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Gaming is humanity’s ticket to the new economy of play

Gaming is more than just fun – it’s a social pastime for any age group

As marketers start to understand gaming’s mass appeal, Tom Simpson, SVP APAC of AdColony, says we need to think a step further and understand gaming’s influence on everything we do.

As long as humans have been on the planet, we have played. The children’s play we recognize today, filled with imagination and invention, can be traced back as far as Ancient Greece and Rome. Games are how we socialize, how we learn about the world, and how we relate to those around us. Video games are today’s version of these ancient rituals, and they’re no longer confined to the schoolyard.

In the decades ahead, people will come to socialize as much in virtual worlds that evolved from games as they will on platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Building things with friends within virtual worlds will become common, and major events within the most popular virtual worlds will become pop culture news stories. After all, the apotheosis of human social behavior online is unlikely to be scrolling through algorithmically curated feeds of other people’s photo and video content.

The gaming metaverse

Today, gaming has become such a large part of our culture that one cannot exist without the other. Sport, TV, music, social media and education have all become intrinsically linked to gaming, in a way that crosses generations and gives adults and children alike permission to play. We find our favorite songs through the soundtracks of our favorite games. We watch our friends playing a Fifa football match with the same level of anticipation as its real-life counterpart. We interact with our overseas friends by organizing a time to run around on Fortnite.

Even in places where we wouldn’t expect to find games, they can be found. Gamification is finding its way into our banking apps, health and fitness trackers, and even our virtual bookshelves via apps like Audible. In short, gaming is rapidly becoming more than a single aspect of our culture – it is becoming our culture.

Take a look at the community that’s built up around Fortnite, for example. Friends scattered across the world can reunite in a single time and place within the reality of the game. Over time, the Fortnite community has grown beyond the gameplay alone and now includes a wide community of fans across multiple platforms who share memes, inside jokes and strategies with one another.

Games are a fundamentally social medium. And like the most successful mediums, they are socially driven. The ticket to their success comes down to the ‘watercooler effect’. In order to participate in culture, you need to be doing what your chosen community does. In the gaming metaverse, it’s not a question of if you play, but how.

Breaking the generational divide

While it’s tempting to assume that gaming is solely reserved for the young, the reality is that gaming breaks down the generational divide. Picture a gen Z girl playing PUBG mobile with her uncle over the weekend, or the Facebook-obsessed mum playing Words with Friends with her TikTok-loving daughter. Gaming is gradually becoming the language that we all communicate through, and how we communicate with one another.

The breakdown of the generational divide reveals the futility of looking at consumers through an age-based lens at all – something most marketers would never dare to question.

Gaming teaches us that it’s time to forgo the generational epithets because they’re no longer useful. In a world where everyone is a gamer, the term itself becomes irrelevant – just as no one is labelled a ‘mobile user’ or a ‘social media user’ any more, it’s simply a given.

The economy of play

If work was the modus operandi for the industrial age, then play is the MO for the 21st century and beyond. Sociocultural changes in how we live, socialize and work will turn play into the way humans define and create value.

In a world of AI, robots and driverless cars, the very human traits of play and imagination become our superpower. The more we play, imagine and tinker with the technological tools at our disposal, the more value we’ll create.

As Pat Kane puts it in The Play Ethic: “We should begin to redesign our institutions and infrastructures, even our relationship of time and space, so that we can follow this playful human nature – rather than constantly shave the blade against, across and through it.”

The skills we take from today’s video games are going to be vital tools in tomorrow’s economy of play. If ‘all work and no play’ is no longer the answer to a successful future, then gaming is our ticket to a more playful world.

Tom Simpson is SVP APAC of AdColony.