Sunday, February 4, 2007

Online Gaming: A Life Away from Life

Games have always been an escape from reality. They provide the user with a world outside of this one to exist in and escape to. In an article by Jefferey Davis, blogger and gamer, he discusses the function of this media in society over the years and he cites leisure and stress releif as their primary purpose. However, today in the online gaming realm, virtual life is transforming from an sanctuary from the tangible world to a second life. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) allow for all the facets of social existence to be manifested in a digital realm. In the game Second Life, the player can experience evrything from professional work, to dining and dating and more. All of this occurs virtually in cyber-space seeming to have no direct effect on the end user other than entertainment. However for many, this experience is not just an outlet for stress release and a playground for them to frolick in, but rather has a profound effect on them personally; people "play" professionally, they forge deep bonds of friendship, become addicted, or even hold business meetings. Online games have become a platform to exist within not just a fantasy land dedicated to escapism.

For some, their closest friends and primary source of kinship and support can be found in-game. Within online community the Massively Multiplayer Online Games have the most significant social impact. The characters reside within a virtual world filled with thousands of others all working simultaneously and often together to achieve goals. One such game is the World of Warcraft and it has an important social structure inherent to the game, the guild: a large group who all ban together to share the in-game experience as shown below. For many, their guild is not simply a group of unknown virtual companions but rather its members become the center of their social reality. For one World of Warcraft patron the guild was her crutch in a time of dire need, “ the real world turned its back on my family" but in-game there was, " a community where we all trust and love one another that came through and put together a miracle.” For this guildie, the “real world” rendered her helpless and the fantasy based world proved more substantial and meaningful. The ability to depend on them was real, however this connection was fostered through the virtual land World of Warcraft.

The reach of games impact stretches beyond the emotional support of guilds as it also has an increasingly strong grasp in the business realm. In the past month, according to Gamespot, the industry grossed 1.1 billion dollars, in month! It is undeniable that gaming has become a tremendous industry from a consumer perspective. However money can also be made playing games. Fatal1ty the world's top professional gamer, “trains 8-10 hours each day, sometimes longer, in preparation for upcoming tournaments,”. Fatal1ty has also made over 100,000 dollars in a year from his participation in tournaments, most of which are hosted by the Cyberathlete Professional League, whose logo is displayed to the right. The Cyberathlete Professional League is the, "world's most recognized brand in professional videogame tournaments and has been a major force in the transformation of videogame competitions to a professional sport". This is a serious business and has dedicated individuals, and organizations fighting for its acceptance as a viable career path. With a clear profit potential and amassing support, professionals represent an undeniable impact that games are beginning have beyond a recreational capacity.

The gaming realm even touches the lives of those who would never before have considered themselves gamers. In Second Life people can create a computerized copy of themselves and perform all the functions of analog existence in this virtual space, even purchase land, and yes, for real money. Companies such as IBM have begun using the, "world of Second Life as the next best thing to being there for corporate meetings" scheduling meetings online instead of in "reality." The employees’ second selves come together online and discuss the topics of real world business through a game! Even non-gaming professionals are now in touch with this world for their business needs. This infiltration of games into areas of business and socialization, especially for those before unused to the medium, reveals their potential as somethign far greater than simply a toy for adolescents; it is a tool that can be applied to any cross section of society whether it be for financial gain, for interpersonal relations, or for some good "old-fashioned" fun.

In today's increasingly modern and technologically dependant era games are indeed more and more prevalent and accepted, however it still is strongly focused on a niche culture. Most people remain untouched by this phenomena, and people would argue that the vast majority of gamers fit in the 18-34 male category. In response to this stereotype Nielsen Entertainment’s Interactive Group, performed a study, in 2005, as to truly determine the "gamer demographic" and they surprisingly found that, "Women and older adults are playing games in increasing numbers." These findings are encouraging are and are backed by a statistic that 41% of gamers are women. Though this study does prove that games affect a bigger sliver of society than previously suspected, it is still not a universally accepted medium. The potential for the medium to become a daily appliance for people of all ages is not only possible but probable. Gaming has transcended entertainment and escapism and planted itself firmly in the fabric of reality as a substantial source of social satisfaction, professional opportunity and business functionality.

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