Just before Covid-19, I met an acquaintance at the gym who was on a bike playing video games on his mobile. He used his credit card to purchase new weapons and costumes in the game.
‘What a joke’
‘How can he be so dumb to buy things that don’t exist.’ I thought to myself.
Two years later I caught myself buying new weapons in Call of Duty: Black Ops. First, it was a $20 purchase; the second time was $50. The third $100.
That’s right. I was hooked.
I remember when I was a kid, I played Tetris on Gameboy. Then I played Super Mario on Nintendo when it was released, followed by Street Fighters and Final Fantasy on PlayStation years later.
When the PC came into the market, assisted by a faster internet connection, I played multiplayer online games such as StarCraft, Warcraft, and Counterstrike in internet cafés.
It was fun and addictive.
Gaming is no longer just for children like it used to be. Today, based on US statistics, the 18-34 years old comprise the largest gamers (38%), followed by the under 18s (20%). Interestingly, there is not a wide gender difference between men (55%) and women (45%). Up to 29 million people have been playing online games in the past 48 hours. A telling figure.
In terms of gaming type, mobile games make up the largest share of gaming, followed by console (e.g., Xbox), then PC games.
With the growth of smartphones, both sexes are not only on social media, they are also playing mobile games. Indeed, at a local Chiang Mai coffee shop, I regularly spotted half a dozen junior cops (on a break) playing a first-person shooting game on their mobile. (I guess when there is no bad guy to shoot on the street, you shoot at your friends online instead.)
Accordingly, we need to throw out the old notion that only kids play games. Games today are enjoyed by all ages. They are becoming much more engaging and interactive – from crossword puzzles for the elderly to grammar quizzes and cognitive games for pre-teens.
I remember when I was running for the local mayor’s councilor race, after canvassing for votes I would return home and play Call of Duty, shooting hordes of zombies till the early hours. Gaming for me can reduce stress and serve as mental stimulation. One good game is like a cup of espresso. Its downside obviously is its “time-robbery” nature. I used up more than 200 hours playing that game.
Speaking of Call of Duty, which consists of a four-player team from anywhere on earth with an internet connection, I mostly play with complete strangers to kill zombies. Here are the basics of the game. A first-person shooter game, you kill zombies to earn points to buy new weapons, get upgrades, and unlock obstacles (e.g., doors) to progress. Each round that we survive, the zombie hordes become stronger and faster. I notice that many Chinese players (from the mainland) were rather selfish by letting me unlock the doors, thereby allowing them to hoard more points. Thus, they were free riding on my effort. Whereas other players from North America, Russia, and elsewhere tended to be fairer. We took turn in paying to access those doors. There was greater teamwork, on average.
Are you ready for the next horde?
With the rise of eSports, gaming has become global and more competitive. In 2016 eSports earned $493 million. Five years later, it jumped to $1.65 billion – a whopping threefold.
In StarCraft – a multiplayer strategy game – tournament, typically the winners are South Koreans. But on one occasion the 24-year-old man Serral from Finland beat the South Koreans, earning him over $300,000 in the grand prize. It was incredible watching him compete on Youtube. And dare I say much more exciting than watching the English Premier! His fingers were tapping the keyboards, using hot buttons and shortcuts, at an insane speed. Where it might take me 10 minutes to rebuild an army, he got it done in under one minute.
I think it will be worth investing for Chiang Mai to have an eSports venue to develop local gamers, where they can earn more than the average Thai salaried workers. Worth thinking about.
Ok, let’s move on to the future of gaming. Gaming, like many things today, is driven by technology. Each new generation of Xbox and PlayStations has increasingly more powerful processors and microchips. In PC games, newer games require greater memory space, faster processors, better graphic cards in your computer to handle the load. Moreover, a fast internet connection to play massive online multiplayer games is vital.
Twenty years ago, I bought games on CDs to install on my computer. Today, I pay for and download games online, with regular patch updates. With any bugs or gaming issues, the game developer can address them immediately. After one year or so, the developer releases season 2 to download for free to keep us hooked.
So here is my prediction in two phases.
Phase 1: I predict that in the next 20 years gaming will become more virtual. Instead of me sitting at my desk shooting zombies, I will immerse myself into the virtual world to shoot those zombies. The gaming experience will be more immersive. Think of Meta’s virtual reality Oculus headset. While complaints have been made that the headset gives users headaches, with time and better technology, users’ experience will improve.
But physically I’m still in my living room right? So, in Phase 2 (2050s onwards) I predict neurotech companies like Elon Musk’s Neuralink will connect our brains to computers directly via microchips implanted in our brains. Basically, the goal is to immerse our minds into a Matrix-like system (or metaverse) where we can be whoever we want, interacting with one another in the virtual world, similar to Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. So real it will feel that our minds will believe it to be reality.
I remember my Aussie housemate once told me this:
“We watch celebrities because either we (unconsciously) want to be them or we want to fornicate them.”
Think about it. We spend 5 – 6 hours daily on our smartphones, often following celebrities, influencers, politicians, and billionaires. Why not be them in the metaverse and live out our dreams and desires?
Time to escape high inflation and high living costs?
There is a larger political implication. In 30 years’ time, where housing, energy, and healthcare costs become so unaffordable, when a piece of apple might cost $50 inflation adjusted, where climate crisis causes untold destruction of our cultivated farmed land, we might live in Hong Kong’s shoe box-like apartments. No jobs, but with a universal basic income to prevent us from overthrowing the government, our only solace may well be the metaverse-Matrix machine where we escape to. We’ll only unhook ourselves from the matrix for biological activities (eating, washing etc.)
You may be a fat kid full of acne in real life. But in the metaverse – you are the 6-pack Terminator saving the world from nasty robots.
Welcome to the future.
Edward Kitlertsirivatana is a Member of Parliament candidate representing Chiang Mai’s district 1 for Building Thailand’s Future party in the next national election. This is strictly his personal view and does not reflect his party’s policies.