By Kelsey Polnik

Fueled by both artistic creativity and advances in affordable technology, the landscape of gaming is ever-evolving.  It’s certainly gone through dramatic upheavals in the past: coin-op arcades, home consoles and PCs, online gaming, portable gaming, the list goes on.  Traditionally, these changes cultivate over the course of several years.  Recently, that time has been cut down dramatically.  

Virtual reality, augmented reality, digital distribution, voice and face recognition, gesture control, wearable gaming, mobile and cloud gaming, touch screens, as well as the growth of indie development have all emerged in the last few years. Gaming and its accompanying culture is moving faster than even the media’s capacity to report on it, with innovations considered blasé before reaching a mass audience.  What used to be niche, taboo, and wasteful a few years ago is now commonplace, widely accepted, and highly monetized, with the global games market in 2016 finally crossing $100 billion in revenue, the equivalent of 2,495 metric tons of gold, or more ironically, $40 billion more than the total global arms market.

Not just limited to the digital medium, tabletop gaming has also found itself amid a renaissance.  Games that have been around for decades and considered unfashionable are suddenly resurfacing, reaching new peaks in their popularity.  Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and the Pokémon TCG (Trading Card Game) are flourishing with both seasoned gamers and newcomers coming together, often transcending generations.  The simplistic board games of our youth like RISK, Sorry, and Life are being replaced by deeper, more thematic masterworks like Settlers of Catan, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Terra Mystica.  Seemingly each month, a new independent game blows past its Kickstarter goal, turning that creator’s long time passion into not only a reality, but a profitable business venture. 

I’ve been enchanted by gaming and the culture that permeates it for as long as I can remember, living through and experiencing many of these revolutions first hand.  I’m mature enough to yearn for the nostalgic ways of my youth: erroneously blowing into cartridges, patronizing video rental stores, and fastening UHF connectors to our “enormous” 17” Woodgrain Magnavox Television. Though considered old to some, I’m still young and savvy enough to debate on comment pages, sink hours watching a Twitch stream, and still wake up giddy with excitement on the opening day of E3 as if it was Christmas morning. 

With all that’s happened in the gaming landscape since its inception, there is no greater revolution than today’s, that it is now socially acceptable to be a gamer. While far from perfect, we’ve come a long way from the days of getting beat up at school for playing Magic on our lunch break instead of participating in sports, or being teased on the playground for spending more time with our TurboGrafx-16 than real people. Now you can attend post-secondary education and dedicate the entirety of your studies to game design. You can find meaningful employment in the industry as a programmer, artist, writer, voice actor, marketer, designer, director, or play-tester.  It’s not hyperbole to say you can reach an audience of millions willing to watch and interact with while you stream games via YouTube and Twitch.  Organizations like Extra-Life and AGDQ (Awesome Games Done Quick) are raising massive amounts of money for charitable causes, simultaneously showing that nerds can be involved in social activism.  E-Sports tournaments are boasting prize pools of more than $15 million, more than the Stanley cup playoffs and the Super Bowl combined.  Stadiums are being filled with fans. But on a much more personal level, there is now a much higher chance you’ll relate to your peers through your enjoyment of Skyrim rather than being alienated by them.

WGO2016, FeaturedNorm Coyne