Game [not] over: Connecting the disconnected

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Video games are changing fast. They are now played by people of all ages and are helping to create both community and learning opportunities.

According to technology journalist and author Keith Stuart, the increasing interactivity of games is giving them meaning and value for a whole range of new audiences.

Talking with Casper Klynge on our #TechFit4Europe podcast, he says that gaming is now more inclusive than ever and has helped to bring people together in a time of enforced isolation.

Here are five takeaways from their conversation.

1. Gaming has allowed us to interact with others in a year when we couldn’t meet in person

The pandemic has meant we have often been unable to leave our homes for social activities. The ability to visit new worlds or to connect with friends through virtual play is one of the reasons that gaming has become so relevant this year. It has helped bring people together in a way that benefits mental health and makes us feel like we are part of a community.

“One of the key elements, I think, in games in the 21st century is that sense of social interaction and the kind of simulation of social spaces,” Stuart says. “In 2021, where we can’t go anywhere, video games offer us universes to explore.”

Gaming can also provide a safe space for many, with Minecraft, for instance, helping people with autism to express themselves and be creative in a setting with a level of predictability around regulations and patterns.

2. The industry is more diverse than ever before

For years, the traditional creators – and consumers – of video games have been mostly young white men, with many games catering for that audience. Now, we’re seeing more of a focus on diversity and inclusion, and the industry is becoming a space where a broader range of people are more likely to feel at home.

“It’s not about simply hiring people of color and expecting them to fit into the culture that is already there, which might be very dominated by young white men,” Stuart notes. “It’s about changing the culture within studios. And I think as more studios do that, more young women and young women of color will look at the games industry as somewhere they belong.”

More voices in the industry also means greater innovation in content – from diverse casting to games fronted by trans characters. It’s proof, according to Stuart, of “a massive cultural change around video games” in recent years.

“We all benefit, I think, from games being more diverse in their stories and in their making,” he says. “I think games are becoming better and more interesting as a result. We’re seeing more people of color as heroes in video games, as lead characters in video games. We’re seeing African mythology explored in a way that it wouldn’t have been five or 10 years ago. And I think that is really interesting.”

3. Multiculturalism is a European advantage

The European games industry is worth 21 billion, making it a significant part of our economy. Europe is now home to some of the world’s biggest and most important game developers, as well as some of the most innovative products.

The cross-pollination of ideas in the European games industry is enabled by the fact that people can move around freely and work together creatively despite any cultural differences.

“Because of the way we are in Europe, there’s that seamlessness not only of movement geographically, but also you can move seamlessly between industries,” Stuart says. “And I think that’s really, really important. If you’re a creative person with writing or technological skills or design skills, there’s so much freedom now within the digital space and within digital culture.”

“Every developing studio in Europe is this melting pot of ideas, and influences, and cultures, and religions. And I think this leads to really, really interesting video games that are full of different, often contradictory, ideas.”

4. Digital safety is a collective responsibility

Parents often worry about the danger of video games in the same way they once worried about rock music or novels, Stuart says. But he believes the fear they are violent, and cause psychological harm, is unfounded: “I’ve seen plenty of studies which have shown almost no connections between video game violence and violence in society.”

Stuart says that by understanding the technology that their children are using, as well as setting boundaries, parents can help make gaming a safe and enriching experience.

“Digital culture is so much a part of our lives now,” he says. “If you teach your child to ride a bike, if you teach your child to swim, if you teach your child to cross the road safely, you need to also teach them how to use computers and video game consoles safely.”

Parents can also use the protective tools that the tech industry is already implementing – with built-in controls that allow them to set age ratings and determine how long their child can play for.

“We’re at a stage now where any technology bought over the last three or four years has those control functions in it,” Stuart says.

5. Games have incredible educational potential

Educators are recognizing that video games can inspire a love of learning in youngsters who operate increasingly in a digital world, as well as prepare them for the future.

As Stuart observes: “It can be very difficult to get a job in the economy of the mid-21st century without an understanding of digital user interfaces and digital user experiences, and the ability to talk to people and communicate through digital platforms.”

The classroom versions of games are already used as educational tools in schools around the world. Teachers in more than 115 countries are using Minecraft  to help children learn about subjects like physics, architecture and geography. Roblox – a platform that allows youngsters to find out about coding and design – is another example.

“This generation has grown up with digital culture,” Stuart points out. “They are digital natives. And in order for education to be relevant to their lives, going forwards, video games are going to have to be part of that.”

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A transcript of this episode will be available shortly.

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