Online Gaming – an investigation

Online gaming has been around for decades and has transformed a lot in that time. These games can be partially or entirely played on the internet with the aid of a computing device or other console devices that allows the user to connect to a server. The transformation of online gaming mirrors the way computing itself has changed over the years as technology was improved. This paper (yes another piece of homework from me) will aim to clarify the historical and artistic context of online gaming, business, as well as what impacts the medium of gaming has had with other digital and interactive media.

Historical and artistic transformation

Prior to the internet being widely accessible online games were focused as user-to-user interfaces with simpler interfaces. The first online ‘massively multiplayer’ games were introduced in the 1970s such as Astro Race, Mazewar, and Adventure.

With the World Wide Web going public in August 1991 the interactivity of gaming increased. Even video games for consoles or from discs to be used on personal computers often have online accompaniments or Easter eggs, that give the games more depth and interactive elements through various media platforms.

Online video games were primarily only accessed by a smaller section of the population and as accessibility to computing devices spread, the popularity of it increased. The technical proficiency of online servers was improved and allowed many others to connect to the game’s host server in order to play.

As personal computing continued to develop the sophistication of online gaming also rose. Computer interfaces improved and with it the animation of video games and online games, bringing with it a reduction in the usage of split screens. With smart phones and tablets accessible widely in many countries now, online games can be installed quickly and the applications can be multiplayer or individual.

Graphic design for video games has gotten more sophisticated through time and online the spaces created have varying degrees of uniqueness. In ‘Time and Space in Digital Game Storytelling’ the spatio-temporal aspects of game design are examined as art and also as a system. Wei et al say “Time and space are equally important for storytelling in digital games. Through a look at past game studies, we can see contributions to both aspects and arguments promoting both. Game space has probably been explicitly recognized by more researchers and designers in the field. It is obvious that in order to design a game it is necessary to design a space.” The communicative and entertainment factors of game design are taken into account in regards to the storytelling.

Social connectivity

‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games’ or MMORPGs inherently are social games, connecting millions of players. In Social Interactions in Online Gaming we read: “Positive social interaction is paramount in MMORPGs because they require a large number of players to cooperate together and work as a team at the same time. MMORPGs also have multiple tasks that require different characters with different skills in order to complete a challenge or quest. This teaches gamers to be dependent on one another that reinforce their relationships, providing a good understanding of teamwork.” The paper examined five studies conducted with MMORPG users, regarding the social experience gained with gaming and found that role play games were often used for gender swapping as well by players. In the findings of the study many players claimed that they found the interaction with the other players to be fulfilling, and that the friendships made through it were genuine.

Online gaming has various fandoms (fanatic domains) that connect on YouTube with game-plays and walkthroughs, the same as other video games played without internet connection. Gaming culture is strong, and the online components that complement games on recent generations of PlayStation, Xbox and wii consoles is evidence of that.

In another area of social connection, we can see how online gaming is strengthened by usage of social media, by way of creating accounts quickly with existing platforms (i.e. Facebook or Gmail accounts) and then using those to play games, invite other people from an existing contact list or connect with a new user online. Games like Farmville and Candy Crush available on Facebook are noted for their addictive quality and ease of inviting other players – often offering rewards to existing players for sending the invitation out.

Impacts on contemporary practices in sound and interactive/digital media

The demand for improvements on the technology are always rising and in response to that companies are needing to create advanced gaming systems to keep users entertained.

The most interesting thing about online gaming is that it is so user-oriented and an art form in its own regard. All video games are very meticulously planned and executed, and often people who don’t get involved in playing the games overlook all of these things. Game design in general has a plethora of visual and auditory aspects that combine to create a world for the players to immerse themselves in.

In Game Sound, Collins writes “Whereas one person used to be responsible for all aspects of audio production and implementation, there are now teams of people with a variety of levels of artistic and technical skills. What needs to be stressed is that game audio is a collaborative process; the programmer cannot implement without the music, and the music, as was shown, depends to a significant extent on how it is implemented.” (p. 106) With games that have interactive focus on virtual or augmented realities, the game interfaces are tested differently to that of other video games. This beta testing differs as the game plays of reality-based or reality-altering games give a unique experience to a standard online game that is presented on a screen and performed through a keyboard or console device.

Impacts on businesses

Game developers began licencing their creations to other software developers even before the internet was launched publicly. Companies like Sierra and Electronic Arts were quick to recognise the growing sales of computers and sought programs that they would market such as the infamous Dungeons and Dragons game.

The widespread availability of free online games has changed how they are marketed. Many free games require purchases at certain points to access more parts. In the article ‘Game Design as Marketing’ the concept of artificial scarcity is raised, whereby the game designers deliberately make certain items or “products” difficult to get access to. This in turn justifies marketing games and game add-ons being marked up in price. Another aspect of game-enclosed scarcity is collectible or ‘limited’ items that even if free are still difficult to obtain due to the gameplay being designed at a more intricate level.

On an international scope, the American market had to compete with the Asian market for a long time before online gaming started to gain more popularity, due to the advancement and sophistication of games from Asian companies, particularly Japanese companies like Nintendo and Sega.

Pop culture

Online gaming shares attention in mainstream media for a variety of reasons stemming from its own popularity, social connotations and meme culture online. In 2016 the release of Pokemon Go from Niantic caused a burst in the creation of Twitter and Instagram memes referencing the experience of playing and the impact of the free game on users and non-users alike. Another recent example would be the release of the fantasy film Warcraft based on the famed online role playing game World of Warcraft, which was a success as a game-to-film adaptation despite not performing well at the box office.

In pop culture references today online gaming still has a ‘stigma’ of being uncool and is a tool for eliciting humour in many forms of media, especially as a character defining trait in film and television, although the demographics of online game players covers all genders and ages.

Conclusion

To summarise this paper it can be seen that online gaming has affected many aspects of social interaction. Online gaming has directly affected culture, business strategy, and interactive media. Since its inception online gaming has encompassed many styles and reached huge demographics. The culture surrounding gaming is different today to what it was a few decades ago because the technologies are no longer rare and simple.

References:

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