree of insider information can help navigate.
  • Chapter 10 adopted a future‐looking view, using the concept of metaverse as an organizing principal to discuss the possibilities afforded by VR/AR, cloud, 5G, Blockchain, and other emerging and influential tech that both have applications in gaming (and in many cases are direct heirs to the legacy of gaming). As a result, the near‐term applications and potentials of these technologies will be heavily gaming‐centric, which has the combined effect of positioning gaming as both one of the most valuable ecosystems for contextualizing this technology (which as discussed in the history of gaming, has been a common thread since the advent of video games) and understanding their potential beyond gameplay.

Recent years have demonstrated an increasing array of companies signaling interest in gaming—Netflix has notably turned to gaming as a potential to add additional value to a potentially saturated marketplace.1 The influence of ideas such as the metaverse will yield a number of visions that (sadly) won't look a whole lot different from game platforms such as Playstation Home or Second Life, due in part to a reluctance to contend with gaming and the lessons it can provide from a long history of virtual worlds. Enthusiasm around the concept of the metaverse and Web 3.0 more generally will have the effect of increasing the number of organizations interested in building virtual worlds (it's entirely possible that familiarity with game engines will become a must‐have skill in nongaming dedicated technology companies). Whether it be more direct game offerings or one that is more tangentially related, gaming is exerting influence beyond media habits.

As offered in the opening chapter of this book, our newly established understanding of gaming has the potential to pay dividends beyond appreciating the technology and landscape. Game fans themselves, complete with their multifaceted motivations and unique orientations towards gaming, will be profoundly instructive towards the reception of any number of new technologies. This is due not only to the fact that household decision makers are increasingly comprised of generations who have grown acculturated with gaming and see their consumption of this media no different from (say) watching a movie or listening to music, but that gaming has been media where direct participation and community involvement to build the ecosystem has been present since its earliest days. Before there was “UGC” in video or social platforms, there were mods in video games—entirely new experiences being built on top of others, occasionally eclipsing the popularity of the game it was created from. Technologists will look to the future of phenomenon like Web 3.0 and extol the virtues of this technology being community built—gaming is a community with, and aptitude for, building weaved into its DNA. Fans can be described as early adopters of new media platforms, who often endeavor to gain control of means of cultural production,2 and this is true for gaming fans through acts ranging from game modding to building in platforms like Minecraft or Roblox, but one could go so far as to claim they are in actuality early adopters to larger technological forces and trends that are only now becoming more apparent.

The influence of gaming fans on gaming can thus not be understated, but it's a distinction that will blur in coming years—not due to any shifts in the extent to which gaming fans influence gaming media, but to broader trends where “gamer” as a category won't itself be an oddity. There are no small number of more or less convincing arguments out there which make the claim that “everyone is a gamer,” the shift is that everyone being a gamer in this case is not a logical “gotcha” for executives who have Solitaire installed on their iPhone but a more fundamental cultural shift. If we think about the poorly defined notion of a “gamer” being one who primarily consumes games as part of their media diet, the uniqueness of this phenomenon will continue to slip.3 The act of gaming and its antecedents are becoming demystified, which is of course a not so subtle goal of this very work.

The potential for a gaming‐centric future will elicit a broad range of potential fears. The advent of social media and computerized interaction led prominent thinkers such as Sherry Turkle to paint stark futures of life lived through a screen, where virtual interaction slipped from being “better than nothing” to “better than anything.”4 The thought of living our lives in increasingly virtualized worlds has stoked these very same fears—depending on your point of view, we're either amidst, or on the precipice of, another moral panic (and here you were thinking all those folks who cast down gaming and rock music before were short‐sighted and culturally backwards!) as we seek to understand the possibilities of our world lived as life not on, but within, the screen. Not unlike social media, the debates on harm vs. good enabled by these technologies will not be settled overnight. What is different this time is the example social media present towards the potential outcomes of these new technologies, both awesome and terrible. This is the fundamental shift in the conversation that is driving the development of Web 3.0 vs. Web 2.0—how do we not fall prey to mistakes of our information superhighway past?

And yet we are very much in danger of doing so. If we are to believe that the metaverse is the future of communication and information sharing, how it is largely described at this time (inclusive of organizations seminal to the proliferation of social media) is a world perfect for commercialization but less so for creativity. It's an alluring fantasy of control over virtually every commercial decision one can make,5 because virtual goods can be endlessly made and their raw components extracted from naught but an idea. For virtual worlds to interlink as promised by the vision of the metaverse, rules and standards need to be in place—paraphrasing famed game developer Raph Koster—standards set a limit to creativity. The problem with these scenarios (if not the development of Web 3.0 more generally) is the same one that was prevalent in the development of Web 2.0—technological determinism. We'll put the needs and possibilities of the technology before the needs of the humans.

But it doesn't have to be this way, and this is where our newfound awareness and insight can come into play. We should not let our ambitions to rapidly commercialize these spaces and put literal stakes in virtual ground set the tone and standards for the potentials afforded by these new technologies. Many of those chasing the dream of the metaverse look at it as an awesome fantasy described by works such as Snow Crash or Ready Player One without the awareness that both works are satires of the evils of capitalism. Beyond the superficial, the fictional works the metaverse draws inspiration from are largely bleak visions for the future.

Intervention in an experience that evokes deep levels of immersion, and to where the consumer feels deep ownership, provokes considerations that are not dissimilar whether it be a game or more generalized virtual world. From this near‐term example we can gain an appreciation of the unique psychology that this evokes, and the necessity for value creation proportional with the level of disruption that may be implanted in these experiences. We can understand that what makes competition compelling is as true in a virtual arena as in a real one, and play can become serious work that fundamentally shifts our conceptions of play. Gaming, whether being played or viewed, is a special form of media because the participant is fully at the center of it. Moreover, it's the only form of media that allows for the participant to walk in the shoes of another, share a common goal, or challenge with someone they have never met, and form deeply multifaceted bonds with others regardless of barriers of time and space.

In this sense, gaming is a deeply human way that we use technology, because the act of play is fundamental to the human experience. Building technologies that crib from gaming without humanist consideration is missing this point in a stunning manner. If we set out to learn how to operate businesses within gaming environments it is my hope that you feel that this endeavor is successful, but the broader possibilities that the lessons here afforded may merely be the start of something even bigger.

So, to tie up the gaming metaphor we opened with, we've reached the end with a new vantage point for beginning a slightly more difficult albeit familiar game. The only question left is whether you would like to play again?

Notes

  1. 1. Catie Keck, “Netflix's Gaming Push Could Be its Secret Sauce for Continued Domination,” The Verge, November 9, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/22770244/netflix-gaming-app-launch-android-ios-future.
  2. 2. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 3.
  3. 3. Ian Bogost, How to Do Things with Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 154.
  4. 4. Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Perseus Books Group, 2011). Kindle Edition.
  5. 5. Ian Bogost, “The Metaverse Is Bad: It is Not a World in a Headset but a Fantasy of Power,” The Atlantic, October 21, 2021, https://amp-theatlantic-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/620449/.
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